A group of first-year law students at the University of Texas at Austin have been chided by the dean for participating in a “Ghetto Fabulous”-themed costume party and posting pictures from it online.
It’s the latest racially insensitive incident to emerge from the university, which has struggled for years to boost minority enrollment and make students of color feel welcome.
“Among the many ways to happily party in Austin, this particular one was singularly heedless and odious,” dean Larry Sager said in an e-mail to the law school’s student body.
Nick Transier, a first-year student who attended the party in September and posted pictures on his Web site, said nobody there meant to offend anyone of any race.
“We had no intention by any measure to choose a group or class of people and make fun of them,” said Transier, 26, of Houston.
But the photos—in which partygoers carried 40-ounce bottles of malt liquor and wore Afro wigs, necklaces with large medallions and name tags bearing historically black and Hispanic names—upset some black law students, said Sophia Lecky, president of the Thurgood Marshall Legal Society.
“I just thought overall that it was kind of insensitive, that it was mocking a group of people or a class of people in just a real stereotypical or negative way,” said Lecky, whose group aims to improve the academic and social climate for black UT law students.
Black enrollment plummeted after the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in 1996 in favor of Cheryl Hopwood and three other white applicants who sued the UT law school after they were denied admission in favor of minority candidates. There were only 17 black students enrolled in the fall of 1999, though that number has been steadily climbing.
The university as a whole also has had trouble with diversity and racial insensitivity.
Former UT President Larry Faulkner ordered sweeping changes in the university’s curriculum and culture in 2004 following a series of incidents that included the egging of the Martin Luther King Jr. statue and fraternity parties where blacks were portrayed in Jim Crow racial stereotypes.
The university hired Vincent last year to improve diversity on campus. On Thursday, UT announced the appointment of an associate vice president who will work to diversify the faculty and staff.
Transier said he and other partygoers have met with members of the Thurgood Marshall Legal Society and apologized.
“In hindsight, is it something I won’t do again?” Transier said. “No, I won’t. It’s one of those things that you learn from and move on.”