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PSU women's frat faulted for stereotypical photo

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Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

A women's fraternity at Penn State could get sanctions because a photo of members in sombreros, serapes and fake mustaches and holding placards with racially offensive messages appeared on the Internet.

Officials at the university and at the national headquarters of Chi Omega in Memphis condemned the photo in which the smiling young women are holding signs reading, “Will work for weed,” and “I don't mow grass, I smoke it.”

“The Nu Gamma Chapter of Chi Omega sincerely apologizes for portraying inappropriate and untrue stereotypes. The pictures in question do not support any of Chi Omega's values, nor do they reflect what our organization aspires to be,” Jessica Riccardi, Chi Omega president at Penn State, said Tuesday.

Jesabel Rivera, president of the Pittsburgh Latin American Cultural Union, is from Puerto Rico, but she said the entire Latin American community suffers from stereotypes such as those perpetuated in the photos.

“I think this type of behavior reflects a lack of knowledge, a total ignorance in that community. This is a call for knowledge,” Rivera said, suggesting Penn State might want to consider workshops and seminars to improve cultural sensitivity.

Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers said the students have First Amendment rights to express themselves, but the university is “appalled that they would display this level of insensitivity.”

“As part of a student organization, these students agreed to abide by certain standards and guidelines, and we are looking into this aspect, as are their national headquarters.”

Whitney Heckathorne, communications director for the fraternity's national chapter, said the group is working with Penn State officials “on educational directives for our Nu Gamma Chapter, particularly regarding appropriate sensitivity to others and bystander behavior.”

Debra Erdley is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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