Updated Nov. 25 at 2:37 a.m. with additional AMS comments.
Early this week, photos from a ‘Beerfest’ party last Saturday at a house in the University District appeared on Facebook, subsequently gaining national attention.
The photos show party-goers dressed up in costumes based on racial or cultural stereotypes. Costumes included Arab sheikhs, Buddhist monks, Mexicans in sombreros and prison coveralls, and Viet Cong soldiers.
The photographs, many of which were posted publicly by the party organizers, came to the attention of Celeste Yim, a Toronto-based comedian, who subsequently published a series of tweets condemning the event.
After the photos began to gain attention, many students took to the public “Overheard at Queen’s” Facebook group to debate the controversial costumes worn to the party.
Since Tuesday, the story has been picked up by CBC, The Globe and Mail, The Toronto Star, Buzzfeed, and VICE Canada.
The morning after Queen’s made national headline new, campus woke up to sights of vandalism around the ARC and JDUC that read “Make Racists Afraid Again”.
Campus security was contacted in the morning for comment on the recent vandalism (The Journal will update this as more information becomes available).
A group called All Year Social (AYS), which is a Commerce Society (ComSoc) committee, hosted a similar party last year. The Globe and Mail reported on Tuesday online photo albums from the group’s previous events depicting Queen’s students “holding chopsticks and squinting their eyes.”
Thanks to everyone that came out to Oktoberfest last night, and a special thanks to our champs, Team Israel & best… http://t.co/bblPui5PJ1
— AYS (@AllYearSocial) October 27, 2013
The albums have since been removed.
However, in a Twitter post on Tuesday evening, former ComSoc President Ana Lopez noted that the AYS event typically took place in October and was not hosted this year.
An unaffiliated group with the same acronym, All Your Schoolmates, has faced accusations of organizing Saturday’s event, however, party-attendees say it was organized by individual students. The group took down their Facebook account on Tuesday. The page previously read that they plan “everything fun in Commerce”, and has posted similar albums of events in the past.
Lopez told The Toronto Star that students running the party charged attendees $40, and assign countries for teams of five.
“This is a mess,” current ComSoc President Bhavik Vyas, wrote to The Journal on Tuesday afternoon. “And it is a really disappointing situation. But we have to take the higher ground, act with grace, and utilize honesty to make sure people do not get caught up in the rumor mill.”
“Media outlets who acted upon false information should re-evaluate their processes and really take a hard look at the integrity of their journalists.” He noted his disappointment particularly in VICE’s coverage.
ComSoc, and any affiliated groups such as All Year Social, were “not in any way a part of planning or hosting either of the events in question,” he said.
“However, if the event runs unsanctioned (without permission), then it in no way has affiliation with the Queen’s Commerce Society or the Alma Mater Society and is being run by private individuals who assume all personal liability for their events and actions.”
The Alma Mater Society (AMS) executives, also released a statement on Tuesday condemning the party, then another on Thursday evening.
Thursday’s statement noted that the AMS Committee Against Racial and Ethnic Discrimination and Human Rights Office will be holding a forum about race, culture, racism and discrimination at Queen’s on Dec. 5 at 5:30 p.m. in Wallace Hall.
“Our intention is to give members of the Queen’s community the opportunity to voice their concerns in a constructive manner,” they wrote.
Principal Daniel Woolf also released a statement, saying, “Queen’s strives to be a diverse and inclusive community free from discrimination or harassment of any kind. Any event that degrades, mocks, or marginalizes a group or groups of people is completely unacceptable.”
Principal Woolf’s statement also mentions that the University is looking into the matter, and if it is ascertained to be a Queen’s sponsored or sanctioned event, they will “take appropriate action.”
When asked on Twitter what he could conceivably do if the event wasn’t sanctioned or on Queen’s property, Woolf responded that it would depend on factors such as whether it was a student club.
“But before we do anything we are going to find out exactly what happened,” he wrote.
On Wednesday evening, Woolf updated his statement, adding that “as the principal of Queen’s, I am upset and disappointed by this incident and want to learn more about it so that the university can take appropriate measures to address concerns that have arisen, including my own.”
He noted that Provost Benoit-Antoine Bacon had been asked to gather as much information as possible to determine whether the event falls within the scope of Queen’s Student Code of Conduct. “The Code of Conduct is applicable to students’ off-campus conduct in certain circumstances,” he added.
“As we work through this, I encourage Queen’s community members to be respectful of one another in both their conversations and their actions.”
This incident follows on the heels of another race-based controversy that made national news headlines on campus last month, wherein a production of Othello was suspended after backlash around the decision to cast a white female in the title role, classically played by a black man.
The Journal will update this story as more information becomes available.
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