When administrators at Loyola University Maryland got wind of a planned campus-wide student party with a "Party in the USA" theme, they say they began hearing concerns that students might show up in offensive costumes related to this month's presidential election.
In a series of emails, administrators urged Student Government Association members sponsoring the party to reconsider the theme, which they characterized as potentially divisive and harmful.
The party nonetheless was held last week, without incident. But the college is under fire by some who think administrators overreached and may even have been unpatriotic.
Word of the administration's response to the party shocked and disappointed some recent Loyola alumni, including Paul Corrente, who expressed those sentiments in a letter to administrators this week.
"It's 1,000 college-age kids wanting to show patriotism and show unity," said Corrente, who graduated with an accounting degree in 2015. "I think it should have nothing to do with the election, and that's what the SGA's intention was."
He said he thought administrators "lost faith in the student body."
"I think the administration just got lost in what was going on with the election and there were people yelling in their ears about how this could be offensive," Corrente said.
The incident comes as students on college campuses in the Baltimore area and around the country have held protests and walkouts after the election of Donald Trump as president. Colleges and other schools are also among the most common places where reports of bias incidents are surfacing after the election, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. A few bias incidents were reported at Loyola after the election, a spokesman said.
Loyola did not make the two administrators who wrote the emails, quoted this week on the conservative news website The Daily Caller, available for comment. A university spokesman provided portions of the emails to The Baltimore Sun. The spokesman, Nicholas Alexopulos, said quotations from the emails as published lacked context.
The university president, the Rev. Brian F. Linnane, addressed the issue in an email to students Wednesday, saying the administration's response was mischaracterized.
"We heard from members of our community who were concerned that some students intended to manipulate the theme to create an unwelcoming environment at the event," Linnane wrote. "Loyola leadership brought these concerns to the SGA and suggested they consider their options for how to proceed, including possibly changing the timing of the theme to later in the academic year when our country, overall, will be less politically charged."
The event went off without any offensive costumes, and the students "made us proud," Linnane continued.
"As I reflect on the discussions prior to the event, I recognize that we could have demonstrated more faith in our students," he wrote. "However, my senior leaders and I have a responsibility to create an intellectual and social environment where all students feel welcomed, included, and supported — an environment where students of all political viewpoints can engage in substantive, meaningful dialogue in the pursuit of truth."
The Loyola Republicans club was among the critics of the administration's handling of the party, but in a statement, the group's executive board said they were satisfied with Linnane's email to students.
"Our intention in commenting on this situation is to show how Loyola is a small example of what is happening all over the country; of how conservative minded students are treated on liberal campuses," the students wrote. "As leaders in our community, we feel it is our duty to stand for and with our members when they feel silenced. We are hopeful that schools across the nation will follow the example Loyola University Maryland has set by moving to further encourage inclusive and respectful discourse."
The party, called the Senior 200s, was intended to be a celebration marking the 200 days remaining until the senior class graduates. Student body president Maggie Ritter released a statement calling the party a "successful celebration" and declined to comment further.
"We came to an agreement on the theme celebrating America — together with the Loyola administration," she said in the statement. "We plan to continue serving the student body side by side with the Loyola administration for the continuance of the year."
Others defended the administration's response. "I think the administration absolutely has reason to be concerned," said Lindsey Rennie, a 2015 political science graduate who was one of dozens of co-signers on a letter supporting the administration. She cited recent incidents around the country that have been labeled hate crimes and recent bias incidents reported at Loyola. "Though we are Jesuit and Catholic, at times students have made it feel like a noninclusive campus," Rennie said.
Alexopulos confirmed that a few bias incidents have been reported on Loyola's campus since the election but declined to provide more details.
Terence Jones, a biology and psychology major who graduated in May, said when he served on the student government association, administrators would often voice concerns about student parties and other matters — and that he appreciated their input because it helped students see the bigger picture. He also defended administrators.
"It's unfortunate that administrators are getting pushback because it's something they've always done," Jones said. "They were looking at the hard facts, which is that the climate has changed on campus because it's so politically charged, and an America-themed party might be affected by that change. They truly want to make an environment that's inclusive for all."