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PSU student group defends leader

College Republicans stir up controversy at Halloween party

Sunday, December 07, 2003

By Dennis B. Roddy, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Penn State's College Republicans issued a vote of confidence in their chairman this weekend after he posted photos from a Halloween party that mocked blacks, Catholics, gays, and fraternity and sorority members.

The group praised Chairman Brian Battaglia for "vision and leadership" and thanked him "for his continued and steadfast service during stressful times for the club."

The stressful times began last week, when Battaglia's personal Web site offered outsiders a vision of his recent Halloween party.

Guests -- many of them associated with the club -- came in costumes ranging from blackface, to a klansman, to a "sodomized" fraternity pledge, sorority prostitutes and, in one case, a priest on the make.

"They apparently spent the evening skewering just about everybody except themselves," said Bill Mahon, the university's vice president for public affairs.

Mahon said he wrote to Battaglia and suggested he issue an apology.

Battaglia replied with an e-mail informing Mahon that the photos were copyrighted.

"In order to legally possess these pictures, you must have my expressed written consent. Since you lack this permission, I advise you destroy them immediately," Battaglia wrote.

Battaglia previously issued a written statement, first published in the campus newspaper, The Daily Collegian. He suggested the group was under fire because it "stands staunchly opposed to the mindset held by the radical left on college campuses across the country."

The photos included one of the group's more prominent members, former Penn State student government leader Jason Covener, in blackface and carrying a bicycle chain.

The costume mocked Penn State student government Vice President Takkeem Morgan.

Morgan, who is black, was prosecuted earlier this year in connection with the theft of a bicycle.

"Apparently Takkeem was released long enough to come to our party. We thank the local police department," the photo caption reads.

Other photos included a shot of a student in full clerical garb drinking a beer with his left hand, a bottle of liquor in his right, and a caption saying: "I guess they drink before they go get to the boys."

Women attending the party dressed as "sorostitutes" -- a reference to Penn State sorority members.

One young man appeared as an "over-sodomized fraternity pledge" with strategically placed artificial bloodstains on his trousers and face.

One student dressed as a klansman but apparently was able to locate only a blue sheet for his robes and a hood that lacked a point.

Racial controversies are not new at the Penn State main campus in rural Centre County.

In 1999, police investigated hate e-mails sent to black students, and a year later someone mailed hate letters and death threats to black students, including members of the football team.

Only 4 percent of the students enrolled at the main campus are black. The College Republicans have no black members.

"I think it's much ado about nothing," Covener said yesterday. "I think anytime a white person puts on blackface, there are certain elements, especially here on a university campus, that will look for any reason they can to be offended and will use it as an opportunistic means to push their agenda."

Covener was suspended from Penn State four years ago after he pleaded guilty to planting spy software on a computer used by rivals in student government. Since then, he said, he has returned as a part-time student.

Tiffanie Lewis, president of Penn State's Black Caucus, yesterday demanded Battaglia's resignation as well as those of any member of the College Republicans serving in student government.

"Some of those students on the pictures are on decision-making committees," Lewis said. "I would like to see their resignations as well."

David Davis, a member of the Black Caucus, said the Web site photos were part of "a pattern" of conduct by Battaglia's group.

"They have in the past kind of pushed the envelope," Davis said.

He cited an event earlier this year when the campus gay students group held a "gay coming-out day," and the College Republicans countered with a conservative coming-out day.

One College Republican, Cathy Carre, resigned last week, citing both the Web photos and the conservative coming-out day program as her reasons.

Other members of the group, however, filled a room in one of Penn State's academic halls late Friday and unanimously passed a resolution praising Battaglia.

"I'm still behind him," said Shauna Moser, listed as the group's "chief information officer."

She declined further comment other than to say she attended the Halloween party dressed as a biker.

Dennis Roddy can be reached at or 412-263-1965.

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