Suicide Bomber and Halloween

Halloween has never been known as a time for thoughtful activity, but activities at a couple of big-name university campuses this year were occasions for interesting contrasts.

At Johns Hopkins University, the Sigma Chi fraternity sent out an e-mail invitation to a “Halloween in the Hood” Party. At the very least, the invitation was puerile and tasteless and at worst it was a repugnant example of lingering racism on campus. The e-mail referred to dominantly African-American Baltimore as an “HIV pit” There were further requests to wear “bling-bling,” vernacular for expensive and perhaps ostentatious jewelry associated with the hip-hop community. WBAL radio reported there was a least one person at the fraternity party dressed as a slave.

The university community responded quickly, suspending fraternity activities. Though the university should be careful not to step on First Amendment rights no matter ignoble the speech, condemnation of the e-mail and the party is necessary and appropriate. The student responsible has since apologized and claimed the initiation was “satirical” and not intentionally offensive Nonetheless, it is reasonable to ask how a student who claims he is not a racist and is obviously intelligent enough to attend a prestigious university could be so insensitive as to not realize the hurtful effect his e-mail could have.

At the other end of the spectrum is the University of Pennsylvania, the President of the University, Amy Gutmann, hosted a Halloween Party at her home. At the party, a student came dressed a suicide bomber. While Gutmann certainly cannot be held responsible for every poor judgment made by a university student, she had no problem standing for a smiling pose with the student. One could make the reasonable assumption that she would not have posed with someone dressed in a Klan robes, in a Nazi uniform, or a white student dressed in blackface — at least one hopes not. The logical conclusion is that suicide bombers, who blow themselves up to kill deliberately as many civilians as possible, have not yet become politically unacceptable on at least one major university campus. Could not Dr. Gutmann see how divisive her actions could be? Gutmann is not an inexperienced student, she is supposed to represent the adult supervision on campus

Perhaps even more disappointing is that the University of Pennsylvania has not united as in the case of Johns Hopkins to condemn such offensive behavior. The Daily Pennsylvanian, the student paper at the University of Pennsylvania, ran an op-ed suggesting that those upset by the student in suicide bomber costume posing with the University president just did not have a sense of humor. It is reasonable to ask how the student who wrote the piece and the student who dressed as a suicide bomber (both obviously intelligent enough to attend a prestigious university) and the president of a major university could all be so insensitive as to not realize the hurtful effect of trivializing the suicide bomber.

Later Dr. Gutmann explained that the “costume is clearly offensive and I was offended by it. As soon as I realized what his costume was, I refused to take more pictures with him as he requested.” Next time we hope that Dr. Gutmann will be a little more sensitive and escort similarly clad students from her home.

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