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'Racist' Duke fraternity party angers Asian-American students, faculty

A recent Duke University fraternity party has provoked angry responses from Asian and Asian-American students and faculty at Duke and UNC.

The party, hosted Feb. 1 by Kappa Sigma fraternity and dubbed “Asia Prime,” involved students dressing up in stereotypical Asian costumes and was promoted on Twitter with the hashtag #RacistRager.

Duke’s Asian Students Association and Asian-American Alliance filed a formal complaint with the university last week.

“It’s puzzling to me how people can’t think of any other way to have fun than oppressing other people,” said Duke junior Katherine Zhang, co-president of the alliance.

Students and faculty in the Asian and Asian-American communities at UNC said they were troubled by the event.

UNC junior Megan Huang, president of the University’s Asian Students Association, said she found indifferent student reactions to “Asia Prime” baffling.

“Some people just don’t understand why bringing up these stereotypes is so offensive,” Huang said.

Jennifer Ho, a professor of English and comparative literature at UNC, said she sees Asian-Americans as a misunderstood minority at UNC and throughout North Carolina.

Much racism is implicit, Ho said.

“Are we having someone actively prevent us from eating in a restaurant? No. Have I heard racially insensitive marks directed at me? Yes,” she said.

Zhang said she hopes to see official university sanctions put in place at Duke to deter similar parties in the future.

But Aaron Bachenheimer, director of UNC’s Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life and Community Involvement, said if a similar incident occurred at UNC, the University wouldn’t be able to regulate party themes as a public institution.

“We wouldn’t be in a position to enact a policy related to freedom of expression and First Amendment rights,” he said.

The office would focus on reaching out to the students involved and minority communities that might have been affected by the incident, he said.

Huang said she plans to encourage discussion about race relations within UNC Asian student organizations in the coming weeks.

Zhang said she wasn’t surprised that the “Asia Prime” party took place.

She said there’s been a slew of parties at Duke that she considered racist — including recent events she believes targeted African-Americans, immigrants and Indians.

Kappa Sigma’s national organization suspended Duke’s chapter last week pending an investigation into the incident.

Peter Blumberg, president of UNC’s Interfraternity Council, said in an email that all university Greek communities can learn from the Duke controversy.

“This should serve as a reminder to all chapters of the negative, and even national, implications that can occur from something like choosing a theme for a party,” he said.

Zhang said she sees the incident as an opportunity for minorities at all universities to address racial issues more publicly.

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“I’m proud of Duke and the fact that we’ve been able to step up to the plate and start having constructive conversations,” she said.

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