The Black Student Alliance (BSA) of the University of New Mexico released a statement Wednesday condemning members of the Kappa Kappa Gamma (KKG) sorority for using “racial remarks” during a workshop for incoming Greek Life members.
The workshop was part of Monday’s 2018 Greek New Member Summit, an event that educates incoming Greek Life members on various topics, with the incident occurring during a portion of the event covering mental health.
According to the statement, the comments were made when Dr. Stephanie McIver, director of counseling at Student Health and Counseling (SHAC), was making a presentation about the services available at SHAC.
Nick Morgan, an ASUNM senator, is a member of Black Student Alliance and attended the event on Monday night as a member of his fraternity. He said that the members of the sorority began talking once McIver started presenting.
“When we were in the workshop with (UNM Police Department), everyone was quiet and attentive and respectful,” Morgan said. “This group of girls, who were in the back, were literally mocking (McIver) the whole time.”
Eventually, the comments from the group began to take a racial tone.
The BSA statement stated that members of KKG also said, “Black people get away from me.” One member reportedly was so upset that he began to shake.
Morgan said that he heard more comments afterwards, including one sorority member saying, “Yeah, and stop wearing grills.”
Nieajua Gonzalez, another member of BSA who attended the summit, said she overheard the last comment and approached the girl who said it afterwards.
Gonzalez said that when she asked the girl about what she had said, the girl laughed and said she didn’t mean it like that.
“I said ‘I don’t care how you meant it, there’s no right way to say it’,” Gonzalez said.
She added that the girl apologized, but both Morgan and Gonzalez said the apology lacked sincerity.
“You can tell there was no genuine apology,” Morgan said.
Gonzalez said the group’s manner changed little following the apology.
“The dynamic never shifted,” she said. “It was still funny to her.”
Both Gonzalez and Morgan said they do not speak for their Greek letter organizations, but rather just BSA.
Brandi Stone, program specialist for African-American Student Services at UNM, said that comments like these feed into a negative stereotype of African-Americans, specifically black men.
“It feeds into stereotypes of black men being like animals or dangerous bodies to be around,” Stone said.
The UNM KKG chapter did not provide comment to the Daily Lobo. However, the national chapter provided an official statement on the matter:
“We are aware of the incident and reached out privately to the group involved. We are also reviewing this matter with our members and will determine any appropriate next steps with our local chapter.”
Ryan Lindquist is the director of the Student Activities Center (SAC) at UNM, which oversees both fraternities and sororities, and confirmed that KKG is currently undergoing their own internal investigation. He said the statements made by members of KKG do not represent all the standards of UNM Greek Life organizations.
“We take any occurrences of statements that may not be appropriate very seriously,” Lindquist said.
However, Lindquist admitted that similar incidents have occurred in the past with fraternities and sororities at UNM.
“We’ve had incidents in the past and we need to continue to work on this,” he said. “We know that this is going to be a long-term project for us to continue to improve our performance in those areas.”
Lindquist added that SAC is planning on improving inclusivity, including a tour that teaches people about unconscious bias, speakers and other events that fraternity and sorority members will be required to attend.
Morgan said that a meeting between BSA and UNM Greek Life is scheduled for next Monday.
Scott Carreathers, director of African-American student services, said that problems relating to race at UNM are not exclusive to Greek Life.
“It’s indicative of the climate of this University,” Carreathers said. “People are uncomfortable right now pertaining to race and I think that’s the elephant in the room that needs to be discussed.”
Gonzalez said that the University climate is also reflected in the manner in which KKG members made their remarks.
“I was offended, because (they) feel comfortable enough to say that in a room full of people,” Gonzalez said. “That’s the climate at this university — you’re comfortable enough to say that in a room where individuals are behind you.”
Lindquist said the SAC does not handle disciplinary action when it comes to fraternities and sororities, and that those issues are mostly handled by the Dean of Students. He said the agency functions more in an educational manner.
Recently, both UNM President Garnett Stokes and ASUNM President Becka Myers have made campus safety a priority. Gonzalez and Stone referenced these statements, and said the comments made by KKG members make African-American students unsafe.
“Our black students and our members of Greek letter organizations should feel comfortable in a room with other members of other ethnicities of Greek letter organizations, and not feel that they are deemed as scary to anybody,” Stone said.
In a statement, Stokes said she has “engaged with members of the BSA and AASS, and (taken) to heart their concerns about our campus climate and opportunities for improvement.”
Clarifying Note: Dr. Stephanie McIver, director of counseling at SHAC, is an African-American woman.
Kyle Land is the editor-in-chief of the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @kyleoftheland.