Penn Students: Stop Being Schmucks!

The students who hosted the “gangsta” party should’ve known better. Lucky for them, they’ll get another chance.


Dear Penn Kids:

Please, please, please, for the love of God: Would you stop being such schmucks?

Let me back up. Not all of you are schmucks. Many of you are good and earnest and smart, hard-working young people. But some of you have made a big mistake, and you need to understand that what you’ve done is a bit more than commit a PR gaffe. You’ve acted like real schmucks. You’ve made your fellow students look a bit schmucky by association. And you’ve hurt a few feelings along the way.

So I want you to understand why it’s important that you, of all people, need to not be such schmucks.

Let’s first of all discuss what brings us here: A little more than a week ago, two Greek organizations on campus — the Beta Theta Pi fraternity and the Chi Omega sorority — held a “mixer.” No problems there. The problem? It was “gangsta” themed, and, by all accounts, the theme wasn’t really intended to be respectful of anyone — least of all, people of color.

Race-based theme parties? Pretty schmucky.

Holding said party the same week that Chi Omega’s sister sorority at Penn State was completely shut down because of a similar, Mexican-themed party that left behind a handful of unfortunate photos? Extra schmucky. Almost self-destructively schmucky, in fact, because it’s appears Penn’s Chi Omega members couldn’t be bothered to draw a lesson from a matter that should’ve hit close to home.

And yes, all of that hurt feelings. “These parties mock certain cultures, people of lower-income status and/or people of color, ultimately dividing our campus,” some non-schmucky Penn students pointed out in the student paper a few days later.

All of this would be schmucky enough on its own. But coming from you guys, well, it’s super schmucky.

Why? Because you’ve got it better than everybody else.

You’re not actually kids, after all: You’re adults. Maybe you were raised with too much “faux” ironic comedy racism in your pop culture to know the difference, but making fun of other races? Not actually cool. So grow up.

What’s more, you’re adults who are getting an Ivy League education. This means a couple of things: First, you’re getting one of the best educations in the world, being armed with the tools to go out and do incredible things. It also means you’re being provided with a set of connections to other Penn alumni and Ivy Leaguers who will help open doors for you — not by virtue of anything you’ve accomplished, necessarily, but because of where you went to school. If you’re a member of a Greek organization, those connections will be multiplied.

Yes, you worked hard to earn your way into Penn. But you are also remarkably blessed. You would have to work very hard to waste your opportunities, to somehow end up a member of the underclass you mocked last week. You will get second and third and fourth chances, while the objects of your humor often won’t get first chances.

The result? Many of you will end up in positions of real power and importance: In Congress, in a presidential cabinet, or as leaders of businesses and governmental organizations in your hometowns; your attitudes and actions will have outsized effects on the rest of us. To do those jobs well, you will have to have the ability to look beyond your own experiences, to have empathy for folks who lacked your talent and opportunities.

With your actions, you have failed to demonstrate that ability. So far.

The good news, as ever, is that you will get those second and third and fourth chances. This isn’t the end of the line for you. You can choose differently. So please, prove to the rest of us that you deserve all the good opportunities and great connections that will accompany you through life. All you have to do is stop acting like such schmucks.

Follow @joelmmathis on Twitter.

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  • mch

    Gangsta is a race ?

    • KobraKai7474

      Nope, although you would be hard-pressed to think otherwise if you had attended the frat party in question.

  • FOJL

    Has super-blogger Jonothon Tannenwald weighed in on this topic?
    He is still trapped in the world of an Undergrad, despite being 30 yrs old..

  • medford_resident

    if your race is the definition of “Gangsta” its not the fraternity that has a problem.

    • KobraKai7474

      No, the fraternity and those who attended the party are the ones who defined “gansta” in a particular way and had it refer to a particular race. Poor people come in all shapes and sizes and colors and creeds… as do thugs and criminals. When a fraternity plans a party around the theme that ONLY one race of people grows up poor and becomes thugs and criminals, well, you don’t need to be Martin Luther King to see the inherent racism in that…. and, if that fraternity is full of some of the smartest, luckiest, most privileged kids around, well, shame on them because they DO know better and made the conscious decision to be douches anyway.

      • medford_resident

        no, again, if YOUR race is the definition of “Gangsta” its YOUR RACE’S problem. Trying to equate Penn student’s douchery to your race’s criminality is pretty silly. I suggest you get your own race’s house in order before you worry about a frat party.

  • Marv

    Which race was mocked? Point isn’t as strong without support for thesis

  • Anonymous

    To be clear the term “gangsta” is not synonymous with African American people and not only African American people live in rough neighborhoods. The idea was insensitive, and both organizations will have to do better, but let’s not also contribute to racism by implying that only African Americans understand the “hood”.

    • KobraKai7474

      Agreed, but that is the whole point of the opinion piece above. A bunch of very lucky, very smart and mostly rich kids… regardless of their race and social background… are NOT the ones to be mocking ANYBODY’S version of the “hood”.

  • Mensch

    “Schmuck” is not a politically correct term, but like other hateful language, it’s okay for JOEL to use it, since he is one, too.

    • KobraKai7474

      Why exactly is schmuck politically incorrect? Because it is derived from yiddish? Most of what now passes for English on this planet is derived from another language so you certainly can’t be making the case that all words derived from other languages are politically incorrect, and you certainly aren’t making the argument that only yiddish words and phrases are politically incorrect (because that, in itself, IS politically incorrect). Presumably, then, you consider calling somebody a name for a part of the human anatomy is politically incorrect. I don’t see it. Sure you could argue that it is tasteless, but tasteless if far different from politically incorrect.

  • WTF

    How can you write an article about alleged racism, then proceed to use the word SCHMUCK to describe the uPenn community?

    • KobraKai7474

      I call people dicks and a-holes all the time… only when they really deserve it of course. Calling someone a schmuck is no different… unless of course you are such an anti-semite that you can’t even bear it when people use Yiddish words that have come into common usage in the modern English language.

  • John

    I am a person of color and a Penn alum–your assertion that the party was “not intended to be respectful of anyone–least of all, people of color” is inherently racist.

    Those who hosted the party are mocking an aesthetic, not a race. Following your specious argument, why didn’t you write an article about “preppy” themed parties? You would probably write, incorrectly, that those parties would be disrespectful to the WASP ethnosocial group.

    If you had made an argument about class but not about race, that would have been a much better article. As it is written, you are the racist because you believe that minority = gangsta.

    • John

      “wasn’t really” should replace the word “not” in the quote from your article–I misquoted you.

    • KobraKai7474

      Did you attend that party? If not, I would suggest that, perhaps both you and the author and your respective arguments would be better served by actually talking to people who were there. By all accounts and regardless of whatever harmless intent you… or even the hosts…. may want to place on this party, the fact remains that the attendees treated it and acted in a manner that was offensive to African Americans. Even if we take your argument that there was no racist intent on part of the fraternity at face value, the fact remains that these are smart kids, and they knew…. or should have known… exactly how party attendees would take the “gansta” theme and thus what the end result would be at their “gansta” themed party.

      • John

        No, I don’t attend college parties as an alum. Good point though–the author should’ve taken your advice before writing the article.

        What do you mean “acted in a manner that was offensive to African Americans” ? Unless they were in blackface, I don’t understand how wearing specific “gangsta” clothing would signify that they are making fun of African Americans–that’s why I’d like to know what you mean by “treated” and “acted.” Because if you suggest that its just the clothing, then you’d be making the same racist conclusion as the author of the article.Again, what actions would suggest that the students are using the “gangsta” theme to make fun of African Americans in particular?

        Maybe if the students were using racial epithets or wearing faux afros, then yes, you could conclude that they were racist–but I doubt that’s what they were doing.

      • Maria

        Racist is your word association, that gangsta = African American. A gangster or “gangsta” by definition is a member of a gang, and last that I look there are gangs in the US of every race.

        Not that I approve the theme of the party or would attend such party. This party mocks a class of underprivileged inadividuals, but you are propagating the fact that underprivileged individuals are African-American.

        Racism is a very controversial topic, propagated not only by those that disrespect the race but by those who also try to protect the specific race. In this case the individuals at the University of Pennsylvania did not disrespect the African American individuals, but mocked the individuals of a social class lower than theirs, whether african-american, latinos or asians. There was no distinction. However, Penn State – which FYI has nothing to do with University of Pennsylvania – attacked a race.

        Gangs are not a race, gangs are not a color, gangs are part of a social standing. The longer we associate gangs to a race, the longer we propagate racism.

  • Schmucky McSchmucky

    I could barely get past the first paragraph…. Schmuck… Schmucky…. please say it again so we are certain of your background, Dear Writer….

    • KobraKai7474

      As far as I know, I haven’t a drop of Jewish blood in my body (though, if I did, I certainly wouldn’t hide it) and I use the term “schmuck” all the time (but only to refer to people who deserve it). Today’s “American English” is chock full of words in common use that are derived from other languages and cultures and that most definitely includes a schtickle of Yiddish. You wouldn’t presume a person to be Jewish if they called somebody a klutz or had a wine spritzer any more than you would presume a person to be Arab is they used the words algebra, average or alcohol.

  • RachelD

    Actually, the party theme was “hometowns.” While some Penn students did decide to dress up as “gangstas,” the majority did not, and chose to represent their respective hometowns in inoffensive costumes.

    Get your facts straight. While a handful of students made a grave, tactless mistake, the majority–and the fraternity and the sorority themselves–are not guilty.

  • Internet User

    You make it sound like everyone at this party was white and upperclass. Where do you draw that assumption from?

  • critical mass

    I agree with, and am heartened by, all of the comments that pointed to this is as a class rather than race issue. If race was the central issue of the 20th century, socioeconomic class must–urgently–be embraced as the issue of the 21st. The upper and upper-middle classes, of all races, are doing just fine. Let’s focus on the poor–of all races. This party was abhorrent in its lack of class-consciousness. These students were, like so many Marie Antoinettes, partying at the expense of the poor, in all respects That isn’t their fault. We have as a culture for several decades turned a blind eye to the poor while focusing relentlessly on race, gender, and sexual orientation–all good causes, but all neatly circumvent the most profound cultural difference and object of discrimination: the poor. We have been too focused on advancing our ability to achieve ever greater heights as consumers and, in the process, have done great damage to our culture, our environment, our reputation and dignity, not to mention our collective quality of life. We sold our souls for a mess of pottage, and it’s time to see if we can buy them back at a discount for at this point, they’re not worth much.

  • F U

    The person who wrote this article is also a schmuck obviously. Only schmucks think “good” and “hard working” is what you should be.