One week after NC State Diversity Education Week a party was thrown at The Retreat At Raleigh Thursday night, where students donned racist costumes depicting stereotypes of black culture.
Friday afternoon an Instagram photo surfaced from the party showing two students. One was dressed in blue jeans and a tucked in plaid button down. The other had a blue bandana covering half his face, a wrinkled white t-shirt, a backwards baseball cap, dark wash jeans and his hand prominently displaying the 13 hand sign used by the Crips gang.
The photo was posted by Austin Grooms, the student in the plaid button down, a freshman currently undeclared and a resident of The Retreat. The male in the blue bandana is Joe Englese, who is not listed within the NC State directory. The photo’s caption read “CMT v BET.” Comments on the photo ranged from, “You literally look like a country singer” to “What a good theme” and “Boiz gettin dirty.”
Country Music Television vs. Black Entertainment Television, commonly known as “CMT vs. BET” is a well known college party theme. Partygoers dress up much like Grooms and Englese did in an effort to parody popular country and black culture.
The theme received national attention in April 2014 when a fraternity and sorority at McDaniel College in Maryland were placed on “deferred suspension” after being accused of throwing a “CMT vs. BET” -themed house party.
The Baltimore Sun reported that McDaniel spokesperson Cheryl Knauer said it “promoted negative stereotypes and was insensitive and offensive.”
The Baltimore Sun wrote that, “as part of the deferred suspension, the two organizations will host mandatory educational programs with a focus on sensitivity and diversity awareness.”
At this time, the Technician has not been able to confirm the hosts of the party which had students affiliated with Theta Chi in attendance, such as Grooms and Englese.
“CMT v BET” -themed parties are not unusual at NC State. Just last year one was attended by members of Delta Gamma and Kappa Alpha.*
According to the NC State Fraternity and Sorority Life website, Theta Chi fraternity had its recognition revoked by the university in April 2015 due to multiple drug violations. The organization is currently eligible to return in June 2019. The university will work with national organization to re-establish the chapter.
When reached for comment Friday afternoon Grooms initially denied attending the party Thursday night. When asked of the photo on Instagram Grooms recanted then confirmed his attendance saying, “we dressed up like music awards shows.”
When asked who the other person in the photo was Grooms said, “I don’t really remember …” However, Grooms tagged Joe Englese in the Instagram photo on Facebook.
Several other former Theta Chi members were reached out to for comment who either did not respond or gave no comment.
John Miller IV, first year graduate student studying higher education administration and former African American Cultural Center’s AYA ambassador's president, said he was baffled by the picture.
“I am struggling with the perception of CMT vs. BET,” Miller said. “I am struggling with the portrayal of something that is very presentable and something that is still very tolerable and then when you speak on BET, that is not BET that is the gangster culture. You're representing thugs so you're saying BET is how all Black people dress.”
Jasmine Cannon, a senior majoring in women and gender studies and vice-chair of the Afrikan American Student Advisory Council, said she’s shocked that people just don’t seem to get the problem.
“They are still not getting it even though there are a lot of diversity efforts on campus every single day -- the students that need it are still not getting it,” Cannon said.
Jamaal Andrew Harrison, a second-year graduate student studying higher education administration, said that the picture showcased a deeper issue than just people appropriating another race’s culture.
“After hearing about the situation I was very galvanized by some of the images that I saw to have something themed ‘CMT vs. BET,’ that already pitfalls and pits African Americans vs. White Americans,” Harrison said. “Once again perpetuating the different races. Not only is this move perpetuating stereotypes, but given the history, the recent history and the history of NC State, are you doing this for the shock factor? Because you know that there is a good number of African American students that are enrolled here … are you doing this because you want to get that talk going or are you doing this because you are sincerely not informed about the historical tension between African Americans and White Americans and if so I do think this becomes an institutional issue?”
Miller said that regardless of what was or wasn’t meant by the costumes, the picture hurts him personally.
“I take this as a personal disrespect,” Miller said. “For someone to say that they are dressing as a person who is represented on Black Entertainment Television then I would truly like them to come and have a conversation with me. Face to face. Explain to me how this represents somebody who is on Black Entertainment Television or what that means to be on Black Entertainment Television.”
Grooms has removed the photo from Instagram, however the photo is still posted on Facebook.
Justine Hollingshead, assistant to the vice chancellor and the dean for academic and student affairs, said her office is trying to get more information so it can assess the situation from a university standpoint.
*Technician originally reported that Delta Gamma hosted a mixer last year which the current President of Delta Gamma, Allison Foster, refuted.