The Penn State Interfraternity Council has pledged to continue its efforts to increase diversity awareness within the greek community in light of questions raised regarding tweets sent in October 2012 by the current IFC president.
IFC President Chip Ray, along with the executive board, has apologized for tweets sent that referenced stereotypes about Mexican people and derogatory remarks about women.
“[The tweets] are not up to the standards I hold myself to,” said Ray, who is also a member of the University Park Undergraduate Association Diversity Awareness Task Force. “[The tweets] were pretty old, and I went back and deleted them.”
The tweets were sent when Ray was the IFC executive vice president. He was elected as IFC president on Nov. 27, 2012. Ray assumed the role as president at the start of the 2013 calendar year.
Ray’s Twitter account was public at the time of the tweets, but was set to private as of 5 p.m. Jan. 7, so only those who followed him could view his tweets. The account was then removed as of 2:30 p.m. Jan. 8. Ray said he removed the account because he “didn’t want it out there anymore” and wanted a new Twitter account.
Ray said he understands the tweets were “inappropriate.” Other Twitter users referenced in the tweets, when contacted, declined to comment.
Ray confirmed that he sent a tweet on Oct. 23, 2012, that quoted a widely-followed account, @FillWerrell: “How many Mexicans does it take to build a… oh s—, they’re done.”
Another tweet was sent Oct. 4, 2012 from Ray’s account that said, in part, “you need to start thinking of her as more of a hole and less like a human.”
Ray said he does not remember whether he tweeted this, but he said he heard one of his friends say it in person.
“I do not know if someone was messing with me and put that on my account,” Ray said.
The university will likely not discipline Ray because he was practicing his right to engage in free speech, Vice President of Student Affairs Damon Sims wrote in an email. However, Sims said the university is not condoning the behavior.
“I am deeply disappointed whenever a member of the Penn State community fails to demonstrate the sensitivity and good sense to think carefully about how their communications will be received by others,” Sims said.
Sims said student leaders “must, at times, make their own choice about whether they should continue to lead.”
“I certainly acknowledge the rights of those involved, including the IFC, in this particular matter, but I am deeply disappointed that this kind of insensitivity has occurred,” Sims said.
Roy Baker, the director of greek life at Penn State, declined comment on the situation. Baker could not be reached for follow up after multiple attempts for comment.
At the time Ray sent the tweets, UPUA’s Diversity Awareness Task Force had not yet been formed. The task force was created in December after a photo surfaced on Facebook that depicted members of Penn State’s chapter of the Chi Omega sorority dressed in ponchos and sombreros and holding signs that read, “I don’t cut grass I smoke it” and “Will mow lawn for weed + beer.” Penn State’s chapter of Chi Omega was subsequently placed on probation.
Ray said since the photo depicting members of Chi Omega surfaced, he’s taken diversity issues more seriously.
“Until that point, I didn’t really realize diversity was as large of an issue as it was,” Ray said. “I never realized that students thought diversity wasn’t promoted enough.”
And Ray said he still thinks the issue of diversity on campus is not fully understood.
“Ever since then, I’ve been involved with the Diversity Task Force,” Ray said. “Still, I don’t think people in greek life realize the magnitude of the issue.”
The IFC confirmed that the executive board is aware of the president’s tweets, according to a statement provided via email by Vice President of Communications Jordan Rolon.
The IFC executive board, including Ray, apologized for the “insensitivity” shown through the various Twitter posts.
“The Interfraternity Council recognizes these actions were inappropriate and are not conducive of the actions or behaviors that we should expect of a fraternity member,” the IFC executive board statement said.
After “significant discussion,” the IFC executive board “unanimously determined” that Ray understands the tweets were inappropriate. According to the statement, the board also recognizes it needs to educate its IFC members on diversity.
“We do realize that student insensitivity is much too common at Penn State and we, as an executive board and community, need to do all we can to educate our members on diversity and the understanding of how comments, like the ones that were made, could be offensive,” the statement said. “We understand that we all must think before we speak, so we do not offend others.”
President of the Penn State Student Black Caucus Ryan Brown, who played a major role in the task force, said diversity issues are still a problem at Penn State. Brown (senior-integrative arts) said it is “unacceptable” for someone in a leadership position representing a large population at the university to behave in the manner represented in the tweets.
“Penn State doesn’t need any more fuel to this fire,” Brown said.
In terms of the tweets shedding light on diversity issues at Penn State, Brown said “the light has already been shed.”
“It’s been made very clear that these issues are overlooked. I have full faith in Dr. Baker that he can fix this situation,” Brown said.
This is not the first time that a Penn State student leader came under scrutiny for his social media posts.
In April 2010, then-UPUA Student Life and Diversity Chairman Noah Karn came under criticism after he tweeted derogatory references to various cultures. Karn also served as the IFC’s representative to UPUA at the time.
Screenshots provided by Steve Lucas, then-Rainbow Roundtable president and former UPUA student life and diversity chairman, showed that the tweets spanned over a year’s time.
About three days after the tweets came under public scrutiny, Karn chose to resign from his UPUA chair position and his IFC representative position before a UPUA meeting where members from numerous organizations on campus approached student leaders about the social media posts.
“Awareness and education is key to making sure these things don’t happen again,” Christian Ragland, then-UPUA president told the Collegian.
The IFC also wrote in its statement on Ray’s posts that diversity is a topic that needs to continue to be discussed.
“These are topics that need to be discussed openly, so we all can learn to see life from another person’s point-of-view and thus, defeating ignorance, and for these reasons we, as a fraternity community, plan to become leaders on campus in diversity education,” the IFC executive board statement said.
On Tuesday, UPUA’s Diversity Awareness Task Force asked the University Faculty Senate to consider the implementation of required diversity education.
“The relevant message about diversity from the student leaders in today's Faculty Senate meeting could not have been more timely or appropriate,” Sims said. “We must continue to do all we can as a university community to enhance awareness and understanding among us if we are to overcome the root causes of speech that does harm in this way.”
Former IFC President Vincenzo Lizza, who served as president in 2012, declined comment on Ray’s tweets specifically, citing that he did not know enough about the situation. But he did say that in serving as a leader at Penn State, there are additional responsibilities.
“Obviously, being in the position he is in, or any spotlight position at Penn State, brings responsibility. It’s on the individual to be responsible,” Lizza said. “Nowadays social media is so big. One little thing can make you look stupid.”
Lizza added that the tweets do not represent Ray.
“I know Chip well,” Lizza said. “He is not about that. I’m sure he didn’t mean offense.”