Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
December 6, 2022

The Sigma Chi fraternity has ousted the member it claims was responsible for posting a racially offensive advertisement last week to promote its controversial "Halloween in the Hood" party, which has drawn cries of protest from members of the Black Student Union and a formal investigation by University administrators.

The fraternity voted to expel junior Justin Park this week for posting the advertisement on Facebook.com, which invoked derogatory racial stereotypes and described Baltimore as a "motherf---ing ghetto" and "hiv [sic] pit."

Members of the fraternity say Park grossly mischaracterized the theme of the party, and that the most iconic image of the controversy -- a store-bought plastic doll dressed like a pirate and hanging by a noose on the front porch of the Sigma Chi house -- was an otherwise benign Halloween decoration. Members of the Black Student Union claim the prop was meant to resemble a lynching.

"The advertisement was in bad taste," Park said. "It was meant to be satirical and humorous but it was offensive, and for that I apologize."

Park admitted that he was acting on his own when he posted the advertisement, and that no one else from the fraternity had seen it beforehand. Nonetheless, he maintained that when he wrote it, he was speaking for the fraternity as a whole and that it supported him when he did.

"I'm the social chair of the fraternity. My name was all over it. I spoke for the fraternity, they were behind me," he said.

BSU members held demonstrations throughout the week, calling on the University to take immediate punitive action against the fraternity. They've also challenged the administration to pursue a number of institutional changes that they claim are necessary to fight the latent undercurrent of racism on campus that has been ignored for years.

The University has suspended the fraternity indefinitely as it conducts its own investigation. According to Dorothy Sheppard, associate dean of students and lead administrator for the Continued from Page A1

proceedings, a five-member committee made up of three students and two faculty members will decide whether or not to punish the fraternity or any of its individual members. Such action could range from issuing a warning to outright expulsion.

Timeline of events

Park initially posted the first of two advertisements on the Facebook Web site last Thursday to promote the event. Turning, who says he uses his personal account on the Web site to occasionally monitor fraternity-related activities, saw the announcement and called Sigma Chi President Richard Boyer, who was out of town at the time.

"I saw it and was completely appalled and shocked to see something like that at Hopkins," Turning said. "I immediately called [Boyer] and was given assurance that it would be taken down, and that the party wouldn't happen that way."

Boyer confirmed that he had been instructed by Turning to remove the advertisement, and that Park agreed to do so immediately.

After receiving a number of angry responses to the advertisement from BSU members, Park re-posted another version of the message that, according to Turning, "was even more inflammatory." The altered message made use of derogatory racial stereotypes and thanked "Johnnie L. Cochran for being a true homie and getting Orenthal Simpson, commonly known as OJ, acquitted."

At approximately 9 p.m. on the night of the party, Park called Student-Community Liaison Carrie Bennett out of fear that protestors might disrupt the event.

Bennett said she visited the house, where saw the pirate doll hanging from the noose on the front porch.

"I suggested that it would be a good idea to take the skeleton pirate down," she said. "The general sentiment at the time was that it was just a Halloween decoration."

According to Bennett, it became apparent that the party was going to be a problem when a group of black students who had come to the Sigma Chi house left visibly upset.

"It was after they left and I had seen the reaction and realized that this was going to get worse that I called Rob Turning."

After speaking with Turning, Bennett and Hopkins Security shut down the party at approximately 1:40 a.m. Sunday morning. According to Bennett, the fraternity members did not understand why the party was being shut down, but complied with her orders quickly and asked the guests to leave.

BSU protests, University reacts

In a striking display of protest, members of the Black Student Union lined N. Charles St. on Monday for more than eight hours, hoisting banners with slogans like "Ban Sigma Chi" and "Lynching is Not a Joke," and attracting the attention of local news media in protest of the event.

The University reacted quickly to the protest and subsequent media spectacle, issuing a statement in which President William Brody vigorously condemned the fraternity and the behavior of its members.

"I find this incident deeply disturbing, and I'm personally offended," he said. "The adoption of racial stereotyping as a party theme is a repugnant act."

BSU President Christina Chapman, a senior, did not return repeated attempts to contact her for comment.

Freshman Sheyna Mikeal, a BSU member who attended the event, said that she was more offended by the denigrating language of the advertisement than with the "Halloween in the Hood" theme of the party.

"I'm okay with the theme, but it was the description that just turned me off," she said. "It really hurt. I don't know if it was racism, but it was offensive."

Freshman Mwende Muindi, who was the first to respond to the advertisement after it was posted online, agreed.

"I want people to realize, number one, that racism is still here, and it's something we need to educate ourselves about," she said.

That was the sentiment that dominated an open forum held by University administrators Monday night, at which various local media outlets and virtually every senior member of the University administration was in attendance.

Marvin Cheatham, president of the Baltimore chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, stuck out at Hopkins administrators for what he claimed was their complicity in the University's institutional racism.

"It seems that the administration has been sweeping the issue under the carpet," he said. "These students are committed to getting something done this time. We're going to support them. This administration is going to respond."

He met with Stephen Dunham, vice president and general counsel, Monday night but said his organization had no plans to pursue legal action against the University.

"We want to try to get behind closed doors and try to resolve this. These students are here to get an education and not to be in courts. That's the last resort."

Black students at the forum repeated calls for a formal apology from Sigma Chi -- an apology that many feel the fraternity took too long to offer.

Boyer said he and his fellow fraternity members were in the process of submitting such an apology to BSU, and that the fraternity's focus is now on mending the racial fissures it has exposed and restoring its reputation on campus.

"The brothers at Sigma Chi are deeply disturbed by the events," he said. "We're eager to engage in the healing process."

Boyer, who was not at the party, distanced himself and the fraternity from Park's actions.

"The advertising was the sole responsibility of [Park], he was fully in charge of coordinating all social events," he said. "We're sorry for the people that are offended, but it was not meant to be offensive."

Mark Anderson, president of the international Sigma Chi corporation, defended the reputation of the fraternity from what he claimed were rampant misconceptions.

"I think there is a consensus that the perception of what actually happened there is incorrect," he said.

Boyer agreed. "We're committed to preserving Sigma Chi on the Johns Hopkins campus," he said. "We believe that, after a fair investigation by the University, our true nature will show and our reputation will be restored."

-- Ravi Gupta and Xiao-bo Yuan contributed to this article.

Comments powered by Disqus

Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The News-Letter.

News-Letter Special Editions