In front of a crowd of more than 100 peers, professors and community members, two University of Denver Greek Life representatives apologized to the members of the Native Student Alliance for a February 25 Cowboys-and-Indians theme party where students dressed in faux Native garb.
The apology, scheduled for 4 p.m. March 28, ran 30 minutes late due to a private meeting called by the University of Denver so the members of Lambda Chi Alpha and Delta Delta Delta – the party’s sponsors – and NSA could meet beforehand and discuss DU, its downfalls and their hopes for the future.
Although all nine members of NSA were present at the meeting, only two members of the Greek Life organizations attended.
During the private meeting, several NSA members broke into tears as they recalled the racism and persecution they’ve experienced in their time at DU.
Jessica Pearl Salas, 21, Yaqui and Lipan Apache and a senior at DU, said that when she was a freshman, people would leave parchments of paper with racist comments on her door. She said she was eventually asked to move out of the dorm.
“Apparently I was the disturbance. Not them,” she said in a shaken voice.
Following the private dialogue, Dr. Tink Tinker, professor at the Iliff School of Theology and a citizen of the Wazhazhe Osage Nation, began the event with a smudging and description of the history behind Native American persecution.
Following Tinker and several other Native speakers, Ross Larson, a member of Lambda Chi Alpha, publicly apologized and said the party was held “out of ignorance,” and not “racism.”
“We understand our event was insensitive and hurtful to other members of the DU community,” said Larson. “I’m here to make sure we can right our wrongs.”
Delta Delta Delta representative Molly Gasch said during her apology that the party will “be the last of its kind for our groups.”
“We understand that we have detrimentally affected more than just ourselves by failing to act as the community leaders that we strive to be,” she said, reading from a document. “Both of our organizations will be using this as an opportunity to improve our fraternity and sorority member education programs by increasing awareness and sensitivity of minority groups on campus.”
Following the event Salas commented that she had been concerned that the apology would be insincere. After the apologies were read, she said she felt that Larson and Gasch were genuinely remorseful.
“I’ve had such bad experiences at this school before that I didn’t expect the good result that we got,” she said. “I think it ended well. But there’s definitely more of a fight to come. This is just one step towards progress that’s long overdue.”
Salas was additionally worried that the members of NSA had invited the community to an unsafe environment. Salas was pleasantly surprised at the amount of respect the Native American community received.
“I was concerned that people were going to remain ignorant and not hear what we had to say,” she said. “But I feel that they listened. I feel that we changed minds and challenged perceptions.”
Johanna Leyba, assistant provost for inclusive excellence at the University of Denver and advisor to NSA, said that although the day “went really well,” she was disappointed at the small turnout by the Greek Life students during the private dialogue.
“I think it was a great and productive event,” she said. “I would’ve liked to see more members of the Greek community. There weren’t enough Greek members for a more affective dialogue.”
Leyba added that DU chancellor, Dr. Robert Coombe, has expressed interest in meeting with the students of NSA, which she said he plans to schedule as early as next week.
“I think it was a great start,” said Leyba. “I’m optimistic more efforts will be put into place to help our campus be more inclusive.”