- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 21, 2001

Our country's return to normalcy after the September 11 attacks includes a resumption of what I call "Stupid College Student Racial Tricks."

Particularly troublesome this year have been efforts by some white fraternity lads to turn themselves temporarily black in ways that blacks have not found flattering and administrators have not found amusing.

At Alabama's Auburn University, 15 students have been indefinitely suspended for wearing Ku Klux Klan outfits and blackened faces to a local fraternity Halloween party.

The local Delta Sigma Phi and Beta Theta Pi fraternities also had their charters suspended in early November after photos wound up on the Internet from a Delta Halloween party that apparently outdid John Belushi's Bluto in "Animal House" for bad taste.

Some photos show fraternity members simulating a lynching with KKK uniforms and some faces blackened with what looks like shoe polish.

Other photos show white members in blackface wearing T-shirts that bear the Greek letters of Omega Psi Phi, which happens to be one of the nation's oldest, largest and most distinguished black fraternities.

This episode illustrates double-decker stupidity. It was dumb of the frat brothers to commit such shenanigans. It was dumber to let photographs of it get on the Internet. The result has been a national uproar by students, administrators and civil rights groups like the NAACP.

Even so, Auburn's benighted frat boys have competition for stupidest racial trick. In another Halloween party that wound up on the Web, a member of the Alpha Tau Omega chapter at "Ole Miss," the University of Mississippi, is seen pointing a gun at the head of another who was dressed in blackface, kneeling and picking cotton. The chapter was suspended from campus on Nov. 12 for a year.

That same day, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater put its Tau Kappa Epsilon chapter on probation for a year, among other sanctions, for an Oct. 11 homecoming variety show skit. A white TKE member had put on brown makeup to portray former basketball star Charles Barkley, igniting two days of peaceful protests by about 50 students.

Another TKE chapter was suspended on Nov. 9 at the University of Louisville pending an investigation of an off-campus Halloween party in which some white TKE members dressed in blackface and a black member dressed in a Klansman costume.

And I bet you thought people went to college because they were intelligent.

Their families and hometown communities should have taught them better. My parents, God bless their souls, sent me into the world with the advice that there were two kinds of people: "quality folks" and "trashy folks." Check out the photos of the Auburn idiots at the Southern Poverty Law Center's Web site (www.tolerance.org) and decide for yourself which category you think they belong in.

Auburn's Omega Psi Phi president thinks the offending frat members there should be expelled and charged with hate crimes. That's a bit extreme. If offensive taste were a crime, the Washington Redskins would be arrested for naming themselves after a racial slur.

I oppose speech codes and other attempts to impose what some people call "politically correct" limits on academic expression. As an African-American, I appreciate the progress that this nation's free speech traditions have helped to bring. I am dismayed when colleges overdo their efforts to shield minority or female students from anything they might find offensive. We need more free-ranging discussions about race and gender on campus, not less.

Unfortunately, some students inevitably stumble into behavior that gives free speech a bad name. Before such ugly eruptions occur, colleges and their student leaders need to do what colleges are built to do, which is to educate.

When families and communities fail to prepare students adequately for life in a racially, religiously and ethnically diverse society, fraternities and sororities need to step in. As incubators for tomorrow's leaders, they do a grand job of teaching table manners and other rituals of social and corporate success. In today's increasingly diverse America, they should try to teach some racial etiquette, too.

Otherwise, the next Stupid College Student Racial Trick might happen closer to home.

Clarence Page is a nationally syndicated columnist.


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