However you feel about the recent mobilization of students demanding a more inclusive and supportive climate on college campuses, one thing is abundantly clear: Nothing good will come from throwing an ethnicity-themed party.
Unfortunately, some Princeton students missed the memo, hosting a “Mexican-themed party” on campus Monday night.
The party was called “MMMMMMF,”or the “27th annual Mandatory Makeout Mexican Mustache Monday Madness Fiesta.” In the Facebook page invite to the event—which began with the phrase “Holy Guacamole, I’m proudo to invito you”—the hosts recommended that guests wear a “sombrero, bikini, fake mustache” and later added, “mustaches must be donned.” The party was hosted in Spelman, one of the upperclassmen dorms on Princeton’s campus.
The incident was reported to University officials on Tuesday by three students, according to a statement from the school.
Following students’ reports of the party, LaTanya Buck, Dean of Diversity and Inclusion, and the directors of the Carl A. Fields Center, LGBT Center, and Women’s Center sent a letter to university students apologizing for the “cultural appropriation and disrespect” that occurred.
In the letter, Dean Buck communicated that she and her colleagues were aware of the incident and expressed her regret for “the hurt, pain, and frustration that this has caused individuals within the Latinx community as well as others.”
Buck also promised that her office and the Princeton administration would not turn a blind eye to any events of this nature hosted by students at the university.
“We are deeply sorry for your experience and how this affects you,” she wrote in her email, “we do not condone cultural appropriation and disrespect to any individual’s and group’s racial, cultural, and ethnic identities.”
They did not include any information about who the party’s organizers were, or if there would be any disciplinary action taken against them.
While the early days of campus life can be difficult for any incoming college student to navigate, this year’s freshmen face the additional challenge of deciding whether to draw alliances with student activist groups, negotiating their place in the various “safe spaces” on campus, and scanning their syllabi for trigger warnings.
The increased hypersensitivity on campus might be fraught with controversy, but it should also have given these students a heads-up that their “Mexican-themed party” was not going to go over well.
Cuauhtémoc Ocampo, a Princeton grad from the class of 2014 and former member of Princeton Latinos y Amigos (PLA)—a pan-Latino student group on campus aimed at promoting inclusion and awareness—told The Daily Beast that while he hadn’t heard about the specific incident, “annoyances like cultural ignorance” are prevalent on campus.
“Here’s the thing about those parties,” Ocampo wrote in a message to the Beast, “they happen every year. And I have [zero] knowledge about the event but I can say it probably involved mustaches and sombreros.”
Nicole Gonzalez, a member of the class of 2016 and former co-president of PLA, told The Daily Beast that a “Mexican-themed” party took place during the 2015-2016 school year as well.
While Gonzalez didn’t attend last year’s event herself, she said that “the name of the party was offensive and included the word ‘Mexican’ in it. It was reported thoroughly to the university administrators but no direct action [was taken].”
When asked if he had any first-hand experience of similar events during his time at the university, Ocampo told the Beast, “I don’t think it’s worth bringing up the incidents that occurred because that will only give them the attention they sought.”
He would say that events of this nature “keep happening because people, even at Princeton, simply like to have fun with appropriation.”
“Those that express it are usually never well informed,” Ocampo added, “I’m a firm believer that the ignorance I speak of will only go away with time and as generations of different cultures grow up together and learn about each other first-hand.”
Isabella Gomes, Princeton class of 2016 and former member of Más Flow Dance Company at Princeton, told The Daily Beast that while she appreciates “the dean’s message… it baffles me that this event was allowed to have happened at all.”
“Or maybe it doesn’t,” she added, “that says something about Princeton’s campus culture and where it needs to be… when you have students who are sociology majors, international and public-affairs majors, cultural studies certificate students and beyond participating in events like the party on Monday, it’s hard to see aspects of our campus culture as anything but a mechanism that perpetuates the trivialization and caricaturization of entire cultures.”
Benjamín Gallo, a current Princeton senior from Managua, Nicaragua, added that these kinds of parties don’t just caricaturize groups of people, they also often serve as a vehicle for binge drinking.
“Such events ultimately tend to serve as an excuse for heavy partying,” Gallo told The Daily Beast, “and it is unfortunate that they spread incorrect notions about the kind of fun and traditions that define other cultures.”
While it doesn’t bode well for Princeton students that these tasteless theme parties have begun occurring during their first week on campus, Min Pullan, the Media Relations Specialist from the Office of Communication at the university, told The Daily Beast that these kinds of events “unfortunately” don’t really cluster around a “certain time of the year.”
“Students are in a celebratory mood [and more parties] are prevalent during the beginning of the year,” said Pullan, but “these incidents are dealt with as they come up.”
The University’s Director of Media Relations, John Cramer, told The Daily Beast that the university has expanded their statement regarding the incident, adding that “Princeton University fosters a welcoming and inclusive environment for all… We continually strive to make the University a place where everyone’s perspectives are welcomed and valued, resulting in a positive and more successful future for the institution and all members of our community.”
In the last year, Princeton experienced a number of incidents involving racial relations, inclusivity, and diversity on campus.
In fact, the position of Dean of Diversity and Inclusion was only recently created—as a response to student activism and protests at colleges across the country, as well as a number of Princeton-specific incidents regarding Woodrow Wilson’s legacy at Princeton as well as confrontations between University President Christopher L. Eisgruber and the Black Justice League, including a 33-hour sit-in at the president’s office.
Formerly the founding director of the Center for Diversity and Inclusion at Washington University in St. Louis, Dean Buck became the inaugural Dean for Diversity and Inclusion at Princeton and a new member of the “campus life leadership team.” In her appointment, Dean Buck supervises directors of other “safe spaces” and advocacy centers on campus and is responsible for responding to “reports of bias.”
At the end of her email, Dean Buck reiterated her commitment to educating individuals in the Princeton community as well as countering instances of blatant racism on campus.
“Please know that we will continue to work collectively to engage, educate and empower our Princeton community to confront and understand the impact of racial and cultural discrimination, bias, and hate,” Dean Buck wrote. “We will continue to do better on your behalf.”