A group of Tarleton State University students, including members of a popular fraternity, chose to “celebrate” Martin Luther King Day by throwing a “MLK Party,” complete with buckets of fried chicken and 40-oz bottles of malt liquor wrapped in brown paper sacks — symbols used to negatively stereotype black culture.
Party-goers also donned afros, carried fake guns, and dressed in gangster attire. One student even came dressed as “Aunt Jemimah.”
Now, a core group of black students are taking action.
Donald “D. Ray” Elder, president of Tarleton’s NAACP chapter, said he is deeply offended by the overt display of racism among his fellow students.
“This happened on our campus. It didn’t happen on the East Coast or in the Deep South,” Elder said. “It’s happening right here in Stephenville, Texas. This is how regular students are celebrating Martin Luther King Day.”
The party apparently took place last Wednesday. By Thursday, word of the soiree had spread and pictures began appearing on at least two Web sites.
Exactly who hosted the party is still not known.
Elder claims it was sponsored by Lambda Chi Alpha, a university-sanctioned fraternity, but members of the fraternity dispute that claim, saying that while some members may have attended, the fraternity did not act as the host.
TSU President Dr. Dennis McCabe expressed concern with the situation in a prepared statement released late Tuesday.
“We are very disappointed to learn about this very unfortunate incident and are investigating it fully,” McCabe said. “We will use this as a teachable moment to help our students understand the importance of civility on and off the campus.”
McCabe will be “issuing a letter to the university community addressing this issue early Wednesday morning,” said Dr. Wanda Mercer, vice president of student life.
Meanwhile, Elder said he was first made aware of the situation by two students, then began doing his own research. He found photos from the party posted by two Tarleton students on Facebook, a networking Web site popular among college students.
Appalled by what he saw, Elder said he sent an e-mail to fellow student Jeremy Pelz, who is a member of Lambda Chi Alpha and who posted the pictures.
He said Pelz quickly apologized and removed the photos from the site, but only after Elder downloaded them onto a disk.
Elder then gave the photos to Tarleton officials and asked them for help.
Pelz said Lambda Chi Alpha did not sponsor the party, but when asked, he refused to disclose who did.
However, Pelz said he is sorry for turmoil and pain caused by the situation, and that if he could take it all back, he would.
“I didn’t mean any disrespect and I didn’t want to be offensive,” Pelz said. “I have definitely learned from this experience.”
Pelz also encouraged an African-American friend of his to contact the Empire-Tribune.
Tracy Williams, a 2006 graduate of Tarleton and former roommate of Pelz, said he never saw any signs of racist tendencies in his friend.
“I am African-American and we are great friends,” Williams said. “I’ve been to these kinds of parties before and I think they are fun - I’ll back him (Pelz) 100 percent.”
Even so, Elder said he plans on addressing Tarleton’s Student Government Association about the situation when it meets at 5:15 p.m. today.