In 1988, UW-Madison’s Zeta Beta Tau fraternity was accused of sponsoring a slave auction party that included members of the fraternity wearing blackface and Afro wigs. The incident sparked a small, but passionate, student-led protest on ZBT’s property, at which eight students were eventually arrested.
Twenty-four years later, Multicultural Student Coalition Executive Member Althea Miller said Langdon Street continues to be a hotbed for racist incidents, pointing to a recent report of students yelling racial slurs from a fraternity balcony and throwing a bottle at two African American students.
The most recent incident at Delta Upsilon came eight months after residents of a Langdon Street apartment hung a black Spider-Man doll from a balcony, an act some students said resembled a lynching. Miller said she sees the two incidents as part of a trend.
“There’s a really huge issue with Langdon Street because things keep happening on Langdon Street,” Miller said. “Quite frankly I’m getting sick of it.”
While former interfraternity council vice president and Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity member Tom Templeton recognizes a pattern of racial issues within Greek life, he said such problems are not exclusive to fraternity row.
“I think it is easy to target and label Langdon Street and the Greek community because of our self-affiliated labeling and the fact that we are kind of a tight-knit community,” Templeton said. “But at the same time there have been racial issues across campus since the same time outside of the Greek community.”
Still, Templeton said he recognizes a need for change. He said he views the recent incident at DU as an opportunity to shed light on the reoccurring issue, hoping it will lead to the Greek community working with programs or initiatives to prevent such problems from happening in the future.
With a similar goal in mind, Miller suggested diversity training for Greek life affiliates, an idea that Templeton said is conceivable.
“We do new member education programs for alcohol related issues and sexual assault,” he said. “I think diversity is another one that all new members in the Greek community would benefit from.”
African American Studies Professor Michael Thornton also said he sees a trend in racist occurrences on Langdon Street, a trend he attributes to high alcohol consumption within Greek life.
“When you have a lot of people in fraternities for example, you have a lot more people in concentrated areas,” Thornton said. “And if there’s drinking, they’re more likely to have the potential for acting inappropriately.”
But Templeton said it is unfair to single out Greek life when most students outside of Langdon culture drink as well.