JHU student apologizes, calls invitation `satirical'

Halloween party stirs protest and demands for diversity training

November 04, 2006|By Sumathi Reddy | Sumathi Reddy,sun reporter

The Johns Hopkins University student who wrote an inflammatory and racially charged fraternity party invitation apologized yesterday, saying it was a "satirical piece" not meant to be offensive.

Justin H. Park, a Hopkins sophomore, posted the apology on Facebook.com, the same Web site on which he initially posted the invitation to Sigma Chi fraternity's "Halloween in the Hood" party.

"I am not a racist - anybody who knows me will attest to the fact," Park wrote in the apology. "That my statement has been misconstrued as derogatory and hateful to a certain group of people is especially hurtful to me."

Reached yesterday, Park - who has been expelled from the fraternity in which he served as social chairman - said, "I'm apologetic. I did not mean to offend anybody."

He declined to comment further.

The apology came on the same day as a protest outside the Hopkins campus by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The protest drew community leaders, Hopkins alumni, members of local religious groups, and state Sen. Verna L. Jones.

The rally occurred after a weeklong campus dispute that erupted after a Sigma Chi fraternity party last Saturday night that was advertised - in Park's invitation - as "Halloween in the Hood."

The invitation described Baltimore as "the hiv pit" and encouraged attendees to wear "regional clothing from our locale" such as "bling bling ice ice, grills" and "hoochie hoops."

The party included a skeleton pirate dangling from a rope noose, which Black Student Union members said was a sign of a lynching, given the theme of the party.

The party was shut down by campus security early Sunday morning after BSU members showed them pictures of the dangling skeleton.

The university has suspended the fraternity pending an investigation. The national headquarters of the fraternity expelled Park.

"The Facebook event description was written in jest as a satirical piece to advertise a typical Halloween costume party," Park wrote in his apology. "The language used in the event description was by no means meant to be offensive, hateful, demeaning to any group of people, or racist in any way, shape, or form," he added, noting that he spent most of life abroad in several countries and has experienced discrimination firsthand. Park told a reporter that his ancestry is Korean.

The incident has exposed racial divisions on campus and highlighted the college's fragile relationship with the city.

Some students say they have been perplexed to learn that race is an issue on campus; others say they think the incident has been blown out of proportion.

Yesterday, NAACP members criticized Hopkins leaders for allowing a "racist" atmosphere to persist on campus.

"We have a responsibility to protect all of the students on this campus," said Marvin "Doc" Cheatham, president of the NAACP's Baltimore chapter. "It's time for a change at this university."

Alumni said they were disheartened to see that the same problems that troubled the university decades ago - specifically, a dearth of tenured black professors - persist.

"We dealt with this problem back in the early 1970s," said Erich W. March, a Class of 1974 graduate who is vice president of March Funeral Homes. "It's a continuous struggle, a persistent problem. We have to pull the weeds every year. That's why we're here."

BSU members met with Hopkins President William R. Brody and other administrators yesterday morning and delivered a list of demands, which included a Multicultural Student Center, more black faculty members, mandatory diversity training for faculty and staff and students, and a department of Africana Studies that grants doctorates.

The demands also called for Brody to release a timetable for the steps the university announced it would take to address the issues raised in light of the party.

Those steps include more diversity training for students and faculty, incorporating the history of racism into the campus curriculum and creating a universitywide commission to make recommendations to ensure that new equality guidelines are followed.

The rally drew the attention of a number of students - of all backgrounds - walking by, some of whom lingered and discussed race with black students and community members after the protest.

"Why does it matter if an engineering professor is black or white?" junior Scott Ladd asked a small group of students. "Isn't he color-blind?"

Cheatham said the discussions showed what work Hopkins needs to do. "They didn't understand," he said. "They don't get it. We've got to bring in professionals.

University officials intend to hold a forum Monday.

sumathi.reddy@baltsun.com

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