Racially-charged party invitation sparks backlash at Johns Hopkins

An invitation to a party at a Baltimore frat house this Halloween has prompted an outcry from students at Johns Hopkins University, leading school administrators to suspend its author for three semesters and prohibit its sponsoring fraternity from holding social functions for 45 days.

Justin H. Park, an 18-year-old junior and social chair of the Sigma Chi fraternity, posted the online invitation through his Facebook account.

In the invitation, Park described the location of the event as taking place “in the exquisite metropolis paradise that we affectionately refer to as the ‘mother-f*cking ghetto,’ aka ‘the hood’ or as I like to call it, ‘the hiv pit’.”

This and similar statements in the invitation led an undisclosed person to report it to school authorities, who immediately ordered its removal. A slightly amended version of the letter was posted the following day and the party went on as scheduled.

But the fracas had just begun. Leaders of the Johns Hopkins Black Student Union held a demonstration in response to both the letter and the racially-themed party, and the organization continued to express its disgust at the event.

“There is no way you can be productive on this campus and come together as students when people feel this way and will do things like this that they know are offensive and that they know are historically hurtful,” said Christina Chapman, president of the university’s Black Student Union.

The NAACP took interest in the matter when the president of the Baltimore branch of the organization, Marvin Cheatham, suggested that legal actions be taken against both the fraternity and the university.

But the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has defended Park, asserting that the punishment for his actions was injudicious and disproportionate to his offense. A spokesman for the group said that measures implemented by the university to discourage such racially-charged speech in the future would be “laughably unconstitutional if they were implemented at a public institution.”

Some students have organized to speak out for Park. More than 600 students have joined a group on Facebook – the same social networking site where the controversial invitation was posted – expressing support for Park and solidarity with him in his plight.

Park faces an uncertain future for what some call a temporary lapse in judgment. His oversight may blight his academic career and even follow him into the professional world if his defenders cannot wipe his record clean.

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