A student at the University of Washington's Evans School of Public Affairs sent an email to the EvansLife listserv on Tuesday inviting everyone to a house party this weekend with a racially charged theme. The party, titled "FIREWATER FRIDAY: the indians take it back," elicited an outcry from students so loud that Dean Sandra Archibald has called a meeting this afternoon to put out the fire.
The event billed itself as a way to "celebrate the holiday with a little sensitivity." The invitation, which was also posted to an online forum, promises a pow wow, drum circle, sweat lodge, a vision quest, and a "march down the trail of tears to ravtav [?] before a new day dawns." But some may have been rubbed wrong by the accompanying photo:
"As a Native American in the Evans School, I would like to point out that the invitation description for this event is in poor taste, disrespectful, and reflects poorly on the Evans School," one of the students wrote. Dozens of emails followed, mostly critical of racist overtones, despite the attempt at humor. "I realize you were going for Southpark/Sarah Silverman style meta-bigotry as a method of exposing prejudice, but your mesage [sic] falls completely flat in it's attempt," another student wrote.
And another adds, "Despite how smart the senders of this invite THINK they are, they have only given us indication that they are at worst insensitive clods and at the very best perpetrators of a crass and sophomoric attempt at satire, which fell flat." The criticisms raged on from more students, including this one: "I can honestly say that I would NEVER find it funny for someone, particularly someone of a different race, to satirize hardships faced by my ethnic/racial group."
Dean Archibald herself posted to the list this morning inviting students to a forum at 1:30 p.m. Jason Smith, the assistant dean of students at the Evans School, which has 408 students, says Archibald is simply trying to bring a "professional" dialogue to the school, which grooms people for future work in public policy.
Naturally, Evans School spokeswoman Molly McCarthy tried to distance the school from the hubbub, saying neither the private house party nor the email list itself are officially sanctioned by the school. However, she acknowledges faculty got involved, "Because it is a listserv that had a lot of our people on it it’s called EvansLife." She adds, "A lot of things are unfortunate about the situation but it also opens up the door to have a good conversation."