Kappa Alpha Fraternity politizou "Trump Wall" divides the campus (2023)

A group of members of the Kappa Alpha Order removed a wall covered in Donald Trump slogans from their home on Tuesday after a Latino student organization took to social media to voice their offense and concerns, drawing national media attention to the issue .

The wall is part of the Brotherhood's annual formal week and is used for a game of capture the flag. This year the slogans "Trump" and "Make American great again" were added. Tulane's Latino student organization, Generating Excellence Now and Tomorrow in Education, commonly known as GENTE, launched a social media campaign#StandWithYourGENTEto express their concerns about the wall.

"My GENTE organization got together... and we decided to talk about it because just as they had the freedom to broadcast something like this, we would also use our freedom of expression to speak out against our feelings," said GENTE President Ana DeSantiago.

However, according to Jesse Lyons, Kappa Alpha Order's National Assistant Executive Director for Advancement, the game of capturing the flag has been an interbrotherly tradition for years and the wall should be part of a light-hearted game.

"[The members] have always played a game to capture the flag and the sandbag wall acts as a barrier to defend the flag for any team that has it," Lyons said. "Other fraternities have enjoyed this tradition and participated in the past and the football team has historically participated."

When the social media campaign on Facebook and Twitter drew attention, KA Chapter President Joe Bonner emailed GENTE President-elect Dillon Perez. Perez's social media posts were some of the first to draw attention. He provided The Hullabaloo with a copy of the email.

"I am very sorry that students found this offensive," Bonner wrote in part of the email. “As soon as I was informed that the students had complained, the wall was taken down. ...I would really appreciate it if you removed your social media posts and encouraged others to do the same. I find them uninformed and disrespectful. We took the time to meet with a group of students and explain many things about our form including the wall. We told you it was a joke.

In response to the allegations, members of the fraternity tore down the wall early Tuesday afternoon. At one point in the day, several members of the football team were seen in a video already circulating on the internet, tearing down part of the wall.

Kappa Alpha Fraternity politizou "Trump Wall" divides the campus (1)

Video courtesy of Andrew Tonino

Despite the dismantling of the wall, social media posts from various student organizations and individuals continued. The Tulane University Association of India, Tulane Journal of Law and Sexuality, Tulane Divest and Tulane University Amnesty International were among the groups posting about the wall on social media.

A collective of students, including members of GENTE, the student organization against racism and other organizations allied to anti-racist movements, have created a petition in support of the soccer players featured in the video. Organizations expressed concern that these individuals would be penalized by the university.

"We originally started the petition in support of the [football players] who tore down the wall because we feared they would get in trouble for their actions," Junior Manali Souda said on behalf of GENTE and SOAR. "We wanted to show solidarity with them."

Prior to this year's events, the Tulane KA Chapter leadership convened a meeting with several student leaders and staff from the Office of Multicultural Affairs to discuss previous concerns about formal week-long traditions. The activity was formerly called the Old South and is now called the Crimson Ball.

"Prior to this week, we sat down with several students so we could hear any concerns from our formal week, address any issues, and explain our reasoning for everything," Lyons said. "During that meeting we explained the wall to concerned students and they were told it was meant to be satire."

Junior Katalina Euraque, a member of GENTE and SOAR, said she believes the argument that the wall is satire shows a lack of understanding on the part of KA and also a lack of willingness to understand where colored students' concerns come from come over the wall.

"I think it's typical white privilege to say, 'Oh, it's a joke, it's funny,'" Euraque said. "It's not funny when people literally die. The rhetoric on which Donald Trump has built his literal campaign always refers specifically to white men saying, "It's just a joke." It's just a joke for you because you are not affected by it.

Kappa Alpha Fraternity politizou "Trump Wall" divides the campus (2)

Carolyn Barber-Pierre, Associate Vice President of Student Affairs and Director of OMA, has been in Tulane since 1984. She said she remembers a time when KA members in Confederate garb with Confederate flags walked around campus during the Old South. She finds many of the KA traditions problematic and believes that this is more of a historical issue than a political one.

"You know there's been heightened sensitivity about this whole thing [referring to Trump's comments about building a wall on the US-Mexico border], why would you make fun of it on campus?" said Barber-Pierre. Have you ever thought about how that would affect you? Have you ever put yourself in [other] people's shoes? Well, if it had been a swastika [or other symbol of hate], this whole conversation would have been different, very different. And I hate to invoke that because some people say that's unfair and you can't use that comparison, but again, free speech.

GENTE members created their own wall out of a sheet, which they hung up in front of the OMA on Wednesday. Decorated with an image of a crumbling wall, the sheet included the words "Breaking down the wall of ignorance and hate to build a community of inclusion".

GENTE encouraged students to write messages of support on the display. More than 50 people signed it as it was taken down Wednesday night over concerns about possible vandalism.

The walls provoked reactions beyond concerns about racism. Newcomer GENTE member Khristyan Trejo said he believes this incident raises questions about who needs to deal with the repercussions of racist acts on the Tulane campus.

"It raises a bigger question of how Greek life is portrayed and how the Tulane government deals with issues like this," Trejo said. “The tearing down of the wall wasn't finished until the color students had to do it themselves. I think this answers a larger question of where black students are going if a situation like this arises in the future.

Perez recognized KA's right to free speech, but also exercised his own rights.

"I endorse and fully respect KA's right to free speech," Perez said. “That needs to be defended and acknowledged. We, as colored students, and particularly the members of GENTE who have been deeply affected by this, have a right to respond and we have our own right of free speech to express our reactions to KA's actions."

Former student government president Madeline Hicks said she was "disappointed" to see the news.

"For me, KA sent a clear message: This campus isn't for all of us," Hicks said. "You are wrong."

After the wall was taken down Tuesday, the Tulane Department of Student Affairs placed a security guard at the KA house as a "precautionary measure in light of the controversy surrounding the wall that is now being taken down," said Mike Strecker, Tulane's executive director of public affairs.

"I find it really absurd how [Kappa Alpha Order] is being given any form of physical protection because they feel threatened by the fact that some students have decided to take this wall down," DeSantiago said. "When we, as colored students, expressed our fear of reaching our dormitories, our fear of just being on campus... They said nothing and gave us no sense of security."

Kappa Alpha Fraternity politizou "Trump Wall" divides the campus (3)

The university sent an email statement to all students, staff and faculty on Wednesday morning in response to the incident. Vice President of Student Affairs Dusty Porter sent the email.

"As a college and educational institution, we are committed to exploring ways to facilitate learning opportunities from this incident," Porter's email read. “We remain committed to our values ​​of freedom of expression and inclusion in a learning environment that thrives on the expression of multiple perspectives and viewpoints. At the same time, we remain committed to supporting all of our students to mitigate anything that is detrimental to the educational environment.”

Some GENTE members found the university's email and response problematic when it came to hearing both sides of the issue. Porter wrote that his office is "working with students and community members on a comprehensive approach to addressing these issues." However, GENTE members did not feel represented by the Studentenwerk.

"Dusty Porter has not met with GENTE at all, has not contacted GENTE regarding this situation," Trejo said.

This incident is not the first discussion of race relations this year on the Tulane campus. The Tulane Black Student Union held a "Call for Unity" in November to express dissatisfaction with the current status of black student inclusion on campus. The movement gained the support of more than 700 students, staff and teachers.

Some, like Barber-Pierre, say they are hopeful about the shift that has taken place this academic year to get closer to institutional justice for students of color. She said she is optimistic about the future of Tulane's race relations and sees more change and action this year than in the past decade.

"I saw some moves that I haven't seen in this topic for a long time," said Barber-Pierre. “I am optimistic about the institution's ability to bring about cultural change in terms of embracing diversity. I think there are a lot of people who support these things to happen. You can't believe they wouldn't happen when we're in a highly politicized time."

Members of GENTE started aopen letterin response to Porter's statement. He can be found in a letter to the editor under The Hullabaloo's Views.

Emily Carmichael contributed to the coverage of this article.

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