Members of Lambda Theta Delta release video featuring blackface. Students respond with outrage and calls for action.
Members of the Lambda Theta Delta (LTD) fraternity released a racially-charged video on their official YouTube page featuring a student in blackface that went viral on April 24 and instantly sparked controversy among the campus community.
The video, which was entitled “LTD Installs 2013,” was originally uploaded to the fraternity’s YouTube account on April 16 with a note that read, “DISCLAIMER: No racism intended.” Pop singer Justin Timberlake’s song “Suit & Tie,” featuring rapper Jay-Z, played in the background of the video while LTD members acted out the lyrics, including one member who was dressed in blackface to impersonate Jay-Z.
The video was intended to be viewed by the entire fraternity at a formal event later in the quarter as “entertainment.” According to Lambda Theta Delta’s president, Darius Obana, the individuals who produced the video had access to the LTD YouTube account and had uploaded it themselves without notifying him or other members.
Obana also said the students who produced the video were not aware of the historical and racist implications of blackface.
“A lot of our members were racially uneducated and unaware about what the blackface means,” he said. “It didn’t hit us until now how that could be offensive.”
Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Thomas A. Parham reiterated the lack of cultural consciousness regarding this issue.
“[Students] somehow haven’t learned the history to know why someone in blackface would not be funny to folk, especially black folk, so it is incumbent upon us as a university to intensify our efforts to educate our community,” he said.
Students outside of the fraternity acquired the video from a public Dropbox online, and the video went viral around 2 p.m. on Wednesday. The original source hosting the video crashed due to huge amounts of online traffic. In that short time, however, the video gained hundreds of views as it spread throughout many UCI students’ social media accounts. Outrage on Facebook was immediate, and the administration was alerted instantly. Shortly thereafter, UC Irvine Chancellor Michael V. Drake and Vice Chancellor Parham requested an immediate investigation into the situation through the Office of Student Affairs.
Students also found another video on the fraternity’s YouTube page that depicted more racist content. LTD had uploaded this video months ago to promote their fall rush events, and many were shocked to find that this video also included an LTD member in blackface. Shortly after both videos went viral, they were removed by the LTD YouTube account. Both videos were reposted on YouTube within minutes under another username, Shamee L.
Members of UCI’s Black Student Union (BSU), as well as other students, were quick to voice their opinions on Facebook. Upset students pointed out that the original video was not an isolated instance of racism on campus, citing both the videos and other culturally insensitive photos featuring UCI students participating in multiple acts of anti-blackness in the past and present.
Soon after, the Lambda Theta Delta official Facebook page released a statement apologizing for the racist video. The apology also stated that “the video itself was not a fraternity-directed project but rather a video made individuals within the organization.”
Students immediately commented that LTD did not address the fall rush video, which was viewed and approved by the fraternity. The post now has over 80 comments and has been subject to much debate on Facebook, with some comments up to hundreds of words in length.
Many people, via comments, personal statuses and UCI Secrets posts, called the offended students “sensitive” and suggested that they “get over it.” However, these responses drew criticism from many students.
“We’re forced to deal with so many more instances of violence than other students have to, and instead of addressing the violence that is happening, we are told that we are being sensitive, that we need to let it go, that it was just a joke—and that’s not right,” BSU Co-Chair Kala Lacy said.
Students of all cultures also condemned the prevalent anti-blackness in these videos, which led to prominent figures on campus, including executive members of BSU, ASUCI leaders and the Asian Pacific Student Association (APSA), to release statements about the issue.
Vice Chancellor Parham pointed out this mutual reaction by the many and various members of the campus community.
“What you see is the fraternity coming out in public saying they condemn its members; what you see is the ASUCI government saying they condemn it; you have faculty writing in saying we condemn this; black students saying they condemn this, so the students offended by the blackface aren’t alone in their condemnation of the event,” Parham said. “The whole community is rising up to say that this incidence stands in contrast to what our values are and what we cherish most — our diversity — and that is our strength.”
From Outrage to Action
Later that Wednesday evening, a large number of students, including members of the Cross-Cultural Center, interrupted the Multicultural Greek Council meeting at the Dr. White Room in the Cross Cultural Center, chanting, “While there is racism, we will not rest.” LTD president Darius Obana had just begun a statement addressing the controversial video when the students entered the meeting.
Representatives from the Black Student Union proceeded to read out loud a list of on-campus incidents of racial harassment to those present. Those reading the list of grievances communicated that as Black students, they did not feel safe on this campus.
BSU Co-Chair Ainaria Johnson reiterated their concern, saying that classes and workshops to correct this behavior were not enough.
“Every day I’m uncomfortable coming on campus, and I shouldn’t have to feel that way while there are individuals who are perpetuating it,” Johnson said.
The students accused LTD of having a history of using blackface in their videos and that the fraternity do not deserve to be part of the campus community, calling any apology insufficient. After the group left the meeting, Obana continued with his statement, apologizing to those who found the video offensive and saying that the video was meant to be a parody and not offensive in any way.
The group of rallying students then headed to the Student-Parent Orientation Program (SPOP) training meeting already underway in the Doheny Beach A room at the Student Center, with the knowledge that the individual who had donned the blackface in the video was present at the meeting. The students assembled into the room of SPOP trainees, who were seated on the ground and repeated the same chants from the council meeting. Members of the group of students approached and spoke with the individual in the video before leaving.
The fate of the individuals in the video and the fraternity as a whole has not yet been determined, as the investigation led by the university is still ongoing.
In a statement released Thursday, Chancellor Drake said that the “responsible parties will be held accountable for their actions” after he receives a full report, which is expected to be completed within a few days. As of now, this situation has been reported to the Office of Student Conduct and the Office of Equal Opportunity.
BSU Co-Chair Ainaria Johnson commented that this act of racism on campus warrants punitive action beyond cultural workshops, though nothing is solidified yet in terms of punishment.
However, many members of the UCI community, including BSU Co-Chair Kala Lacy, feel that the issue with racism on campus reaches farther than this particular incident and these specific individuals.
“I feel like this all goes beyond the Greek community,” Lacy said. ”Right now I feel it is easy for us to point the finger and say, ‘Look at what they’re doing,’ because it’s them this time, but the root behind everything that we’re doing is that black students on this campus are not treated the same as every other student is.
“Obviously in the past, attempts to educate and change what happened isn’t doing anything, so for us, this goes beyond the Greek community, this is a systematic problem.”
LTD president Obana made a similar comment about the prevalence of racism on campus.
“Not many people are aware that this a reoccurring issue on campus, maybe not to the extent of a video like this being blasted on the Internet, but in our daily lives, things that we say, our connotations of our words, the way we present ourselves, the way we dress, what we write,” he said.
The parties involved in this issue have expressed similar views in that although programs currently exist to promote cultural awareness on campus, they are not enough to rid the entire school of racism.
“There is no place on campus that you can go, not in the residence halls, not in the administrative intern programs, not in the leadership summits in the fall, all these campus leaderships including fraternities and sororities, or anything else we do, where we aren’t talking about diversity and sensitivity — it’s everywhere,” Vice Chancellor Parham said. “That is the campus value that we have.
“What I will say, however, is that despite our best efforts, there are individual incidents that occur that are contrary to that vision. These are teaching moments for all of us to say that there are corners of the university that we haven’t sufficiently penetrated yet.”
Johnson had a similar statement on this problem as well.
“Each year, you come into SPOP, there’s multicultural training; within the housing communities with HA’s and RA’s there’s diversity training; the Greeks go through diversity training — since they’re multicultural, they should be going through diversity training — but in every faction of this university, no matter where we go, we find these instances,” she said. “So that just tells me there’s no community if there’s a disconnect between what is on paper and what is being enacted.”
Parham echoed these sentiments, making it clear that as the university collectively addresses this present issue, it will also need to grow together from correcting its weaknesses.
“Hopefully what everybody will do is come together and say, ‘Let’s use this as a teaching moment to move forward.’”
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