‘Not a black-Asian issue’ as initially portrayed
A refusal to give someone a burger nearly caused a race war between two student organizations at the University of Pennsylvania.
The altercation April 17 involved the Vietnamese Students’ Association and an underground fraternity known as Oz, with Asian, black and white students participating in the melee.
While the aggrieved Vietnamese student leaders have said they don’t buy the apology from one of the alleged instigators, their organization itself is not pressing charges, opting instead to ask the community to understand the racism they claim to face regularly.
After several groups passed the association’s Spring Fling barbecue while making “racial gestures or rude comments,” a black student approached the VSA-only gathering and asked for a burger, The Daily Pennsylvanian reported, citing organizer Patrick Vinh.
Denied a meal, the black student – later identified as an Oz member – allegedly responded, “Is it because I don’t look like you? I eat rice and watch anime, too.” He then left.
The situation went downhill about 20 minutes later when a larger group of students returned with the burger-inquiring student and started hurling racial slurs, including “F*ck you chinks,” and making death threats, student Bethany Cam told the Daily.
Cam identified the black student as the instigator of the second confrontation.
The black student, who asked to remain anonymous, admitted to the Daily he was drinking at the time, but brushed off his anime comment as “silly” and “ignorant,” not intended to be malicious.
He further accused the Vietnamese students of racism because they allegedly accused him – “the most easily identifiable person there” – of starting the fight.
“I was the only African American there, and I was wearing an OZ tank.”
Greek life needs to become less exclusive
The altercation took on a new angle when Vietnamese Students’ Association leaders wrote a Daily op-ed disputing the paper’s coverage and blaming white students as well for racial slights.
Vinh and Tan Chan wrote that the black student wasn’t the “main instigator” of the fight and didn’t even ask for a burger, only making the comment about rice and anime.
They did, however, confirm the black student came back around 3 p.m. with white students in tow, who caused further trouble by refusing to leave the barbecue.
According to Vinh and Chan, the black student sent the VSA an email after the event and apologized for what happened, but the group “did not believe this apology to be sincere.”
After consulting its members, the association decided against filing charges because they wanted the campus to focus on “education and awareness” of the plight of all “people of color” at Penn.
The fight was not “a black-Asian issue” as the Daily implied, they wrote, but another example of why they need “more sensitivity and understanding from members of the Penn community.”
Vinh told The College Fix in an email that the association wants broad changes in the Greek life process and the university at large, to prevent future conflicts.
“The university should admit students of ever more diverse socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds, and Greek organizations can become more accessible by broadening their recruitment pool and lowering their fees, to name a few recommendations,” Vinh told The Fix.
“There has been very little interaction between OZ and VSA” outside of one apology email, Vinh added.
The Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life did not return requests for comment. However, the office does warn incoming students about underground fraternities such as Oz.
Under FAQs about Greek life, the office warns “BE AWARE THAT GROUPS LIKE APES, THEOS, OZ, OWL SOCIETY, AND TABARD SOCIETY ARE NOT FRATERNITIES AND THEY ARE NOT RECOGNIZED ORGANIZATIONS.”
The page claims the groups operate underground because they violate anti-hazing and alcohol policy, in addition to “LOCAL, STATE AND FEDERAL LAWS.”
Unofficially an extension of the Zeta Beta Tau chapters, Oz faced punishment in 1988 for several alleged violations, including using racial slurs against black performers and sexually abusing two female performers at a 1987 party.
That lead to Penn eventually shutting down the fraternity.
The Office of Student Affairs deferred questions to the university media relations department, which also did not return requests for comment.
College Fix reporter Matt Lamb is a graduate student at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.
IMAGES: Universal Pictures screenshot, Penn Vietnamese Students’ Association