George Mason Law School

Party elicits response: Annual PIKA event prompts student reports

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April 25, 2017

6:25 PM

More than 10 years ago, members of the College of William and Mary’s Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity promised local reporters that they would rename their annual “Vietnam” party, after Vietnamese-American students raised concerns that the party was offensive.

When the party was first held in 1964, it was done as a send-off for College students leaving to fight in the Vietnam War. In 2006, Nam Ly ’06 told the Daily Press that it was an offensive depiction of Vietnamese culture, because the party featured bamboo huts and camouflage costumes.

Now, the fraternity has pushed efforts to re-brand the party as a “camo party” at the end of their Military Appreciation Week — their spring philanthropy event. However, this too has raised student concerns.

To Student Veteran Association President Tim Beck ’17, this party is an offense to veterans who have served in the U.S. military, especially those who live in the City of Williamsburg and fought in the Vietnam War. For this reason, Beck said he chose to report this year’s party to the College’s Student Leadership Development office, and that he hopes the Interfraternity Council and the SLD office will take action.

Essentially the big picture here is that the efforts I have made on campus as the president of the veterans group on campus, [are] to help student veterans and traditional students understand each other and blend into the same community as one,” Beck said.

“Essentially the big picture here is that the efforts I have made on campus as the president of the veterans group on campus, [are] to help student veterans and traditional students understand each other and blend into the same community as one,” Beck said. “When we have veterans that are coming back from combat that our traditional student body doesn’t understand, we have aided that blending with storytelling events, our military appreciation games, encouraging our veterans to get involved — we created an intramural sports team so that they can meet each other — you decrease this stigma that is associated with being a combat veteran. When we have these events, like the PIKA ‘Vietnam’ party, it derails all of the progress that we’ve made.”

As of the 2016-2017 academic year, there are 32 undergraduate student veterans at the College. Overall, there are 251 student veterans, although the majority of them attend the Mason School of Business and the Marshall-Wythe School of Law as graduate students. According to research done by the Veterans Task Force, between one-third and one-fourth of the student body is associated with the military; this means that these students are active duty, in the reserves or have parents or children who have served.

Beck said he first heard about the party last year when he saw fraternity members promoting it on Twitter. He said he did talk with PIKA members last year, but that they were unwilling to make changes to the event. This year, he and other Reserve Officers’ Training Corps cadets ran into PIKA members the night of the party, and he said he told them why them wearing military uniforms was offensive to him and potentially offensive to other veterans.

“I told them that what they were doing isn’t acceptable and that the military doesn’t appreciate it,” Beck said. “No one is fooled by this cultural appropriation. It’s a disgrace to the uniform, it’s a disgrace to the people who died while wearing this uniform. It is also a disgrace to the veteran population living in this area. Why is it ok to do this here and not in Newport News? The answer to that is because they know they can get away with this here. William and Mary lets kids do things that are offensive without calling them out.”

When Beck first reported this incident to Assistant Director for Student Leadership Development Joe Wheeless, he was told that he needed to gather witness statements and impact reports, which Beck said he and other ROTC cadets are working on currently. Since then, Beck has also gone to the Dean of Students, Student Assembly President Elijah Levine ’18 and to College President Taylor Reveley.

Levine, who ran much of his campaign on calling out problems such as racism and sexism in Greek life, said that while he knows the fraternity has tried to rebrand it as a “camo party,” he believes that if students are saying it’s offensive, he is not in a place to disagree with them.

“When someone speaks out, I am in no position to go against that,” Levine said. “It’s just a question of supporting that. If someone with the experience says that’s a desecration of the uniform, I’m in no place to question that. … It’s tough because I remember my freshman year that it was still called ‘Vietnam’ officially and that is totally reprehensible. I think it’s important to definitely continue being vigilant and calling out these overt instances, but not to let them distract us and make us think that it’s some segmented problem. It’s large scale. It’s a case where such a privileged community is able to not see the implications of their own actions and the things they take for granted.”

Levine said that moving forward, he believes that the role of SA in handling instances like this should be to promote larger conversations about issues in Greek life. He also said he believes IFC is an organization that would benefit from racial and implicit bias training.

Wheeless similarly said that the role of his office is to promote conversations on prevention and to help teach “cultural competency” to members in organizations that may not have as much knowledge about sensitive topics. He also said that he regularly talks with IFC organizations about yearly issues, such as reminding members of Delta Chi fraternity to use medical waivers for a hot chili pepper philanthropy event. PIKA’s yearly party, Wheeless said, is also something he has regularly discussed with brothers.

“We support all students,” Wheeless said. “There may be students who are multicultural and in the IFC and then there might be conflict that ensues. We try to empower students, work together with them, with the outcome of promoting an environment of inclusion, which may look different for every student.”

To Co-Founder and former Co-Director of the Asian-American Student Initiative Pallavi Rudraraju ’17 and former Co-Director of the Asian-American Student Initiative Aastha Uprety ’17, this party, regardless of re-branding efforts, is racially offensive to Asian-Americans.

Rudraraju said that before this year’s “camo party” she tried to meet with the fraternity’s president, Adam Illowsky ’18 to schedule a meeting. She said she hoped to get an apology for previous years, have the fraternity condemn anti-Asian rhetoric and make a promise of inclusivity and respect. However, Rudraraju said that she was unable to meet with them.

According to Illowsky, the fraternity’s Military Appreciation Week, and all of its associated events, are to celebrate veterans and raise funds for veteran organizations.

We cannot make it more clear: Military Appreciation Week is held to honor and celebrate American veterans and to raise funds for veterans organizations,” Illowsky said in a statement.

“We cannot make it more clear: Military Appreciation Week is held to honor and celebrate American veterans and to raise funds for veterans organizations,” Illowsky said in a statement. “The fraternity is currently in contact with the administration as well as concerned student organizations to clarify any misconceptions. The fraternity held several fundraising events over the course of the week, which were attended by students, members of service academies, and veterans to support Disabled American Veterans. One of the most meaningful events of the week was a speech given by our honored guest, a severely wounded veteran named Army CPT Patrick Horan. While our philanthropy was highly successful, we are saddened that these events, specifically Captain Horan’s speech, did not receive the media coverage that we believe they deserve. Supporting our nation’s veterans and giving them a platform to voice their struggles and concerns is the sole purpose of our service week; therefore, we would like to use this statement as a platform to voice their struggles and CPT Patrick Horan’s story with William & Mary community and urge everyone to donate to Disabled American Veterans and other organizations that benefit our nation’s heroes.”

To Rudraraju, some of the most racially offensive parts of the party were the rhetoric that was anti-Asian, the discussion of Vietnam, and party decorations such as bamboo.

“As an Asian-American woman who has been constantly dealing with micro-aggressions and blatant unchecked racism, I’ve been very disturbed by this party happening every year,” Rudraraju said in an email. “When we found out that bamboo had been used again as a party prop this year, we felt sickened, resigned and betrayed. We had mentioned explicitly to them that despite them calling the party a ‘Camo Party’ last year, they still used bamboo as a party prop, which is racist. Since we had told them this, we assumed we would not see bamboo used again this year. They had also promised to make a public statement before the party disavowing the ‘Nam’ rhetoric, which did not happen. In light of this, in light of the lack of response from PIKA, I drafted a lengthy and detailed impact statement and have sent it to necessary people in the administration.”

Moving forward, Rudraraju and Uprety put together a letter on behalf of AASI and Asian American Pacific Islander students that they released today at 5:55 p.m. on Facebook.

Student organizations including the Accidentals All-Female Acapella group, Afrodite, Afsana, Omega Psi Phi fraternity, Amnesty International, the Association of Women Geoscientists, Alpha Chi Omega sorority, Hermandad de Sigma Iota Alpha, Inc., Black Lives Matter Williamsburg, the Black Student Organization, Books Not Bombs, Branch Out Alternative Breaks, Delta Phi Omega sorority, ESSENCE Women of Color, the Filipino American Student Association, FLOW Music Group, Gadfly Media, Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies Program, Greeks for Respect, Inclusion, and Diversity, Health Outreach Peer Educators, Haasya, the Hindu, Sikh, and Jain Student Association, the International Performing Arts eXchange, the Japanese Culture Association, the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, the Korean American Student Association, the Lambda Alliance, the Latin American Student Union, Library Ambassadors, the Meridian Coffeehouse, the Metal Club, the Middle Eastern Students Association, the Muslim Student Association, the College’s chapter of the NAACP, Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, Project Pengyou, the Real W&M, the Residence Hall Association, Rocket Magazine, Society of Women in Computing, the South Asian Student Association, the Student Environmental Action Coalition, the Student Partnership for Aid and International Development, Swing Club, Team Blitz, Pi Beta Phi sorority, VOX: Voices for Planned Parenthood, WCWM, Wesley Campus Ministry, Wordshop, Zeta Phi Beta sorority, Young Democratic Socialists, the Young Democrats, Asian and Pacific Islander American Studies, Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity, SOMOS and HEART joined the letter as signers.

Wheeless said that once Beck and other students submit their impact statements, administrators will decide whether the case will go to SLD or to the IFC. If it goes to the IFC, PIKA could be called in for a hearing, and then given sanctions such as a probation period or a ban on social activities for a set amount of time. All decisions to remove a fraternity’s privileges to be on campus or to have on-campus housing would come from Residence Life and that fraternity’s national organization.

“There are two possibilities here,” Beck said. “The first is that these students are just ignorant and they don’t know that this is offensive. The action there would be to educate them on what it means to serve in the military. … The other possibility is that they know it’s offensive but they just don’t care, which just means they are apathetic to the military … I’d like to see them get kicked off campus. I think that any group that year after year after year engages in such a gross and disgusting appropriation on the level that they do just can’t be tolerated anymore. There needs to be an example set. With or without IFC’s disciplinary actions, I most reasonably expect our campus to denounce their actions and to pressure them away from doing things like this.”

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About Author

Sarah Smith

News Editor Sarah Smith '19 is an international relations and gender, sexuality, and women's studies major from Ashburn, VA. She formerly served as Associate News Editor.

  • WM student

    Bamboo isn’t racist

  • military member

    My wife and I are both active duty military and I can say with certainty that having a camo party is not offensive to any military members. The fraternity is doing a great thing by raising and donating money. Find something better to do with your time.

    • Alex

      But it is…to the person interviewed in this article. No disrespect meant to you or your wife, but someone else made a statement directly contradicting you and representing a group of better and on our campus.

      • If Mr. Beck was speaking for himself, that would be one thing. To assert he speaks for “veterans” implies he speaks for all veterans. He does not. If Mr. Beck has nothing better to do with his time than to be “offended” by inoffensive conduct meant to support the military, then Mr. Beck needs to find something to do which is more productive.

  • Jean Valjean

    In the interests of transparency, I think it’s important for journalists to always note any relationship they may have with the individuals, organizations, programs, etc. they cover.

    As such, I find it concerning that Ms. Smith’s article made no mention of her majoring in Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies, a program which signed the AASI letter in response to Pi Kappa Alpha’s party.

    If Ms. Smith has any direct relationship with the other campus organizations, programs, or departments mentioned in her article, or with the leaders of these organizations, I would hope the editors edit this article accordingly.

    • disappointed alumna

      great point, Jean. Failing to disclose this kind of information outright casts doubt on the agenda of this article. As opposed to being a news article, it ends up coming off as an opinion piece. No effort by the Flat Hat editors, either, to assign this to a writer or reporter with less involvement to reduce the risk or perception that he/she could editorialize the information.

      Would have been incredibly easy for the writer to include a mention that she is a member of one of the signing organizations, especially after taking the time to write out every single organization that signed the letter. I wouldn’t even necessarily expect her to add a disclaimer at the beginning of the article, but not even adding a line after the list of organizations?

      Poor form, guys.

  • Gabi Panettiere

    *The Delta Chi fraternity does the hot peppers event not Delta Phi

  • Undergrad Veteran

    I am one of the 32. I fail to see how the use of bamboo as a prop for a party as offensive or in any way a micro-aggression. It is an object that represents a part of military history in the involvement of the Vietnam War. Would sand use be offensive to Muslims because of Desert Storm? Isn’t bamboo also in the Philippines, India, China, Japan, South America, Australia, United States, etc.? I find some of these naive attitudes offensive, and that this attack on something that was intended to support our military and our veterans as a macro-aggression against veterans. Does that mean anyone will give a damn about how I feel? How about the fact we cut down all the bamboo at Crim Dell because we consider bamboo an invasive species? Isn’t calling bamboo an “invasive species” racist because bamboo grows in Vietnam and correlating anything from Vietnam with the term “invasive species” is negative? Sound ridiculous? Well so does “micro-aggression” to me. What exactly was said at the party that was considered anti-Asian rhetoric and offensive? I see it was mentioned by one person, but no examples were given. I guess we have to take your word for it (in case you haven’t noticed yet, I have trust issues.. so taking your word for it doesn’t cut it). Did one person say something? Did everyone say it? Are we persecuting a group because of what one person (allegedly) said? Well, someone insulted me, so now you have to take my word for it and become enraged and support me! I get micro and macro aggression all the time because I am different, but no one cares about that. I find the cart blanche use of the term “micro-aggression” offensive. I am offended that I have an entire one of your lifetimes experience being out in the real world and I have to deal with your naive, self righteous, pompous “everything offends me” attitude. How about we play “be offended by whatever you want but don’t piss off a veteran”? Well this veteran is pissed off, so you lost that game.

    • You are in the heart of the beast. Don’t let it get through to you. There is no such thing a microaggression. It is a creation of those trying to remake society in their own image.

      Trust yourself and what you learned in the service. Seek out alternate points of view to what they are trying to feed you and then make up your mind.

  • Jack Thomas

    Why was Elijah not asked if he was there? No mention of the fact that hundreds of kids attended this event

  • Jacob Landry

    How do these little buttercups even make it through their 2-3 hours of class/day with the knowledge that there is a party on the horizon that MAY CONTAIN BAMBOO. They are so brave.

  • civfed

    Hope Snowflake Tim Beck’s feeling aren’t hurt by this comment.

  • Tim Beck

    Wearing the uniform is not strictly offensive to me. When a drunk group of spoon-fed frat boys shout that the “army sells these [uniforms] to make money, they don’t mean anything” at other student veterans…that is offensive and that is what I took issue with.

    • Dylan Tarazona

      Sounds like you’re just being a pussy, Tim.

      • Tim Beck

        Lol

        • Aaron Spalding

          I agree with Dylan, Tim. This “cultural appropriation” nonsense shows just how far you are out of touch with the vets you represent. At least ASMDSS can have a good laugh at your expense.

          • Tim Beck

            Aaron, you are missing the point. We are trying to decrease the isolating environment for vets here. I was approached by several vets, Vietnam and OIF/OEF who were furious about the event so I stepped forward. When Rangers see a problem we fix it, so I am happy to, as much as I enjoy ASMDSS. I guess you should also tell the families of the vets who committed suicide that they shouldn’t have been pussies too.

          • Aaron Spalding

            Tim, do you want to berate my 8 year old cousin too? He dressed up like a soldier for halloween this year, I don’t want him “appropriating” our culture. God forbid he hurt your precious feelings. Its not like these guys were walking around claiming to have earned purple hearts, they threw a party to raise money for vets. I’m sorry if your so sensitive that a few guys in BDU’s upsets you so much. You may want to avoid paintball in the future, I’d hate for you to get triggered. Why are you bringing up veteran suicide? I’ve lost plenty of brothers to the beast and they’d be rolling in their graves if they saw the embarrassment your statements above are. I’m glad to see your idea of “fixing” it is to run to mommy and daddy to tell on someone instead of manning the fuck up and talking to the frat itself.

          • Tim Beck

            Looks like you already forgot about my first comment.

          • Aaron Spalding

            Strange you never mentioned that to the paper. “army sells these [uniforms] to make money, they don’t mean anything”…this sounds like one of your student vets got butthurt and tried to accuse someone of stolen valor where there was none. If it even happened at all. Are you denying, now, that you accused the frat of “cultural appropriation”? Because thats what I’m talking about, not your shit excuses after the fact. Thanks for this though, the boys at ASMDSS are having a field day with this story on facebook.

          • Tim Beck

            I did Aaron, in fact I told the paper that my issue was not the party it was the confrontation that they had with vets in the bar afterward when that comment was made but the media edits these stories to their liking and “cultural appropriation”
            is a buzz word so they thew that around. I think they did a piss poor job relaying our groups point.

          • Aaron Spalding

            The only person using the “buzzword” is you in two direct quotes above. If its not what you said, demand a retraction. As far as the IFC is concerned, myself and numerous other vets have reached out to them to express our gratitude at PIKA’s actions and our dismay at your comments. Additionally, I reminded them that William and Mary is a PUBLIC institution and thus its students cannot be subject to sanctions on first amendment protections for speech and expression. Just because a snowflake ranger and his cadet buddies got butthurt, doesn’t mean they get to restrict the rights of Americans I fought for. If your so upset about the comment, maybe you and your buddies should stop trying to jump on the stolen valor bandwagon and calling out people for costumes. You ask stupid questions, you should expect stupid answers.

          • hacbeeb shashmeer

            Are you denying that you used the phrase “cultural appropriation?” If so, are you demanding that the paper make a redaction? Smells like B.S. to me

          • It’s wise to choose the battles you fight. You ought to admit this wasn’t a good choice.

        • Redwolf Conchoman

          I know plenty of Rangers & tell you now, you are a piss poor example IF you actually served. Stolen Valor touch a nerve
          Timmy?!

  • 2008 alumnus

    I am a 2008 graduate, and I remember both the Vietnam Party and its successor, the Camo Party, very well. Hundreds of students would attend to celebrate veterans and carry on the long-dated tradition of the party. Although I am not a veteran or active military, a number of my friends from W&M now serve as officers in the Marines, Navy, and Army Rangers. We all agree that the party had (and likely still has) very good intentions. And regardless, we all had a lot fun at the party back in our days and would love to attend it again, if we ever get the opportunity! Another thing we all agree on now is that this sounds like another all-too-familiar case of over sensitivity, which not only creates unwarranted witch hunts, but ultimately threatens our rights to freedom of speech and expression. The possibility that a handful of “offended” students could draw negative sanctions against any group for exercising their innate, constitutional freedoms seems to go against everything our country has been fighting for in every major conflict since our country (and our beloved college) was established.

    This recent phenomenon of people “taking offense” and actively pursuing public apology or even punishment directed at their accused offenders continues to grow as a problem in our country, negatively affecting a wide array of people, including not just “frat guys” at parties, but college professors, teachers, politicians, and anyone else that gains the courage (particularly in these overly sensitive times) to step into a public forum to be heard, whether it be large or small.

    There have been a number of widely publicized articles in recent years that also reiterate my concerns. I have included some links below to shed further light on this subject.

    https://www.washingtonpost….
    http://www.breitbart.com/bi
    http://professorconfess.blo

    • WM grad09

      Excellent points. We should not erode the very freedoms of expression which those soldiers fought and died to defend.

      • Aaron Spalding

        This soldier applauds said party. I’m reaching out to the SDL to let them know Tim is in the minority on this issue. He sounds like the kind of guy that sees someone in BDU’s playing paintball and cries “Stolen Valor”. Keep up the good work PIKA!!

  • Redwolf Conchoman

    Has BECK ever been confirmed as actually having been in the Rangers?! Sounds
    too wimpy for a RANGER to me! Should be investigated for STOLEN VALOR!!!

    • Aaron Spalding

      If someone can get me his info. Dates of Service/DOB etc, I’d be more than happy to file an FOIA on him.

      • RGR

        He was a Ranger.

        • Cyber Slammer

          A rump ranger.

          • RGR

            Never said he was a good Ranger or even Tabbed. But he did serve, poorly.

  • Trevor Diffley

    Wearing camo is not cultural appropriation. There’s a big difference between ‘desecrating the uniform’ and a bunch of kids dressing up like their best impression of Rambo, getting hammered, and bouncing off the walls to some EDM. Any rational student can separate the experience of a theme party from the experience of a combat veteran. And, BTW I think the reason it is ok to throw this party in Williamsburg and not Newport News is because William and Mary is IN Williamsburg and not in a different, irrelevant, hypothetical location. Lighten up.

  • Come on people.

    College campuses have turned into a mass of snowflakes all competing to be more offended than the next group.

    Good grief, grow up.

  • Mr. Beck does not speak for all veterans. This is not offensive nor is “cultural appropriation”. If these students were including the use of insignia and awards, that would be offensive.

  • Spencer Schwacke

    Thank God it wasn’t a Marine complaining about “cultural appropriation,” or I’d be embarrassed. It’s bad enough to see a veteran getting sucked into such illiberal behavior… at least my branch doesn’t have to claim him.

    This Tim Beck character doesn’t speak for me. I think it’s great that a bunch of college kids are raising money for wounded veterans and having a good time in the process. Maybe some of that cash can go towards repairing his hurt feelings.

    Besides – shouldn’t a veteran, of all people, understand the value of freedom of speech and expression? Shouldn’t someone who swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States be above seeking to impose censorship on a group and trying to get them kicked off campus because of a theme they chose for a party? Shouldn’t someone who served be among the first to defend their right to do that, even if he doesn’t approve of their actions personally?

    And if those things don’t matter anymore… then what the hell are we fighting for? Is a country without freedom even worth protecting?