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Kanye West-themed frat party at UCLA sparks protests, claims of racism

Chanting “Black Bruins matter,” UCLA students crammed into Chancellor Gene Block’s office Thursday, demanding a response after some students wore blackface to a Kanye West-themed fraternity party.

Holding signs reading, “Our culture is not a costume,” hundreds of students marched on campus days after the party sparked anger over its racial overtones.

Jerry Kang, vice chancellor for UCLA’s Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, told the crowd he was heartbroken because “black Bruins' lives matter.” UCLA, he said, is trying to address concerns.

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“It’s one thing to suggest you are actually focusing on one celebrity who is African American, it’s another thing to take it as a license to perform every attribute, every stereotype, every grotesque minstrelsy that you see,” he said.

Students who attended the “Kanye Western” party thrown by the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity and Alpha Phi sorority Tuesday night wore baggy clothes or dressed like the Kardashians, and some wore blackface, the Daily Bruin reported.

After photographs of the party surfaced on social media, some students said the organizations’ actions were racist and mocked black culture, reigniting the social media hashtag #BlackBruinsMatter.

Alicia Frison, a black student union member, told The Times that another student notified her and other members about the party after photographing some female partygoers who were wearing gold and had soot on their faces. Other female partygoers wore large fake butts and were balancing water bottles like Kim Kardashian did in an infamous photo shoot for Paper magazine.

After the student took photographs of the partygoers, Frison said, someone at the party told the student, “You can’t do that.” Not long after, the party ended at 11 p.m.

As Frison arrived to join a group of black students who were standing outside the party, she said she saw a male student wearing blackface.

“The issue isn’t simply about putting on blackface,” she said. “It is also about the entire mockery of black culture.”

Kelsee Thomas, a member of the black student union, said students confronted fraternity members at the party. One apologized, but laughed when he was asked to write a letter to the group, she said.

“Everyone keep in mind that simply because I go to one of the top ranked institutions in the country, doesn't mean I'm any farther away from ignorance and racism as anyone else. They just hide it behind frat/sorority themes, anonymous postings, and micro-aggressions,” she said on Facebook. “This isn't over though.”

Student Hanan Worku said she was disappointed by the party and the lack of response from campus officials.

“Yes that's right, a frat decided it would be okay to have their members repeat a part of history that demoralized, mocked and dehumanized African Americans/ And celebrate while doing it,” she wrote on Facebook. “They showed up with their chains and braids with stuffed butts for God knows what reason.”

UCLA said it is investigating the party and talking to students.

“While we do not yet have all the facts, the alleged behavior is inconsistent with good judgment as well as our principles of community,” UCLA said in a statement. “We remind students that while they are free to celebrate in ways that draw on popular culture, their specific choices can cause harm and pain to fellow members of their community. Put simply: Just because you can do something, does not mean you should.”

Sigma Phi Epsilon’s national office says the UCLA fraternity chapter has temporarily suspended activities during an investigation of the incident. UCLA said Alpha Phi’s social activities also have been temporarily suspended.

“Building diverse and inclusive communities is core to our identity as an organization, and we have zero tolerance for racist behavior,” the fraternity’s spokesman, Beaux Carriere, said in a statement. “Sigma Phi Epsilon will continue to work with the university and UCLA community to investigate these claims and hold students accountable for any inappropriate behavior.”

The sorority could not be reached for comment Thursday.

veronica.rocha@latimes.com

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

2:37 p.m.: This article was updated with details on the protest at UCLA.

11:16 a.m.: This article was updated with new information.

7:50 a.m.: This article has been updated with a comment from the fraternity.

This article was originally published at 6:47 a.m.

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