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Bryan Faust

Several University of Wisconsin students met Tuesday night to discuss and decide on a plan of action against allegedly racist dress codes enforced at three bars in Madison.

Students at the meeting see the dress codes at Brothers’, Johnny O’s and Madison Avenue as racist, specifically discriminating against African-Americans.

UW sophomore Lonnie West cited an experience he had at Johnny O’s in which he thinks he was discriminated against because he is black.

“I walked in about 7 p.m., talked to the woman at the bar and waited for about five or 10 minutes without service. A few minutes later a guy walks up to me and says, ‘You’re wearing a jersey, you have to leave.’ Thing is, they supposedly don’t enforce their dress code until 9 p.m.,” West said. “I don’t feel like this should be happening in Madison.”

Students who attended the meeting decided it is necessary to take action to repeal these racist “anti hip-hop” dress codes. Several tactics were discussed, including filing a complaint with the Equal Opportunity Commission.

“This is a Madison issue, not just a UW issue,” UW senior Kyle Myhre said.

The students have planned a picket for Friday night, Dec. 3. They will meet at 9:30 in the Trophy Room across from the Rathskeller in Memorial Union beforehand to discuss their plan of action.

“The time is definitely now to fight this,” UW alum Katie Ray said.

At their picket Friday night, the students plan to hand out fliers with information about their cause. Their goal is to convince patrons of the bars to go somewhere else for the night, specifically somewhere that does not have “racist” dress codes.

UW senior Jon Mungen came to the meeting to initially just listen. After spending some time at the meeting, however, Mungen became convinced that this is a serious issue in Madison.

“You hear a lot about how we try to increase diversity, but then there’s something like this that closes the door. Hearing that this is a bigger issue makes it more important,” Mungen said.

The dress codes in question at Brothers’, Johnny O’s and Madison Avenue ban such clothing items as sports jerseys, athletic wear and bandanas. Brothers’ also bans sleeveless t-shirts, hats not facing forwards or backwards, wave caps and headbands.

In an interview, Jon Okonek, owner of both Johnny O’s and Madison Avenue, denied any ties between the dress codes he puts in place and racism.

“How can you be racist against an article of clothing? We turn away 100 white people to every one African-American person,” Okonek said.

Okonek also said that the dress code his venues enforce encourages patrons to be on their best behavior. He said patrons who abide by the dress code “behave better and respect the place more.”

If people have a specific problem or incident in which they were dealt with inappropriately at either Madison Avenue or Johnny O’s, Okonek said to contact him personally.

Okonek also said hundreds of customers tell him how much they enjoy the dress code, including African Americans.

“We have no problem with the persons themselves. What we want to eliminate is a bunch of people coming in here looking like they just came from a basketball game. I don’t think you go out on a weekend night in a sweat suit,” Okonek said.