Anti-racism Protesters Prompt Dartmouth Kappas To Drop The Derby
The Kappa Delta Epsilon sorority at Dartmouth College has canceled its annual Kentucky Derby–themed party after complaints the theme was racist. They will instead go with a Woodstock theme.
Every year, Kappa Delta Epsilon (KDE) holds the invite-only party in the spring. Until 2015, the party was held the same weekend as the Kentucky Derby, which was used as the party’s theme.
In 2015, several Dartmouth students protested outside the party as part of a larger protest march, saying the exclusive party was racist and economically elitist. After Dartmouth’s student assembly president (who was attending the party) engaged in a shouting match with a protester, activists launched a petition drive calling for him to resign.
Sorority vice president Nikol Oydanich told the school’s official newspaper, the Dartmouth, that these protesters had convinced the sorority members to change the theme.
[It is] related to pre-war southern culture,” she said. “Derby was a party that had the power to upset a lot of our classmates.” Jehanna Axelrod, the social chair, agreed: “We realized that if anyone on campus felt uncomfortable or upset with the theme, then we obviously shouldn’t have it.”
The Kentucky Derby started 10 years after the Civil War. Blacks dominated the jockey game until being banned from tracks in 1904.
The makeup of Dartmouth’s 2019 graduating class is 8% African-American, 19% Asian American, 50% Caucasian, 7% Latino, 4% Native American, 2% Multi-Racial and 8% International. The Derby may have been post-Civil War, but it was certainly not post-Jim Crow. Louisville high society from 1875-1950 was pretty well segregated. If the Dartmouth sorority wants all members and pledges to be reasonably comfortable, that may not be the right theme.
This is important. It’s 2016 and this is an example of what engaged and concerted attention paid to history and how it relates to today can affect change. The Derby, whether people want to admit or not, was a celebration by Louisville’s elite protected by Jim Crow.