Local civil rights leaders are threatening a boycott of Arizona State University's athletic program and the fund-raising campaign to rebuild Sun Devil Stadium unless the university expels a fraternity and students who organized a Martin Luther King Jr.-themed party.
Civil rights leaders made the the demands at a press conference Tuesday afternoon outside the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in downtown Phoenix.
The Rev. Jarrett Maupin is demanding the university permanently revoke recognition for the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity, which was already on probation for fighting with a rival fraternity before this incident. Maupin said a boycott of Sun Devil Athletics would include discouraging student athletes from attending the university as well as campaigning against efforts to raise funds to rebuild the stadium.
In an interview with The Arizona Republic after the press conference, Jim Rund, the university's senior vice president for Educational Outreach and Student Services, said university officials are investigating the incident and expect to make decisions on the fraternity chapter and individuals involved within days.
"It's safe to say the status of some individual students as well as the future of the chapter is currently in jeopardy," he said, adding that the party behavior, according to reports, was "outrageous, extraordinarily offensive and wholly unacceptable."
The fraternity is on suspension while university officials investigate. Revoking a fraternity's recognition would mean the fraternity is no longer recognized as a student organization by the university, and fraternity members would no longer be able to recruit or hold meetings on campus.
"ASU has one of the most diverse student bodies of any major university in the country, and it is unfortunate that a few misguided individuals held an offensive party at a time when ASU, the state and the nation are celebrating Dr. King's achievements and legacy," Sharon Keeler, an ASU spokeswoman said.
A representative from the fraternity's national chapter said a national staff member was at ASU Tuesday to begin an investigation.
Images are circulating on social media of partygoers wearing baggy basketball jerseys, gang-affiliated colored T-shirts and bandanas. The partygoers also appeared to flash gang signs in the photos and used hashtags such as 'blackoutformlk' and 'ihaveadream.'
The photos also show people at the party wearing saggy pants and posing with hollowed out watermelon cups.
Tau Kappa Epsilon was already on university-imposed probation for a 20-member assault on members of a rival fraternity in November 2012. An African-American fraternity member was injured in the attack at an off-campus apartment complex. ASU investigated the incident and put the TKE fraternity on probation until May 17, 2014. As part of the probation, the fraternity was not allowed to have parties.
A handful of ASU fraternities have had a tough time staying out of trouble in recent years. In the 2012-13 school year, the university saw a string of high-profile incidents involving fraternity members. One underage fraternity member died after drinking. Another nearly drank himself to death in a drinking contest. Two girls were severely burned at a party, and two off-campus fights took place.
One of the fights involved TKE.
Around 4 a.m. on Nov. 18, 2012, a group of 20 or so Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity members walked into the courtyard of the Hayden Terrace apartments, the unofficial "home" of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity, a Tempe police report says. They turned over a Ping-Pong table and confronted a fraternity member who was getting home from work. One man told him some "Dekes," as the fraternity's members are known, had beaten up TKE members; they were there to get revenge. He punched the fraternity member, who was African American, multiple times in the face, according to police reports.
The victim suffered a concussion and a broken jaw.
In a statement issued Tuesday in response to the MLK party, the spokesman for the fraternity's national chapter apologized for "any offensive actions that a few of our members might have participated in."
"Tau Kappa Epsilon does not condone or support any actions by its members that would be defined as racist, discriminatory, and/or offensive. Social events with 'party themes' that are defined as such have no place in our fraternity's mission or purpose," said spokesman Alex Baker in the statement.
TKE bills itself as the world's world's largest college social fraternity with 265,000 members and chapters on more than 290 campuses.
George Dean, president and CEO of the Greater Phoenix Urban League, said he was surprised to hear about students poking fun at the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. He said it sounded like it was done out of ignorance and racism.
Dean said he believes the students who took part in the party should be suspended at least for the rest of the school year. He credited ASU President Michael Crow with trying to increase the number of minority students on campus.
"I definitely think they should be suspended. I can't believe President Crow will not do what is necessary," Dean said. "I can't see him tolerating that."
Contributing: Randsom Rockliffe and Daniel Gonzalez