Two students apologize to AAAB for offensive e-mail

Casey Newton

Two Phi Delta Theta members apologized Thursday in connection with the posting of a message to their fraternity listserv that contained derogatory remarks about Asian Americans.

The message, written by Phi Delt member Brian Herr, describes an intramural softball game played April 18 between Phi Delt and a team containing Asian-American players. Herr’s 200-word message is written in the style of a myth, but employs several ethnic stereotypes or derogatory epithets about Asians.

“I feel absolutely awful about it,” said Herr, a Weinberg sophomore. “It was an ignorant, immature joke and a poor representation of my character. I never meant to offend anybody.”

The message became public when Kemper Hall resident and Phi Delt member Matt Dolan posted it on his door. A student saw the message and brought it to the Asian American Advisory Board.

Many students were offended by the note, said Grace Lee, AAAB vice chairwoman.

“I was appalled. I was shocked — speechless, basically,” said Lee, a Weinberg sophomore. “For someone to have these thoughts is their own business. But to publish it on a listserv or post it on a dorm door puts it in the public sphere. We have the right to comment on it and bring it to the attention of the entire community.”

Dolan, who played in the softball game, said he never intended the public to see the posted message. At Kemper, access to individual suites requires a separate key.

“I feel terrible that we’ve offended people,” said Dolan, a Weinberg sophomore. “It was a stupid mistake, and we’re trying to apologize to everyone we can.”

Others said no apology was necessary.

“I was never offended at all,” said Phi Delt member Kevin Yam, who is Asian American. “It’s one of the more amusing e-mails I’ve gotten all quarter.”

Yam, a Weinberg junior, said humor is a healthy way of dealing with differences between ethnic groups.

“The more we can’t joke about it with each other, the more of a problem it’s going to be,” he said. “The critical underlying thing is that there was no malice intended. That’s the only thing that matters.”

AAAB Chairman Wayne Wu disagreed.

“This is not something that I would expect anyone in college to ever think of writing — not in that detail, or not in that length,” said Wu, a McCormick junior. “It went far beyond just joking between friends.”

Lee said the larger issue is that comments about Asian Americans are not taken as seriously as those aimed at other groups.

“If this e-mail had been directed at other minority groups, like black Americans or Hispanic Americans, people would be a lot more shocked about it,” she said. “It goes along with all the stereotypes Asians have to live with every day. This is all part of it, because these kinds of ideas are in the mindset of all American people.”

Herr and Dolan went through Phi Delt’s internal disciplinary board and received several sanctions, including suspended membership, Herr said.

Herr and Dolan said they e-mailed apologies Thursday to AAAB and the student who found the note.

But Wu, who said he had not yet read the apologies, said the response was insufficient.

“I don’t think this is about apologies to individuals or organizations,” he said. “It’s not just about us. It’s not just an Asian-American issue.”

Herr said he could only offer apologies.

“There’s no excuse for what I did,” he said. “It was absolutely wrong.”