This post is a collection of racially-themed parties and events at college campuses.  They’re examples of one kind of simple individual racism that still perpetuates daily life. Re-posted in response to last week’s incident.


October 2015: Members of UCLA’s Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity and Alpha Phi sorority threw a “Kanye Western” party. According to UCLA’s Afrikan American Newsmagazine, witnesses reported:

  • “a group of women leaving the dormitory dressed in oversized shirts, gold chains, and form-fitting black dresses stuffed to caricature their butts.”
  • a girl who had “taped a wine glass to her fake butt.”
  • people “dressed in baggy clothing, bandanas, and gold chains.”
  • “fraternity members [wearing] black face paint.”
When witnesses tried to take photographs, they reported being rushed by fraternity members, but some images appeared on social media. In their coverage of the party, Cosmopolitan included these:


March 2015: Sigma Alpha Epsilon members and others at the University of Oklahoma sing:

There will never be a nigger in SAE.
You can hang them from a tree, but they’ll never sign with me.


November 2014: “USA vs. Mexico” party hosted by the Kappa Alpha fraternity at Randolph-Macon College



September 2014: Entries in a “car costume” event by ENSOC, the Engineering Society of the University of Canterbury, mock ebola victims, the violence in the Gaza strip, and the Taliban. Discussed here and the university’s official response can be read here (thanks to Mark B. and another anonymous tipster for the heads up).

1 (4)1 (3)1

And some sexism for good measure: 2

Earlier that year, in May, the same group also put out a song parody featuring an actor in blackface. The negative response to this incident was swift, but it did not apparently make much impact on the group.

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February 2014: Photos from an Olympics-themed mixer co-hosted by the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority and the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity at Columbia University, discussed here.  Costumes and gags reflected racial/national stereotypes:

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January 2014: The Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity at Arizona State University hosted a so-called Martin Luther King, Jr party in which “mocked blacks by donning loose basketball jerseys, flashing gang signs and drinking from hollowed-out watermelons.” Photos online were tagged with #hood.



November 2013: The Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity at California Polytechnic – San Luis Obispo threw a “Colonial Bros and Nava-Hos” party.


October 2013: The Delta Kappa Epsilon sorority at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, throws a 60s-themed party features “hippies” mixing with men in rice paddy hats. Faces blacked out. (Thanks to Holly for the link!) 1.jpg 1


July 2013: The Alpha Delta fraternity and Delta Delta Delta sorority at Dartmouth College hosted at “Bloods and Crips” party (story here, picture here):



June 2013: A “Cowboy and Indian”-themed graduation party thrown by a California State University, San Marcos student (via the California Indian Culture and Sovereignty Center). Ironically, the graduate majored in Anthropology.



April 2013: This still is from a video celebrating the spring semester induction of new recruits into UC Irvine’s Asian-American fraternity Lambda Theta Delta (via Colorlines).  It features a fraternity member in blackface.  The entire video can be seen here.



February 2013: Kappa Sigma Fraternity at Duke University throws an Asian-themed party. The invitation opened with “Herro Nice Duke Peopre!!



February 2013: Three hockey fans in the audience of a North Dakota high school semifinal donned Ku Klux Klan-ish hoods as a “joke,” they later said:



October 2012: The photograph below depicts the members of the Chi Omega sorority at Penn State (source).  It was taken during a Mexican fiesta-themed party around Halloween. The signs read: “will mow lawn for weed & beer” and “I don’t cut grass I smoke it.” The Vice President of the college’s Mexican American Student Association, Cesar Sanchez Lopez, wrote:

The Mexican American Student Association is disappointed in the attire chosen by this sorority. It in no way represents our culture. Not only have they chosen to stereotype our culture with serapes and sombreros, but the insinuation about drug usage makes this image more offensive. Our country is plagued by a drug war that has led to the death of an estimated 50,000 people, which is nothing to be joked about.

The president of the sorority sent out an apology.  Penalties are under discussion as of this posting.


May 2012: The University of Chicago’s Alpha Delta Phi fraternity required pledges to wear “Mexican labor outfits” and sombreros while mowing the frat house lawn to Mexican ranchera music (source).

[image redacted]

UPDATE: A University of Chicago student involved in reporting this incident wrote it to say that the photograph we originally published is likely unrelated to the Alpha Delta Phi incident (that is, a fake or a photo of a different event).  In other words, the incident happened, but the photograph was not of the incident.  Accordingly, we’ve removed the photo.


March 2012: “Cowboys and Indians” party, University of Denver, hosted by the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity and Delta Delta Delta sorority:



February 2010: Members of the Athletics Union at the London School of Economics painted their faces brown and “dressed up as Guantanamo Bay inmates and drunkenly yelled ‘Oh Allah’…”  At least 12 students were found to have dressed up in costumes that were deemed “racist, religiously insensitive and demeaning.”



Source: Photo OnePhoto Two.


October 2009: University of Toronto students decided to dress up like the Jamaican bobsled team from Cool Runnings for Halloween (source).  Their costume, which earned them a “Costume of the Night” award at this college-sponsored party, included blackface.



February 2007: Pictures from a “South of the Border” party at Santa Clara University in California.  Indeed, that IS a pregnant woman, cleaning ladies, and a slutty gang member.


January 2007: A party in “honor” of Martin Luther King Day at Tarleton State University in Texas:


January 2007: A party in “honor” of Martin Luther King Day at Clemson College in South Carolina:


January 2007: A party in “honor” of Martin Luther King Day at University of Connecticut School of Law:


May 2007: A party at the University of Delaware (via Resist Racism): ud5ud6ud1ud2ud3ud4


2007: Students at Wilfrid Laurier University, celebrating Nations of the World, represented Jamaica by putting on blackface (via @LindaQuirke):


October 2001: A Delta Sigma Phi Halloween party at Auburn University (via):


The Greek letters on the purple shirts reference a black fraternity on campus.

Lisa Wade is a professor at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. Find her on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

Flashback Friday.


The image above is a photograph of a snowflake taken in the late 1800s by Wilson Bentley. Bentley, a 19-year-old farmer in Vermont, was the first person to ever photograph snowflakes. From the Guardian:

Bentley’s obsession with snow crystals began when he received a microscope for his 15th birthday. He became spellbound by their beauty, complexity and endless variety.

“Under the microscope, I found that snowflakes were miracles of beauty; and it seemed a shame that this beauty should not be seen and appreciated by others. Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated. When a snowflake melted, that design was forever lost. Just that much beauty was gone, without leaving any record behind,” he said.

Bentley started trying to draw the flakes but the snow melted before he could finish. His parents eventually bought him a camera and he spent two years trying to capture images of the tiny, fleeting crystals.

He caught falling snowflakes by standing in the doorway with a wooden tray as snowstorms passed over. The tray was painted black so he could see the crystals and transfer them delicately onto a glass slide.

To study the snow crystals, Bentley rigged his bellows camera up to the microscope but found he could not reach the controls to bring them into focus. He overcame the problem through the imaginative use of wheels and cord.

Bentley took his first successful photomicrograph of a snow crystal at the age of 19 and went on to capture more than 5,000 more images.

What struck me about this story, other than the pretty pictures and neat historical trivia, was the fact that nearly every schoolchild in the Western world knows what a snowflake looks like under a microscope, even as their experience of snowflakes  is mostly of them as cold, fuzzy, frozen blobs, if they have any regular experience with snow at all.  They know because we teach them.

The idea of the meme is one way to discuss our ability to transfer elusive knowledge like this. A meme is a unit of knowledge or a type of behavior that’s passed on from generation to generation culturally. The gene is its evolutionary cousin, passing along knowledge and behavior genetically.  In the US, this particular knowledge meme is found in books or scientific discussions, but it has also become a common arts and craft project: many of us learn about snowflakes when we are shown how to make them from construction paper:

It’s quite amazing to consider how every human generation since Bentley understands the snowflake just a little bit differently than anyone before him.  Because of the advantage that human culture gives each new generation, nearly every child learns to appreciates their beauty.


See a slide show of his photographs at The Telegraph. This post originally appeared in 2010.

Lisa Wade is a professor at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. Find her on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

According to Nicole Arbout’s youtube video “Dear Fat People,” fat people deserve to be ridiculed and treated poorly. The comedian mocks obese people and accuses them of being lazy, smelly, self-destructive, and a burden to the health care system and those around them.  Fat people, she also suggests, cause heartache and embarrassment to their loved ones and are public nuisances to strangers by taking up too much space on airplanes and getting the closest spaces in shopping mall parking lots. Arbour even compares fat bodies to the Michelin Man and implores those who are overweight to put down the coke and fries, start exercising, and get healthy.

In case Arbour’s point was lost amid her six-minute diatribe, “Fat shaming is not a thing. Fat people made that up.”

But research proves otherwise.

Over a decade ago work supported by Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity showed that fifteen percent of respondents would be willing to give up 10 years of their lives to avoid being fat. Nearly one-half of respondents would give up one year of their lives to do the same. About eight percent of these same survey respondents also indicated they would rather have a learning-disabled child than an obese child (source). Such findings illuminate clearly the stigma associated with being obese as well as the fear that people have of being targets of the prejudice and discrimination stemming from it.

These fears are well founded. Obese people continue to face prejudice and discrimination in a wide variety of ways, according to recent research from the Rudd Report. In the educational system, overweight and obese children report being teased and bullied by peers and teachers alike.

Obesity also has consequences in the workplace. Those who are obese can expect to earn lower wages and be promoted less often than their thinner coworkers, despite positive work evaluations.


Overweight and obese people should not expect to find respite from the health care system either. Survey data consistently show that a significant number of doctors and nurses think obese patients are lazy, awkward, and noncompliant. Many of these same medical professionals also report being repulsed by such patients, attitudes which certainly affect the type and quality of care that obese patients receive.

To be sure, obesity contributes to health conditions like heart disease, some forms of cancer, diabetes, among others. It can also lead to early death, conclusions that Arbour’s video also makes. But obese people do not deserve to be ridiculed or discriminated against.

While Arbour now claims that “Dear Fat People” and the humor in it is satire, she perpetuates longstanding beliefs about overweight and obese people, legitimates the unfair treatment that they face on a daily basis, and proves that, yes, fat shaming is a thing.

Jacqueline Clark, PhD is an associate professor of sociology and chair of the department at Ripon College. Her research focuses on inequalities, the sociology of health and illness, and the sociology of jobs, work, and organizations.

Musician Ryan Adams recently released an album cover. A cover, that is, of an entire album written and performed by Taylor Swift. Both albums are titled 1989.


Critical praise for Adams’ version was immediate, turning quickly to a comparison of the two. At There’s Research on That!, Jacqui Frost explained that there was…

…a media frenzy about which album is “better” and who deserves credit for the “depth and complexity” that many say Adams brought to Swift’s poppier original. Some reviews argue Adams “vindicated” Taylor Swift as an artist; others argue that emotional depth was already present in Swift’s songwriting…

Swift’s 1989 was the best selling album of 2014 — by popular vote, it was obviously an excellent album — but many people seemed not to notice. Instead, they wanted to talk about who should get credit for the quality of Adams’ album, as if whether there was anything good there to begin with was an open question.

Frost draws on sociological research to suggest that gender might help explain why we have such a hard time giving credit to Swift.

First, she notes that musical genres are gendered and we tend to take feminized genres less seriously than masculinized ones. “Many publications that reviewed Adams’ version [of 1989],” for example, “did not review Swift’s original.” This may be because serious music critics don’t review pop.

Second, research shows that male creatives in the music industry are generally more likely to get credit than females ones. Frost writes:

[M]ale musicians, regardless of genre, are more likely to receive critical recognition and be “consecrated” into the popular music canon. Women are less likely to be seen as “legitimate” artists and are more often judged on their emotional authenticity and connections with “more” legitimate, male artists.

In fact, Frost notes, “the albums will be competing for a Grammy this year, and many think Adams will take it over Swift

Whatever you think of the two albums, the instinct to dismiss Swift’s album as “just pop” and Adams’ version as “artistic” is likely tied to the powerful ways in which the music industry, and our own experience of music, has a thumb on the scale in favor of men and masculine genres.

This post borrows heavily from Jacqui Frost at TROT! and you can find links to the original research there.

Lisa Wade is a professor at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. Find her on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

This video was making the rounds last spring. The video maker wants to make two points:

1. Cops are racist. They are respectful of the White guy carrying the AR-15. The Black guy gets less comfortable treatment.

2. The police treatment of the White guy is the proper way for police to deal with someone carrying an assault rifle.

I had two somewhat different reactions.

1. This video was made in Oregon. Under Oregon’s open-carry law, what both the White and Black guy are doing is perfectly legal. And when the White guy refuses to provide ID, that’s legal too. If this had happened in Roseburg, and the carrier had been strolling to Umpqua Community College, there was nothing the police could have legally done, other than what is shown in the video, until the guy walked onto campus, opened fire, and started killing people.

2.  Guns are dangerous, and the police know it. In the second video, the cop assumes that the person carrying an AR-15 is potentially dangerous – very dangerous. The officer’s fear is palpable. He prefers to err on the side of caution – the false positive of thinking someone is dangerous when he is really OK.  The false negative – assuming an armed person is harmless when he is in fact dangerous – could well be the last mistake a cop ever makes.

But the default setting for gun laws in the US is just the opposite – better a false negative. This is especially true in Oregon and states with similar gun laws. These laws assume that people with guns are harmless. In fact, they assume that all people, with a few exceptions, are harmless. Let them buy and carry as much weaponry and ammunition as they like.

Most of the time, that assumption is valid. Most gun owners, at least those who got their guns legitimately, are responsible people. The trouble is that the cost of the rare false negative is very, very high. Lawmakers in these states and in Congress are saying in effect that they are willing to pay that price. Or rather, they are willing to have other people – the students at Umpqua, or Newtown, or Santa Monica, or scores of other places, and their parents – pay that price.

UPDATE October, 6You have to forgive the hyperbole in that last paragraph, written so shortly after the massacre at Umpqua. I mean, those politicians don’t really think that it’s better to have dead bodies than to pass regulations on guns, do they?

Or was it hyperbole? Today, Dr. Ben Carson, the surgeon who wants to be the next president of the US, stated even more clearly this preference for guns even at the price of death.  “I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away.” (The story is in the New York Times and elsewhere.)

Originally posted at Montclair Socioblog.

Jay Livingston is the chair of the Sociology Department at Montclair State University. You can follow him at Montclair SocioBlog or on Twitter.

Flashback Friday.

Social and biological scientists agree that race and ethnicity are social constructions, not biological categories.  The US government, nonetheless, has an official position on what categories are “real.”  You can find them on the Census (source):


These categories, however real they may seem, are actually the product of a long process. Over time, the official US racial categories have changed in response to politics, economics, conflict, and more. Here’s some highlights.

In the year of the first Census, 1790, the race question looked very different than it does today:

Free white males
Free white females
All other free persons (included Native Americans who paid taxes and free blacks)
And slaves

By 1870 slavery is illegal and the government was newly concerned with keeping track of two new kinds of people: “mulattos” (or people with both black and white ancestors) and Indians:

Indian (Native Americans)

Between 1850 and 1870 6.5 million Europeans had immigrated and 60,000 Chinese.  Chinese and Japanese were added for the 1880 Census.

By 1890, the U.S. government with obsessed with race-mixing.  The race question looked like this:

Black (3/4th or more “black blood”)
Mulatto (3/8th to 5/8th “black blood”)
Quadroons (1/4th “black blood”)
Octoroons (1/8th or any trace of “black blood”)

This year was the only year to include such fine-tuned mixed-race categories, however, because it turned out it wasn’t easy to figure out how to categorize people.

In the next 50 years, the government added and deleted racial categories. There were 10 in 1930 (including “Mexican” and “Hindu”) and 11 in 1940 (introducing “Hawaiian” and “Part Hawaiian”).  In 1970, they added the “origin of descent” question that we still see today.  So people are first asked whether they are “Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish” and then asked to choose a race.

You might immediately think, “But what do these words even mean?”  And you’d be right to ask.  “Spanish” refers to Spain; “Latino” refers to Latin America; and “Hispanic” is a totally made up word that was originally designed to mean “people who speak Spanish.”

Part of the reason we have the “Hispanic” ethnicity question is because Mexican Americans fought for it.  They thought it would be advantageous to be categorized as “white” and, so, they fought for an ethnicity category instead of a racial one.

Funny story:  The US once included “South American” as a category in the “origin of descent” question.  That year, over a million residents southern U.S. states, like Alabama and Mississippi checked that box.

2000 was the first year that respondents were allowed to choose more than one race. They considered a couple other changes for that year, but decided against them. Native Hawaiians had been agitating to be considered Native Americans in order to get access to the rights and resources that the US government has promised Native Americans on the mainland. The government considered it for 2000, but decided “no.” And whether or not Arab American should be considered a unique race or an ethnicity was also discussed for that year. They decided to continue to instruct such individuals to choose “white.”

The changing categories in the Census show us that racial and ethnic categories are political categories. They are chosen by government officials who are responding not to biological realities, but to immigration, war, prejudice, and social movements.

This post originally appeared in 2010.

Lisa Wade is a professor at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. Find her on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

One of the major contributions of political scientist Benedict Anderson is the idea of an “imagined community”: a large group of people connected not through interaction, but by the idea that they are part of a meaningful group. In his book on the idea, he wrote:

It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet… it is imagined as a community, because, regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship. I suppose the idea might apply as well to religions.

Last week was a special week for American Catholics. The Pope’s visit to the U.S. was energizing, arguably intensifying the connection Catholics feel to their religion and, by extension, each other. But what, really, do Catholics have in common?

I don’t know, but agreement on what is sinful is not one of them. A Pew Research Center survey of Catholics reveals, instead, quite a lot of disagreement. Some Catholics don’t believe in the concept of sin at all and the remaining don’t always agree on what is sinful.


According to the results of the survey, for example, there is considerable disagreement as to whether abortion, homosexual behavior, hoarding wealth, divorce, unmarried cohabitation, and harming the environment are sinful. Moreover, plenty do not ascribe to some aspects of Catholic doctrine: only 17% of Catholics, for example, think that using contraception is sinful.

So, what does it mean to be Catholic?

Anderson might argue that they are simply an imagined community: a group of strangers with widely divergent views and life circumstances who feel the same despite all the reasons to feel different.

Lisa Wade is a professor at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. Find her on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

SocImages News:

Apparently this was the month of finding out that SocImages is quoted in awesome places! Thanks to a friend, I learned that a post is quoted in the current edition of Our Bodies, Ourselves. Um, amazing!


And I also stumbled across a generous endorsement of the site in Kate Harding’s fantastic new book Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture — and What We Can Do About It.


We love great company and this month we got it!

You like!  Here are our most appreciated posts this month:

Thanks everybody!

Editor’s pick:

Top post on Tumblr this month:

Upcoming Lectures and Appearances:

I’m excited to have a number of talks scheduled for this year. If you’re in Baton Rouge, LA; Huntington, WV; Portsmouth, OH; Witchita, KS; or Omaha, NE, please feel free to come by and say “hi”!

  • Louisiana State University – Baton Rouge (Oct 8): Featured Guest and Panelist for a screening of The Hunting Ground
  • Marshall University (Oct 26): “Sex, Rapture, and Resistance on College Campuses”
  • Shawnee State University (Oct 27): “Sex, Rapture, and Resistance on College Campuses”
  • University of Nebraska, Omaha Undergraduate Sociological Symposium – Keynote speaker (Nov 13): “The Power of Public Sociology”
  • Wichita State University Sociology Club and Sociology Department Gender & Sexuality Conference – Keynote speaker (Mar 4): “Online Feminist Pedagogy: Talking about Gender and Sexuality with the World”

Social Media ‘n’ Stuff:

SocImages is on twitterfacebooktumblr, and pinterest.  Follow us! I’m on facebook, twitter, and have recently started playing around on instagram. Also on twitter, regular contributors @gwensharpnv@familyunequal, and @jaylivingston.


Please make me less lonely on instagram! I mostly post pictures of Louisiana, cocktails, and cats, but here’s one of a baby in a band:5

Lisa Wade is a professor at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. Find her on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.