Marilyn Russell

The Texas Fiji fraternity house hosted a party Saturday night guests said was “border patrol” themed. The Office of the Dean of Students has opened an investigation into the party.

Photo Credit: Lauren Ussery | Daily Texan Staff

The Office of the Dean of Students opened an investigation Monday into a party hosted by the Texas Fiji fraternity Saturday night that guests said was “border patrol” themed. 

Many party attendees wore ponchos, sombreros and construction gear. Other guests wore army camouflage outfits, construction hard hats with the names “Jefe” and “Pablo Sanchez” written on them, reflective vests and work gloves. To read the original story about the “border patrol” themed party, click here.

Marilyn Russell, director of sorority and fraternity life in the Office of the Dean of Students, said the administration was aware of the insensitive party theme but did not provide a timeline for the investigation. 

“We’re working with the leadership of the organization as we speak and have prioritized that today,” Russell said. “We’re moving quickly to gather information and assess the situation … It’s of utmost importance.” 

The organization brings fraternity and sorority leaders together several times per year to discuss cultural sensitivity as it relates to themed parties, according to Russell.

“It’s not as though this is the first time we’ve had these conversations — our organization is well aware [of this issue],” Russell said.

Fiji fraternity president Andrew Campbell said the party was a “Western-themed party which focuses on the traditional old west,” although several attendees said the party’s theme was communicated as “border patrol.” 

News of the party prompted a wide range of reactions on social media. 

“It’s fun playing dress up when you don’t have to deal with the real issues that come from being Mexican in America,” Mayté Salazar, a UT alumna, wrote on Facebook.

Journalism senior Rebecca Salazar expressed a similar sentiment on Twitter.

“No respect, no common sense, no growth,” she said.

One widely-circulated Internet post was a flyer titled “Fiji Pledge Rules — Confidential,” which listed rules including “no interracial dating” and “no Mexicans.” Though the viral image sparked outrage, its source was actually a 2007 post on Flickr, a photo sharing website. No Fiji member ever confirmed the authenticity of the eight-year-old image.

The party’s theme undermined the goals and purpose of the University, according to Angela Valenzuela, a professor in the Center for Mexican American Studies.

Valenzuela said she hopes the controversy generated by the party will help bring attention to current issues at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“I think an appropriate University response, in my humble opinion, would be to use this opportunity to pay serious attention to the crisis at our border,” Valenzuela said. 

The Longhorn League of United Latin American Citizens and Latino Community Affairs also co-signed and launched a letter of concern to the University community on Monday that urged administrators to implement “proper repercussions” for groups that “promote the ridicule of different cultures.”

“We have created this petition in order to express our concern at the reoccurrence of these themed parties and to ask for your support in denouncing these parties,” the letter stated. “There has to be an end to these parties.”

Several representative positions are available for student applicants until Friday for the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and the board’s committees, which influence public policy in Texas.

UT is looking to nominate five students for the non-voting student representative position and two students for each of the five advisory committees, according to Marilyn Russell, deputy advisor to Dean of Students. 

At each university, student government nominations are sent to the president, who then sends it to the governor. The governor will ultimately appoint the student representative. The advisory committee representatives are selected by the committee members. The student representative serves for one year, while the advisory committee representatives serve for two. 

Student Government President Horacio Villarreal said funding has increasingly become a priority as the state makes cuts to its budget. He said he would like to see student representatives speak on behalf of college students across the state to increase funding to higher education institutions.

“I know UT-Austin has been under a tight budget, as well as other public institutions across the state,” Villarreal said. “I think the student representatives to both the committee and the boards need to possess a strong will to increase funds for UT and other schools and translate that to the others on the coordinating board on behalf of the students.”

In addition to focusing on financial resources for the University, Villarreal said he hopes to see transparency from the student representatives surrounding policy making.

“I hope the student representatives are visible on campus so others can voice their opinions and wants, so they can relay those onto the appropriate people,” Villarreal said.

Texas A&M University student Alice Schneider, a current student representative, said her position has afforded her opportunities she would not have had otherwise.

“Being in this position allows me to have dialogues with presidents of community colleges [and] state senators on higher education committees [and] to hear different opinions,” Schneider said.

Schneider said being on the board and shaping public policy on higher education while being a student was a new experience.

“There’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes, policy-wise,” Schneider said. “There was a steep learning curve. In the legislative session this spring, I had no idea higher education policy-making was so intensive.”

Since the positions opened in 2008, Russell said seven UT students have served as representatives on advisory committees, but not one has served as the student representative on the board.

“We always want our students in leadership roles, and any representative from this institution would have access to this student body,” Russell said.

The application can be found online at the Dean of Students’ website and must be submitted to the Dean of Students office in the Student Activity Center 3.104 by 5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 8.