Ski Team apologizes for hosting controversial party

Patrick Svitek

The Northwestern University Ski Team apologized Tuesday for hosting a weekend party that outraged campus cultural group leaders and sparked an impromptu forum on race relations at NU on Monday night.

In a letter sent to The Daily, the 65-member team wrote they “have no intention of shying away from” the incident, which occurred Saturday at an off-campus residence and was the latest in what has become a yearly tradition for the club athletes.

“We recognize that actions like ours occur far too frequently and with far too little hesitation by people in groups all over campus,” the team said in the letter. “We are ashamed to say that it has taken this incident for us to step back and reassess the values that we hold both as a team and as individuals.”

The team confirmed what Weinberg senior Kellyn Lewis shared before a packed living room Monday night at the Black House: In the letter, the team said they hosted a social event that “consisted of obscene and offensive costumes including Native American headdresses, misrepresentation of Bangladeshi culture and references to the South African apartheid and Kony 2012 campaign.”

Monday’s Black House gathering, announced an hour beforehand on the Facebook page “We Are Family: NU’s Black Community,” attracted more than 40 students, many of whom only knew of the party from Lewis’ initial account.

In a post on the Facebook page earlier Monday, Lewis recalled witnessing an off-campus party at which “at least 50 kids dressed up as some particular ethnic group or nationality,” donning “horribly racist and offensive mock-ups of these cultures.”

At Monday’s Black House forum, Lewis cast the Ski Team party as reflective of a toxic environment on campus that fails to punish racism.

“Like, this has got to stop!” he shouted, clapping his hands with every word. “What we’re looking at is basically a culture of campus where people feel privileged enough that they can just dress up and do whatever they want, mock people’s histories, step on people and alienate people continuously and repetitively.”

In an interview with The Daily early this morning, Ski Team President Matt Dolph recalled immediately reaching out to Lewis the morning after the party once he became aware Lewis had spotted it from the street. Over the next two days, members of the Ski Team executive board and Lewis met with University administrators, the Interfraternity Council, Panhellenic Association, Associated Student Government and the Coalition of Colors.

On Tuesday afternoon, Dean of Students Burgwell Howard confirmed he had met with the students involved to try “to piece together what’s going on and what’s already happened.”

“Honestly, (I was) highly disappointed and kind of shocked that something like this could happen in our community,” Howard said. “It seems very out of character for Northwestern to do something like this because we generally have a sensitive student body.

“Hopefully, what we can do is help people understand the impact and create something that can make a restorative aspect for the community.”

In an interview with The Daily on Tuesday, University President Morton Schapiro said he was aware of the incident but “still probably behind four hours” on reading emails related to it.

The issue went viral after a Tumblr site surfaced Sunday showing half a dozen photos of college-age students apparently wearing costume garb mimicking several ethnicities. The page was promoted by several campus cultural group leaders on the aforementioned Facebook page.

Dolph said he volunteered the photos – with blurred-out faces – to Lewis, Weinberg junior Paul Jackson and Medill senior Dallas Wright after their initial meeting Sunday.

It remained unclear Tuesday night whether the Ski Team knew those photos would be publicized.

“What’s said is that they’d be exposed,” Lewis said. “…Now there may have been a miscommunication around that, but we said they’d be exposed.”

Weinberg sophomore Benjy Leibowitz, who acted as an informal mediator during some meetings between Lewis and the Ski Team, said there were “definitely misunderstandings” surrounding Sunday’s negotiations.

“There was some real strong-arming made,” Dolph recalled, noting Lewis and his friends “had the upper hand at the time” and the Ski Team was in no position to bargain.

Regardless of the photo-release agreement, Dolph said the Ski Team has used the party controversy to reevaluate what had become a somewhat recent tradition: hosting a “Beer Olympics”-style contest in which attendees dress up as various ethnicities.

When he saw a derogatory apartheid reference at the party Saturday, Dolph recalled realizing the themed event had finally crossed the line.

“What started out pretty much in jest had escalated each year in edginess, going from costumes with a flag on each shirt to people wanting to push it,” Dolph said.

Dolph called dealing with the party’s aftermath a “full-time commitment, as it merits.”

“There’s no way I don’t come out of this an entirely different person,” he said. “The goal right now is to make sure that roster spots, top to bottom, president to the newest freshmen members, has the same learning experience and everyone moves forward with this.”

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