Chi Omega “Trap Queen” Photo Sparks Controversy Over Race

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Chi Omega House at University of Florida
Chi Omega House at University of Florida. Ariella Phillips / WUFT News

A photo featuring members of the Chi Omega sorority at University of Florida that was supposed to be about sisterhood has raised concerns about perpetuating harmful stereotypes instead.

The photo shows four white women with their arms crossed wearing long black T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Trap Queen.” 

The words are a reference to the title of a song by New Jersey rapper Fetty Wap. The song peaked at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart this summer, according to the magazine.

“Trap” refers to a “trap house,” which is where drugs are made and sold, often in impoverished neighborhoods, said Veleashia Smith, the director of UF’s Institute of Black Culture.

“A trap queen is not something you want to be excited about,” she said.

The women in the photo, the president, vice president, and adviser of the Chi Omega chapter at UF did not respond to requests for comment. The national Chi Omega organization and the UF Panhellenic Council also declined to comment.

However, UF spokeswoman Janine Sikes said in a statement that the university is aware of the photo, and that Student Activities and Involvement along with the Bias Education and Response Team have reached out to the sorority.

“While we have learned there was no intention to offend anyone, we are using this opportunity as a teaching moment. It’s important to foster a campus environment welcoming for all,” Sikes said.

Smith, who said there are plans to bring the Black Student Union and the sorority together to talk, said that a woman who runs a drug house shouldn’t be glorified because of the offensive connotations to black culture.

Bria Wood, a 21-year-old journalism major and member of the Black Student Union, said she had conflicting feelings about the photo. At first glance, she thought something was not quite right.

Initially, she noticed the shirts, then the pose. She said she wondered what point the women were trying to make.

Wood is a member of UF’s Delta Sigma Theta, a nationally recognized African-American sorority. She first learned about the photo in a group text message with her friends.

Reactions were mixed, she said.

While the photo isn’t blatantly racist, their outfits and poses aren’t something that should be representative of a student organization, she said.

“In a normal setting, those girls wouldn’t go around their parents dressed like a trap queen,” Wood said.

College is a place to broaden horizons and learn about being mindful of different things that may or may not offend, she said.

This is not the first time a Chi Omega chapter has been in trouble for questionably racist material. In August 2014, two members from the University of Alabama chapter were removed from the organization following a Snapchat photo with a racial slur.

Michael Leslie, a professor of intercultural communication at UF, said he hopes the social disapproval of the photo could lead to a learning opportunity in today’s multicultural society.

He said he’s glad people are paying attention and speaking up when they see something that raises questions.

But Leslie also said the photo, while trivial, could have the negative effect of reinforcing black stereotypes.

“You can’t control people’s behavior,” he said.

 

About Ariella Phillips

Ariella is a reporter for WUFT News and can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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