University of Michigan Fraternity Cancels Nile River-Themed Welcome Party

Condemned by students for 'appropriating Egyptian culture'

University of Michigan
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A fraternity at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor canceled a Nile River-themed welcome party after being condemned by fellow students for "appropriating Egyptian culture."

Delta Sigma Phi wrote they "sincerely apologize" in an Aug. 19 press release for the "insensitive" choice on the part of its social team to launch an event that focused on the fraternity's "Egyptian roots" and celebrated the chapter's "newly built pyramid."

The event's Facebook page, which has since been deleted, invited students to "[c]ome to Delta Sig as a mummy, Cleopatra, or King Tut, it doesn't matter to us. Get your best ancient Egyptian robe and headdress and be ready to party in the desert. Be careful though, it's going to get HOT."

Delta Sigma Phi has long used Egyptian symbols, including issuing scholarships to undergraduates and graduates named for the Nile and the Sphinx, respectively.

In its statement, the executive board of Delta Sigma wrote, "It would never be the intention to make anyone from any group, especially a group that has been the victim of oppression for many generations, feel unwelcome or uncomfortable."

"We completely accept all responsibility for this ordeal. We will begin an education effort to teach ourselves how our actions have an effect on people from a wide variety of backgrounds," they continued. "This situation will serve as a very teachable moment for every Brother of our chapter by beginning a very important dialogue with those affected."

"We have learned our lesson," wrote the fraternity.

Yasmeen Afifi, president of the Egyptian Student Association (ESA), tweeted on Friday about the event, saying, "white umich back on their bullshit & culture appropriation can't wait !!!"

She elaborated on Facebook, writing that she was "not surprised and couldn't expect more out of a white fraternity."

"As an Egyptian, and one that has respect for various cultures and civilizations, this party is extremely offensive and disrespectful…I take pride in the grandeur of my people's legacy and will not allow my culture to be appropriated for your entertainment," wrote Afifi.

"It's unfortunate and pathetic that they lack the creativity to throw a fun party without being at the expense of another culture and people," she continued. "This is much larger than just a party; it is the privilege that led this frat to think this was remotely okay that needs to be analyzed. White people need to be cognizant of their identity and their role throughout history."

"What the bros at Delta Sig don't know is that those Egyptians still exist today and their legacy runs through our veins. You can't justify your culture appropriation and Cleopatra costumes because you think ancient Egypt was a mythical civilization of the past. Egyptians still exist, we aren't mythical creatures that vanished in fairy dust," wrote Afifi.

She concluded, "Imagine being one of the most advanced civilizations that has shaped the world we live in today with our architectural genius, literature, science, astronomy, mythology, religion, and mathematics just to be disrespected for white people's entertainment. What exactly is your contribution to society?"

Other student groups announced their support for ESA, including the school's chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and a group called Students4Justice. The latter wrote on Facebook that the fraternity's party represent "oppressive acts" that "continue to reveal the violence that is perpetuated by the Interfraternity Council, Greek Life systems, and whiteness as a whole."

According to the student paper the Michigan Daily, Afifi said she spoke with Finn on Friday about how to educate the fraternity on the "the impact of years of white washing Egyptian culture, erasing our identities, and Orientalism."

An anonymous source told the paper that the 45-minute phone call "resulted in both groups coming to a mutual understanding of the steps that will be taken to open the dialogue and increase awareness of how events like this will be avoided in the future."

Fraternity members, including chapter president Samuel Finn and Nile Scholarship recipient Daniel Roth, declined to comment and directed all media inquiries to the national office.

Patrick Jessee, executive director and CEO of Delta Sigma Phi, said in a statement that the national office was "fully supportive" of the fraternity's decision to cancel the party.

"Cultural insensitivity and appropriation have no place in our organization," said Jessee. "The theme of this party called into the spotlight stereotypical tropes of Egypt that perpetuate myths about the Egyptian people, spurred by popular media and Hollywood blockbusters, and it was shortsighted to use Egyptian culture as a theme for a party."

"It is incredibly productive for our society when individuals who feel marginalized speak up to improve awareness and impact behavior; and we support the thoughtful and respectful engagement by our chapter at the University of Michigan to learn and grow from this mistake," he added.

Update August 22, 9:25 a.m.: This article has been updated with comment from the executive director and CEO of Delta Sigma Phi.