‘Coastie Song’ stirs up UW-Madison with claims of anti-Semitism, debate over housing policy

In this photo taken Dec. 11, 2009, University of Wisconsin-Madison students Cliff Grefe, left, and Quincy Harrison are interviewed at the school’s Memorial Union in Madison, Wis. The two undergraduate students have stirred up campus with their popular rap song and video, “Coastie Song,” which some see as anti-Semitic and others call funny. (AP Photo/Ryan J. Foley) (Ryan J. Foley, AP / December 11, 2009)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — When two students recorded their first rap song together, they wanted to have fun with a cultural icon unique to the University of Wisconsin-Madison: the coastie.

The term is widely used here to describe out-of-state students who tend to wear certain clothes, come from wealthier families and live in more expensive private dormitories. They are teased by “sconnies,” the Wisconsin kids who make up a majority of the student body.

The “Coastie Song,” featuring students Quincy Harrison and Cliff Grefe rapping about the coastie girls wearing tights, Ugg boots and North Face jackets, quickly became an Internet hit this fall. Tens of thousands of people heard the song on MySpace and saw the video on YouTube and it’s even available on iTunes.

While the song has launched their music career, it’s done a great deal more on the 42,000-student campus. It’s raised complaints of anti-Semitism, shed more light on a cultural divide among students and renewed complaints about a long-standing housing policy.

“They say it’s just a funny song, but obviously it’s come to be much more than that,” said Michelle Langer, a sophomore from Milwaukee.

Some Jewish students object to the song’s references to a “Jewish American Princess” and “My east coast Jewish honey” who wastes her father’s money. Greg Steinberger, executive director of Hillel at UW-Madison, a Jewish group, said it was unseemly for Harrison and Grefe to profit from a song “made to purposely make fun of and hurt their neighbors.”

Harrison and Grefe, known on campus as Quincy and Beef, say the song was not meant to insult Jews. Harrison said in the song he is flirting with a good-looking coastie that he wants to get to know better.

“If anything, it’s complimentary,” said the 21-year-old from Bloomington, Ind.

Perla Bernstein, a 21-year-old senior from New York City, said the song is funny, but she worries the term “coastie” has morphed from a good-natured jab to an anti-Semitic slur.

“There’s so much xenophobia on campus that it’s ridiculous,” she said. “And it goes both ways.”

Sophie Bressler, an 18-year-old freshman from Chappaqua, N.Y., said students from Wisconsin unfairly believe she and other out-of-state students are “spoiled and sheltered.” She said some of her friends have been heckled for wearing what’s considered coastie garb.

As for the song, she said: “I think it’s funny, but people get offended by it.”

Many blame a state law for fueling the divide by giving preference to Wisconsin residents for a limited number of university dorm rooms. That forces other students to stay in private residence halls where they don’t interact with their Wisconsin counterparts.

Other out-of-state students say they choose to live with their own in private residence halls that tend to have more amenities and cost more than the public dorms.

Chancellor Biddy Martin said she wants to study the housing issue further and tamp down any hard feelings caused by the song. A majority of UW-Madison students come from Wisconsin and Minnesota, but hundreds also come from California, New York, New Jersey, Illinois and elsewhere.

The term coastie was likely coined in Madison in the last 15 years, said Eric Raimy, a UW-Madison assistant professor of the English Language and Linguistics.

He said other universities in the Midwest use the term, but usually to describe students from the coasts. In Madison, he said, the term is used as a pejorative to describe women with “more Hollywood-esque cultural attributes to them” but the song injects a Jewish component that can’t be ignored.

Harrison said he and Grefe are recording additional songs to release in coming weeks that will address campus issues, but hopefully not “such touchy subjects.”


On the Net:

The Coastie Song: https://www.myspace.com/coastiesong

University of Wisconsin-Madison: https://www.wisc.edu/

(Tags: Anti-Semitism, Music, Education, University of Wisconsin- Madison)