UCI students condemn fraternity actions

UC Irvine’s student government voted Tuesday evening to condemn the actions of a campus fraternity seen as insensitive to Pacific Islanders after students complained about its Islander-themed party.

Student government representatives voted 14 to 0 with one abstention to pass “legislation” creating an ad hoc committee whose goal is to explore the accusations against the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity and meet with university officials in an attempt to help determine a punishment for the organization.

Phi Gamma Delta, also known nationally as FIJI, hosted its annual Islander party — a philanthropic event designed to raise money for charitable and research organizations. Phi Gamma Delta chapters at universities across the nation host Islander parties each year.

In the two weeks since the fundraiser, UCI students have complained that the attire won by partygoers and the theme of the event was culturally insensitive to Pacific Islanders, who make up a small portion of the campus population.

Twenty-eight students at the university identify as Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, according to UCI’s office of institutional research.

Other Greek organizations and unaffiliated students who attended the Islander party wore items that are culturally significant to Pacific Islanders, including grass skirts, body paint and coconut bras, said Save Gasaiwai, a Fijian student at UCI.

Gasaiwai said that while he’s pleased with the move by the student government, he’s disappointed that university officials have not taken a public stance on the issue.

“If this was done to any other group on campus that has more people, the university would have issued a statement,” he said.

Student government representatives felt it was necessary to respond to student complaints because of the recurrence of controversial themes at UCI Greek-sponsored events, said representative Patrick Chen.

The student government legislation strongly suggests that Phi Gamma Delta change its longstanding nickname — FIJI — and abstain from hosting its annual FIJI Islander party in the coming years, Chen said.

However, student government leaders are unable to force the fraternity to adhere to any of their requests, according to UCI policy. Only university officials can place sanctions on the fraternity.

“Maybe we can’t change their name, but we can create enough public pressure to make them follow current policies,” Chen said.

UCI’s Greek Life bylaws state that events should not misrepresent, stereotype, mock or mimic race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender or culture.

Any Greek organization that fails to abide by the standards set in the bylaws will face a judicial board hearing.

Members of the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity and the Interfraternity Council, which oversees all fraternities at UCI, did not respond to requests for comment.

The fraternity is not facing punishment from the university at this time, said Cathy Lawhon, director of media relations.

While more than 80 students expressed disdain for Phi Gamma Delta’s actions during a student government meeting last week, others believe the fraternity was exercising its free speech rights when it hosted the party.

“I support free speech, but I don’t think it should be at the expense of other students on campus,” said Lauren Hineman, a student government representative.

Gasaiwai said he has gathered 850 signatures on a petition that he plans to take to campus administrators in an attempt to keep organizations from hosting parties like the Islander.