Students gave a presentation at legislative council last Thursday addressing concerns raised in a legislation condemning the “Islander” themed party hosted by the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity — nicknamed FIJI — at the end of Week 7.
The presentation came after a week of protest and petitioning following the accusation of the fraternity’s appropriation of Fijian culture for both their name and event.
Though a legislation drafted by ICS representative Patrick Chen, and seconded by humanities representative Khaalidah Sidney and at-large Naaila Mohammed, was drafted in condemnation of the fraternity’s actions, legislative council was not allowed to vote on it yet due to it being drafted late in the week.
The presentation, conducted by Save Gasaiwai, Kevin Magic Lam and Chen, succinctly delineated Fiji’s history as well as past and current examples of the fraternity’s cultural appropriation.
“We are not something for your own personal amusement,” Gasaiwai said, reiterating points covered in the presentation following a comment from Zachary Michener, a member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity, who did not think the party’s attire was racist.
“I’m telling you my story. If you’re going to be ignorant, that’s fine. But when I tell you that this is not the history of my people, you’re going to listen. You don’t have an excuse to be ignorant. And if you decide to be ignorant then this is what’s going to happen.”
Earlier in the week, Gasaiwai created a petiton via change.org asking the fraternity to issue a public apology and refrain from using “FIJI” as a nickname for their organization and for future events. The petition gained traction among UCI students as well as the broader Pacific Islander community, garnering signatures from domestic supporters and those abroad.
In addition to signing and sharing the petition, other tactics students used included changing their Facebook profile pictures to a version of the party’s flyer with “RACIST” written over it and the creation of a BuzzFeed article highlighting examples of the fraternity’s cultural appropriation as well as released statements and e-mails with the fraternity president.
Some students have come out online in support of the fraternity, expressing that the FIJI nickname is one that that has been used by the fraternity since 1894. Others have made light of students’ concerns, adopting the motif of writing “RACIST” over bottles of FIJI water and “Figi Newtons.”
The fraternity has yet to release a formal statement. Efforts to contact the fraternity’s president have not been returned.
During last Monday’s Greek Presidents Council, Christine Noche, the Greek Life administrative intern mandated that fraternity members stay off social media.
Students were also present at the Greek Presidents Council meeting to voice their concerns.
“We are not coming here to hurt anyone’s feelings,” Summer Ko, a fourth-year business administration major, said. “We’re here out of the pain of our communities.”
Students from the Greek community, however, perceived the students’ presence at their meeting as a disruption.
“To get our respect, you have to respect us at the same time,” the representative from the Sigma Nu fraternity said.
According to Ko, who walked out of the meeting feeling as if students’ concerns weren’t validated by the council, if it weren’t for students being vocal about the issue, their concerns would not have been acknowledged.
As students queued their names to speak during Thursday’s legislative council meeting, there was a notable shortage of voices from the Greek community. Over 80 people crammed into Woods Cove to witness the presentation and public comment.
The legislation reads, in part:
“Let it further be resolved that ASUCI Legislative Council strongly urges that the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, out of respect and decency to Fijian people and the UCI community, to cease the appropriative use of “FIJI” as its nickname in any of its on campus materials and…
…ASUCI Legislative Council recognizes that this racist and offensive event is one of many that occur at UCI and other college campuses, of which Greek organizations and other campus organizations are often the cause of, and condemns its repeated occurrence year after year and…
…ASUCI Legislative Council calls upon Phi Gamma Delta to make amends for its actions that have harmed UCI students leading up to, during, and following its “FIJI Islander Party” event by issuing an apology to the harmed communities and the UCI community at large, and taking proactive actions to educate itself and other students on the actual issues that face Fijians and other Pacific Islanders.”
Members of the sorority Phi Lambda Rho took this time to apologize for participating in the event and promised to prioritize cultural competency as an organization and host workshops for their organization on the topic of cultural appropriation and microaggressions.
Several former legislative council members spoke up during this time in support of the resolution.
The public comment portion on this item lasted over 90 minutes.
Aside from UCI students, a group of Pacific Islander students from UC Riverside came to the meeting to share their point of view as islanders and express support for this resolution.
“The other day I heard about Save’s outreach and about what has happened with this fraternity. It saddened me. Looking through all the pictures, looking through all the articles, it hurt me. Even though I’m Tongan, I’m not Fijian, but I can feel it, through the Mana, through the ocean, what Save’s going through. Working in our community, we notice how small we are, we notice how small our numbers are, people don’t know who we are. Before this meeting, before you met Save, how many Fijians did you meet on this campus? How many Pacific Islanders have you seen here? You know, we’re so small and we gotta keep our reputation right. Even though we are small, we hold it down for our people wherever we are,” Caroline Sina Fifita, a UCR student, said.
“I understand this was a frat party, but if you’re going to come out and show our culture like that, people who don’t understand, people who don’t know who Pacific Islanders are, are going to associate us with grass skirts and coconut bras, thinking that we are sexual beings because we dance like that. But really, they do not know that we tell stories of our ancestors, our history through our hands, through our motion, you don’t understand and you think you can put it in your little theme party so you can drink to that?”
The council will vote on the legislation today during their regular meeting at 5 p.m. in Woods Cove B. Legislative council meetings are open to the public and legislations are avaliable online at www.asuci.uci.edu/legislativebranch/legislation/