The Penn State chapter of the Chi Omega sorority has been placed on probation effective Monday, according to a statement released by the Governing Council of Chi Omega Fraternity.
The probation is in response to a photo that portrayed members of the sorority dressed in ponchos and sombreros and holding signs that read "Will mow lawn for weed + beer" and "I don't cut grass I smoke it."
The issue is currently under investigation by the Penn State Panhellenic Council and the Chi Omega national headquarters is working with the Council and the university to "implement corrective educational directives for the chapter," according to the statement.
Penn State President Rodney Erickson released an open letter to the Penn State community, explaining that the issue "was contrary to many of the most important values our university seeks to advance among its constituents and in the world."
Erickson referenced federal and state freedom of speech laws that the university will respect by not "vainly pursuing unlawful disciplinary action against the students involved."
These kinds of costumes and other insensitive imitations, Erickson wrote, "convey either a lack of awareness about the human condition and human sensitivities or, worse yet, disdain for the thoughts, feelings, histories and experiences of others. They suggest a failure to empathize or even a failure to think."
A society cannot succeed or function with actions that disregard the welfare of others, he wrote. He also called all members of the Penn State community to take the time to reflect on and appreciate diversify in their lives.
During a Thursday morning roundtable discussion between student leaders and administrators, University Park Undergraduate Association President Courtney Lennartz announced the creation of a new Diversity Awareness Task Force. This came after a strong student reaction to the photo at the Wednesday night UPUA meeting.
UPUA had been considering creating a diversity focus group in the past, but it was "just catalyzed by events," Lennartz (senior-health policy and administration) said.
"We're working together to make this more large-scale than its ever been," she said.
The first meeting is set for 7:30 tonight in room 22 of the Paul Robeson Cultural Center.
Student leaders from organizations across campus have already moved to join the task force.
Roberto Hernandez, president of the Mexican American Student Association,said MASA is not seeking punishment or action from the university toward Chi Omega, but expressed interest in the task force.
"We're not taking an aggressive approach," Hernandez (senior-chemistry) said. "It was an act of ignorance. They didn't mean it in an offensive way."
The important goal is to educate the student body, he said.
Hernandez said MASA hopes to host an event about culture and latino education.
Ryan Brown, president of the Penn State Student Black Caucus, also said he has high hopes for the future of the task force.
"Right now, it's a reactive measure that we hope will become a more proactive measure," Brown (senior-integrative arts) said.
Jessica Riccardi, the president of the Nu Gamma chapter of Chi Omega, deferred comment to the national organization.
The Chi Omega national organization and Vice President for Student Affairs Damon Sims could not be reached for comment by press time Thursday.