School, NAACP will investigate 'gangsta' party

CLEMSON, S.C. - Clemson University President James Barker on Tuesday decried a party where white students mocked black stereotypes by drinking malt liquor and at least one student dressed in black face.

Mr. Barker said in a letter to students and faculty members that the university was investigating. The NAACP also confirmed it was looking into the party and at least three other similar events held at universities throughout the country.

"I was appalled, angered and disappointed when I learned that a group of Clemson students participated in activities at an off-campus party that appeared to mock and disparage African-Americans," Mr. Barker said. "Many people have been offended and deeply hurt."

School officials said they became aware of the party over the weekend and have met with some of the offended students. The party, which students said had a "gangsta" theme, was held over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend.

Pictures from the party were posted on the social networking Web site Facebook.com.

An unsigned letter from party organizers read to some offended students Monday apologized for "any disrespect we have caused." "We invited all races and types of peoples and never meant any racial harm," according to the letter, which was provided to The Associated Press by Gail DiSabatino, the university's vice president for student affairs.

"We want everyone to know how sorry we are, and that we are willing to do anything to make things right," the letter said.

Lonnie Randolph, the president of the South Carolina chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said the party wasn't "just harmless fun."

"We once lynched African-Americans as good fun and humor," Mr. Randolph said. "We also execute them at a real high rate for fun and humor. We also don't educate them or pay them like we pay others in the community, and that's fun and humorous to a lot of people."

He confirmed that the national office was investigating similar parties held elsewhere.

Earlier this month, officials at Tarleton State University in Dallas investigated a similar party that featured fried chicken and fake gang apparel, and at the University of Connecticut School of Law, students who attended an off-campus "Bullets and Bubbly" party held fake machine guns and 40-ounce malt liquor bottles.

Ms. DiSabatino said members of Alpha Phi Alpha, a black fraternity, attended the large party but left. Bobby Clark, the fraternity's faculty sponsor, didn't want to speak about the party Tuesday, and a message left for the fraternity's president wasn't immediately returned.

Clemson officials said the school was investigating to see whether any students were harassed or whether there was underage drinking at the party.

The graduate chapter of Omega Psi Phi, a black fraternity, planned a town hall meeting in Anderson on Tuesday afternoon.

"The thing that made this worst is that they tried to say it for Martin Luther King," said Jamison Simmons, a former president of the Omega Psi Phi undergraduate chapter. "On any other day, it still would have been bad, but to use King Day as the purpose behind it- that's terrible."

Mr. Barker said the issue could either divide or unite the school.

"I understand that many of the students involved in the party have come forward to apologize and reach out to those they have offended, and that is important and necessary. But more needs to be done," Mr. Barker said.

Mr. Randolph said he was concerned about "our future leaders of South Carolina."

"These aren't a bunch of hicks in the backwoods somewhere," he said.

Clemson has roughly 1,100 black students out of more than 17,000 undergraduates, according to the university's Web site.