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Students say Texas fraternity hosted a ‘border control’-themed party

Guests at the University of Texas party. (Photo by Julia Brouillette/The Daily Texan)
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This post has been updated. 

A fraternity held a party over the weekend with a “border control” theme, according to the Daily Texan, the student newspaper at the University of Texas at Austin, with several hundred guests wearing sombreros, ponchos, construction workers’ reflective vests and hard hats, and military camouflage gear.

The student paper reported that the party’s theme was described by many of the guests as “border control,” but Andrew Campbell, the president of Phi Gamma Delta, known as Texas Fiji, said in an e-mail that the group’s intentions had been misconstrued.

“The official theme of the party is Fiji Marshals, an old west themed party that began in the early 1970s. It has always been a western-themed party.

“It is never the intention or goal of any of the members of Texas Fiji or invited guests to portray any racial or ethnic group in a negative manner.” He said an e-mail to chapter members indicated that the theme for the party was western, “not south of the border or anything Mexican related,” and members had intended to monitor and enforce that to the best of their ability.

“If any individual or cultural groups were offended, Texas FIJI apologizes for any insensitivity that our guests or members may have portrayed,” Campbell wrote. “…it is never Texas FIJI’s intent to alienate or demean any ethnic group.”

It’s a sensitive topic, especially in Texas. The campus bias reporting system has already received complaints about the party, said Erica Saenz, associate vice president for community and external relations at the university, and officials will investigate what happened. “We take these sorts of incidents very seriously,” she said. “Theme parties and offensive events do not reflect the value system of our university… We absolutely do not believe it’s a reflection on the majority of our student body.”

On Monday, a report was released that looked at incidents of bias on campus, said Riley Brands, the editor-in-chief of the Daily Texan, and from 2012 to 2014 there was a more than 700 percent increase in the number of bias reports, mostly because of two events proposed by a student group on campus. One, a “catch an illegal immigrant” game, never took place.

“The university definitely tries to ensure a very inclusive atmosphere for all students,” Brands said, “and it does succeed in that in any number of ways. But there’s still a dark underbelly that surfaces sometimes in stories like these.”

Campbell said, “I want to clarify that the members of Fiji are not inherently racist, bigoted, or prejudiced. We do not seek to demean anyone with a theme of a party.”