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Facebook party prompts university reaction

Amanda Seitz, Campus Editor

When students opened their e-mail Nov. 18, a letter addressed to the student body for an off-campus "Indian Theme Party" awaited them.

An e-mail was sent to the entire Oxford student body listserv detailing one off-campus residence's plans to hold a party entitled "Indian Theme Party" Saturday, Nov. 20.

The e-mail, sent by Director of Institutional Diversity Ron Scott and Dean of Students Susan Mosley-Howard, accused the party hosts of harboring bigoted viewpoints.

"Web postings inviting students to an ‘Indian Theme Party' is a disturbing example of themed parties that evoke out-dated, one-dimensional, negative stereotypes and caricatures that demean members of a community," the memo read.

Both Mosley-Howard and Scott refused to comment.

The letter referred to a Facebook event created by Miami students that invited a few hundred users to an "Indian Theme Party." The event encouraged partygoers to dress to an "Indian" theme.

In the student body letter, Mosley-Howard and Scott said the event represented a small number of students.

Student Body President Heath Ingram said only a minority of students knew about the proposed party prior to the university letter.

"In reality the party never did happen," Ingram said. "I would say that before the letter went out to the student body almost all Miami students were unaware that any students were planning an ‘Indian Theme Party.'"

According to the e-mail sent by Mosley-Howard and Scott, the party hosts had a conversation with university administrators. After the meeting, the hosts sent a message to potential attendees that they changed the name of the event to "Thanksgiving Party." By the time the student body e-mail was delivered, however, the Facebook event was deleted.

The hosts of the party declined to comment.

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The Office of Ethics and Student Conflict Resolution (OESCAR) received no formal complaints of student misconduct regarding the party, but did receive two e-mails expressing concern, according to Susan Vaughn, director of OESCAR.

Ingram, despite being uninformed about the letter, has also caught response from the student body concerning the controversy.

"This letter was a surprise," Ingram said. "I, as the student body president, had absolutely no idea that any administrator was going to send out a letter regarding that party. I think students were surprised that the administration sent out an e-mail targeting a specific party that a small amount of students were affiliated with."

Some university officials were consulted before the e-mail was sent, according to Dionn Tron, vice president of university communications.

"There were a number of people involved in discussions before the memo went out," Tron said. "It wasn't just Ron and Susan."

Ingram said some students have been confused about the university's policy and role with off-campus events.

"Is the administration going to make it a practice of calling out people who have themed parties?" Ingram asked.

Despite confusion, Ingram said he felt most students were aware of the theme party's negative connotation.

"Everyone I talk to has told me that they understand that it's culturally insensitive to theme a party that way," Ingram said.

Some students, including Associated Student Government Secretary Academic Affairs Narmar Doyle, said although the hosts did not necessarily mean harm, the party theme was still upsetting.

"I don't think the hosts meant to offend anyone," Doyle said. "I think students just want to socialize. Their intent was to host a social event, but in doing so they didn't really portray the contemporary Native American society. Instead, just perpetuated an iconic cartoon stereotype."