White Tarleton State University students who took part in a Martin Luther King Day “celebration” that offended many black students continued to apologize Wednesday for their actions.
But black students, who attended Wednesday night’s university forum called to attempt to heal wounds associated with the issue, made it clear that a simple apology just isn’t good enough.
“Whoever went to the party, this is your consequence,” Sarah Bodden said. “You may want it to go away, but … you’ll just have to sit and listen to us (complain) about it for a while.”
Bodden was one of a number of black students who went to the microphone to express dismay with students who participated in a “MLK Party.”
The party featured buckets of fried chicken and 40-oz bottles of malt liquor wrapped in brown paper sacks - symbols used to negatively stereotype black culture. Those who attended also donned afros, carried fake guns, and dressed in gangster attire.
Photographs from the “MLK Party” were posted on Facebook, a networking Web site popular among college students.
Jeremy Pelz, a TSU student who attended the party and one who posted the pictures, was the first to stand up to the microphone late Wednesday to face criticism and apologize for his actions.
“I am not a racist and I hope you accept my apology,” Pelz said. “In no way did I intend to discriminate toward Martin Luther King.”
“We do accept the apology, but we do not accept the fact that it was unintentional,” Elder said. “We were expecting, ‘I’m sorry. We didn’t mean it’ … If this was not meant to harm anybody, why was it a secret?”
Tracy Williams, an African-American 2006 graduate of Tarleton, said he started the “MLK Party” three years ago and accepted any blame that might be given.
“If you want to pin the blame on anybody, blame it on me,” Williams said. “… This was not a Lambda Chi (Alpha) Party. This is a party I started.”
University officials continued Wednesday to investigate the party and exactly who hosted it remained unclear.
Dr. Wanda Mercer, TSU’s vice president for student life, said university officials “just found out about (the party) yesterday” and that they plan on investigating “it fully.”
At one point during the forum, intense words flew between black and white speakers on opposite sides of the packed room, prompting Williams to say, “I honestly think this is getting out of hand.”
Mercer even had to intervene, saying, “It’s not dialogue when everyone is talking and no one is listening.”
“I seem so emotional because I am so emotional because we seem so divided,” Chai Read-Walsh said.
At a time when the university needs to become more diverse, Read-Walsh asked, “Who’s going to want to come to school where they have parties like this?”
Meanwhile, TSU President Dr. Dennis McCabe cut an out of town visit short to attend the event. He told the room full of students and faculty that he was “hurt, angry, and appalled” by the recent events.
“We are about creating a culture of excellence for our students and we have tried to live up to that. And for the most part, we have,” McCabe said. “But this recent event has called into question the teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr. - and that’s why I’m angry.”
McCabe encouraged the student body to deal with their anger in their own way, but asked that they “choose a path of healing and understanding.”
Before the forum began, Mercer said the mood on campus has been calm despite the anger and frustration many of the students are feeling. She said rumors of fighting or violence on campus were completely false.
“People are definitely talking about the situation and that’s a good thing because it gets people discussing the tough issues,” Mercer said.