All Around the Liberal Arts

By Anna Waugh

Rice University Oreo cookies strewn across the floor and stuffed into student mailboxes, urine in a photocopy machine and a racist message written on the door of the Sid College Dormitory at Rice University all marked another racially charged incident at an American college. The vandalism occurred following a well-attended, unregistered party at the Houston, Texas, college dubbed “The 40s Party,” which occurred the night before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Rice banned “The 40s Party” in 2004, following complaints that the theme held negative connotations for African Americans because the 40-ounce bottles of malt liquor knocked back at the party are said to be associated with poor black people. The party has been held unofficially every year since the ban was enacted. Though there was no evidence that the party and the vandalism were linked, many students were upset that the party had occurred at all, especially so close to the MLK holiday.

The party and vandalism have sparked a heated debate at the college about what types of behavior pushes the line between harmless and offensive. Matt Davis, a senior who has attended the party annually since 2004, told the Rice Thresher, Rice’s student newspaper, that he did not see the party as racist because it was not specifically attacking any one group of people and said that he simply considers malt liquor to be a poor persons’ drink.

“I would say at worst it’s politically incorrect. My whole opinion of all that kind of stuff is, if someone didn’t go to the party, it really shouldn’t be any of their business. If it bothers them, don’t go,” Davis told the Rice Thresher.

Across the nation this year there have been several instances of racist behavior at colleges and universities, including last year’s “politically incorrect” party at Macalester. Open dialogue is often suggested as an appropriate response. However, as the Director of Multicultural Affairs at Rice University said, “You can’t change people’s views in an hour and 20 minutes. It’s an ongoing process.”

It is difficult for many to admit that racism still exists, even among the elite. “It’s really unfortunate that we’re so intelligent, but this still exists,” said Kelli Newman, another senior at the college. “If this was at University of Georgia or University of Texas, I could imagine this, but I feel like we should have higher standards.”

In an age where the distinction between comedy and mockery is blurred, it seems that many are asking the question of where to draw the line. February’s Black History Month might be a good time to discuss those difficult questions about race and justice that still plague this country and the world. Otherwise Oreos will continue to be stuffed into mailboxes, and that’s just disgusting.