'Black people, stop wearing grills': Racist allegations prompt sorority investigation

Elise Solé
(Photo: Facebook/Kappa Kappa Gamma: Gamma Beta)
(Photo: Facebook/Kappa Kappa Gamma: Gamma Beta)

Kappa Kappa Gamma, the sorority to which Meghan Markle belonged in college, is being investigated for racism after members reportedly said of a black faculty member, “Black people, get away from me,” and “Black people, stop wearing grills.”

According to TV station KOAT 7 in Albuquerque, sorority members at the University of New Mexico (Markle belonged to the Northwestern University chapter in Chicago) allegedly mocked Stephanie McIver, Ph.D., director of counseling services at Student Health and Counseling, while she was giving a presentation during a Sept. 17 welcome event.

Nick Morgan, a senior student and vice president of the student alliance Brothers Leading and Cultivating Knowledge, was sitting in the audience at the time.

“A friend nudged me and said that a group of white women sitting behind us said, ‘Black people, get away from me,'” Morgan tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I started listening, and I heard them say, ‘Black people, stop wearing grills.’ They repeated it more than once.” Morgan adds that when McIver commented on the issue of anxiety on campus, one of the women snarled, “You’re giving me anxiety.” He also said that the sorority members were respectful during the event, a safety-on-campus talk led by white police officers.

KOAT reports that Nieajua Gonzalez, president of the UNM chapter of the NAACP, addressed a sorority member who acknowledged making the comments. According to KOAT, Gonzalez said, “I’m sorry, I said there is no way that you could have said that that was going to make it appropriate. Do you understand how offensive that is?”

Gonzalez could not be reached for comment by Yahoo Lifestyle

Meghan Markle belonged to the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority at Northwestern University during 2000-2003. A chapter of the sorority in New Mexico is being investigated for alleged racist remarks by some members. (Photo: Getty Images)
Meghan Markle belonged to the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority at Northwestern University during 2000-2003. A chapter of the sorority in New Mexico is being investigated for alleged racist remarks by some members. (Photo: Getty Images)

McIver voiced her reaction in a statement to Yahoo Lifestyle:

“I wanted to chime in on the article written about the sorority women making racialized statements about me during the Mental Health workshop on Monday night,” she wrote. “Imagine my surprise to see myself mentioned on the front page of the Daily Lobo about an incident I was, frankly, oblivious about. Like all my professional colleagues in Student Affairs working for these students, we’re usually too busy getting stuff done to notice that you may not like us. I assure you, I am not wounded, not even the slightest. As that adage says, ‘What other people think about me is none of my business.'”

McIver continued, “Still, I want to commend the students who observed this and spoke up to their leadership about this racist behavior. It takes courage to speak up, to shine a light on racism to contribute to America’s growth and growing awareness that racism really does exist; sometimes right under our very noses. I thank those students for defending my honor, and the honor of all Black staff and faculty at UNM who deserve to be treated with respect. I am confident that none of us are shocked that this occurred. If one is Black in America, chances are racial epithets and racialized comments have been slung about them or at them. This does not pain us, nor deter us.”

“What does pain us is that people who hold these hostile attitudes may be in a position to make decisions about another Black person’s life; judicial decisions, healthcare decisions, housing decisions, academic decisions, job decisions, financial decisions, life/death decisions,” she wrote. “This is the true cost of racism in America. We don’t really care what you think, we care what you do. So my recommendation is that these young women become more educated about this reality in America and the role they are choosing to play in either edifying…or sullying…our potential.”

On Monday, members of UNM’s Black Student Union are reportedly scheduled to meet with university leaders to discuss the incident. However, vice president Dannelle Kirven of the BSU, who did not attend McIver’s talk, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that racism is not a rare attitude at the university.

“Here on campus, the black community is small, so when things happen, we come together,” says Kirven. “There is a racist climate here, one that I have experienced firsthand as micro-aggressions — for example, one time I tried to enter the library without my ID card and was stopped by security, whereas white students were waved in without their cards.”

“Students here always have a story,” she adds. “It may seem small at the time, but it contributes to a non-inclusive environment for students.” Kirven also adds that while she does not know the sorority members, Kappa Kappa Gamma has “their own history of being biased.”

A spokesperson for Kappa Kappa Gamma sent the following statement to Yahoo Lifestyle: “Kappa Kappa Gamma values diversity and inclusion among our membership, and we encourage our members to promote and demonstrate an understanding of these values, both on the college campus and in the world community. We are aware of this incident and have reached out privately to the group involved. We are also reviewing this matter with our members and will determine any appropriate next steps with our local chapter.”

Yahoo Lifestyle reached out to UNM president Garnett S. Stokes, who did not return calls for comment. In a statement sent to KOAT, Stokes said, “I have recently engaged with members of the Black Student Alliance and African American Student Services, and take to heart their concerns about our campus climate, and opportunities for improvement. Creating and sustaining a welcoming and respectful environment at UNM is a shared responsibility, that must be infused across both academic and social dimensions of campus life.”

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