Following student allegations of a “ghetto”-themed party thrown at Fairfield University in western Connecticut last weekend, administrators are responding with several initiatives intended to foster a more inclusive community environment.
After Fairfield students threw an off-campus party Feb. 20, university administrators said posts on social media suggested that its theme “perpetuated racial stereotypes,” according to a statement by Fairfield University President Jeffrey von Arx. Initial student reports to administrators alleged that some party attendees wore blackface or brownface. Jennifer Anderson, the university’s vice president of marketing and communications, said while administrators knew there was a themed party, she could not reveal further details of the ongoing investigation due to privacy concerns. She said administrators have not yet been able to confirm the presence of blackface or brownface at the party.
Anderson highlighted the quick institutional response to the weekend’s controversy by school administrators and student leaders, who denounced the alleged incident.
“The event that occurred over the weekend perpetuated stereotypes surrounding diversity, and was also very upsetting for those students who are from diverse cultures,” Fairfield University Student Association President Anif McDonald said in a statement. “I have encouraged my peers to engage in dialogue with friends around this issue regardless of how uncomfortable it may be.”
A junior at Sacred Heart University — another private university in the town of Fairfield — who asked to remain anonymous said friends at Fairfield University told him the men’s lacrosse team threw the “ghetto” party at an off-campus beach house near the university. Party attendants allegedly wore gold chains, fake tattoos and carried jail signs, he said.
One effort to increase dialogue came in the form of a Wednesday night forum led and organized by students. Anderson said more than 400 students attended the university-wide forum, at which the community discussed the incident at hand and expressed “pent-up feelings.” Additionally, the university’s Office of Student Diversity and Multicultural Affairs held extended evening hours last week to provide students with a space to discuss issues and concerns related to the party, Anderson said. The extended hours will continue this week.
The Sacred Heart University junior said he doubts administrators will punish the men’s lacrosse team harshly because a large portion of university donations depend on these teams. Sacred Heart University President John Petillo sent an email on Feb. 23 to Sacred Heart students early last week condemning the incident at the neighboring university.
“He doesn’t want something like what happened at Fairfield to happen at Sacred Heart,” the student said.
Anderson said the President’s Institutional Diversity Council, which sponsors and runs a number of formal and informal programming across campus, engaged in a campuswide climate survey last year. She said the council will issue the survey’s results this spring.
The President’s Institutional Diversity Council was established in 2012.