On Monday, Auburn officials temporarily suspended student chapters of Beta Theta Pi and Delta Sigma Phi, two predominately white fraternities, after the discovery of controversial images of several of the groups' members on the Web site http://www.partypics.com.
The photos, which were taken at two Halloween parties sponsored by the fraternities, showed white students from the fraternities in blackface and wearing Ku Klux Klansman robes.
In one photo, a student was shown wearing blackface with a noose around his neck while another, cloaked in a Klansman robe, stood by.
In another photo, students were shown in blackface and wearing shirts bearing the Greek letters of Omega Psi Phi, a traditionally black fraternity.
Omega Psi Phi members were notified of the offensive photos last weekend and copied the images onto their university-sponsored Web site before they could be taken off the Web.
Fraternity members then showed the photos to Auburn administrators, who suspended the fraternities pending a full investigation into whether the photos might have violated Auburn's anti-harassment and discrimination policies.
Monday night, Delta Sigma Phi expelled two members and suspended four others in connection with the photos. As of Wednesday, Beta Theta Pi had not taken any disciplinary actions against any of its members.
The decisions to punish those students involved with the Halloween incidents is commendable and definitely appropriate.
Still, one must question what would have provoked the students to think that their costumes and behavior were appropriate.
As Auburn vice president of student affairs, Wes Williams, told the Montgomery Advertiser, "Thirty-seven years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act, there is no acceptable explanation for the appearance of students in Ku Klux Klan robes or blackface."
But the harsh reality is, similar incidents have occurred numerous times during the past decade at various universities across the country.
In 1991, two Kappa Delta sorority pledges at the University of Alabama-Tuscaloosa sparked national controversy after it was discovered that the students wore Afro wigs and blackface during a sorority-sponsored theme party called "Who Rides the Bus?"
And just last year, the Kappa Alpha Order fraternity at Emory University came under fire after a student discovered a photo in the 1998-99 edition of the university's yearbook, allegedly containing a Kappa Alpha member in blackface at a Halloween party.
A group of Emory students called for the removal of Kappa Alpha's charter on the campus for the photo. But the fraternity was eventually found not responsible for the photo's appearance in the yearbook in late 2000.
Although all of the above incidents occurred at predominately white campuses in the South, that does not mean these are the only places where discrimination can occur and that black students are the only ones targeted.
Discrimination can affect anyone in all parts of the nation. So everyone must work together to overcome it.
Each of these incidents should serve as a wake-up call that more needs to be done to make our nation more open and comfortable for everyone.
Cultural diversity courses, such as those offered at UNC and other college campuses, are a good first step in fostering communication and understanding among all groups of people.
But the strongest weapon in the fight racial discrimination and hatred must come from within. People must be willing to declare that they will not tolerate any acts of hatred and complete ignorance of other cultures.
Anyone affected by discrimination, whether it is the Auburn incidents or the unfair treatment of some Muslim citizens after the terrorist attacks, should stand up and challenge anyone who finds such offensive actions to be acceptable behavior.
Complacency will not bring about change.
Columnist April Bethea can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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