Alleged racism on campus leads to march at UConn

UConn

STORRS, Conn. (WTNH)– Racial comments are causing serious concerns on UConn’s Storrs campus. Tuesday night, about 200 students took part in a march there.

The march was planned just one week ago by UConn senior Daeja Bailey, and junior Mariah Conoway. They say racism has gotten bad on campus over the last few years and has escalated recently.

“We have been upset,” said Conoway. “We have been upset before this ever happened.”

Things got ugly over two months ago at the campus spirit rock. The University says The Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity, known as PIKE, spray-painted a message on the rock in honor of someone facing a medical crisis. Then, Alpha Kappa Alpha, a black sorority, wanted to paint a message and says the fraternity tried to stop them. AKA called police, an investigation was sparked, and it was determined the fraternity engaged in intimidation and bullying. Now, they are in a suspension period until May.

At a town meeting with faculty and students on November 10, more details were revealed about the incident that added fuel to the fire.

“She actually got called a fat black bitch,” said Bailey, referring to AKA’s adviser who was allegedly called those names by members of PIKE. The fraternity denies those accusations.

Monday, the University of Connecticut’s President, Susan Herbst, issued a statement saying these are serious allegations. She also said some of the comments she read on social media aimed at the AKA sorority are “appalling.”

Then, she sent a letter to students, faculty, and staff on Tuesday, stating that and more.

“I thought it was ironic it came out the day of the march,” said Bailey. “It speaks volumes.”

The letter reads in part, “It is important that our community know that UConn students, faculty, and staff share a responsibility, year-round, to reinforce the values of diversity, civility, and respect that are so important to us.”

Tuesday night’s march ended in front of President Herbst’s office.

“We have been trying to schedule meetings with the president and her chief of staff,” said Bailey.

Overall, the girls say the march was well worth it.

“It was very diverse,” said Conoway. “I was happy with the crowd.”

News 8 reached out to both Pike and AKA for a comment. AKA said they have no comment during this investigation. PIKE issued a statement saying they are committed to working with the university, police, and everyone involved to improve the UConn community.

STATEMENT FROM IOTA CHI CHAPTER OF THE PI KAPPA ALPHA FRATERNITY:

“The Iota Chi Chapter of the Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity fully cooperated with the University of Connecticut during the five (5) week investigation headed by the Office of Community Standards involving the alleged incident at the North Campus Rock. Subsequently, the Office of Student Activities presented the chapter with a notice of sanctions on November 6, 2014. The Iota Chi Chapter does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, creed, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, or religious affiliation. The Chapter is committed to working together with the University, UConn Police, and all affected parties to improve the UConn community.”

STATEMENT FROM PRESIDENT SUSAN HERBST:

“These are serious allegations that the university continues to thoroughly investigate, as it should. There is no room for hateful speech or incivility on our campuses. In addition, I am appalled by the comments being made anonymously through social media directed at Alpha Kappa Alpha and other members of our community. We will continue to seek every opportunity to work with our students and other campus leaders to reinforce the values of diversity, civility, and respect that are so important to us.”

LETTER FROM PRESIDENT SUSAN HERBST TO ALL UCONN STUDENTS, FACULTY, AND STAFF:

To the University Community,

As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, I wanted to take a moment to wish you well. Next week, many students will be away for a week-long break before returning to complete coursework and begin final exams, ending another fall semester. It is a well-deserved rest; yet for those of us who work here, seeing the students depart is always bittersweet, as it is the students who make our campuses as vibrant and lively as they are. It is why universities are such special and unique places to live, work and learn.

But campuses are, unfortunately, not immune from the difficult issues that affect every community at times, and UConn is no exception. Many of you may be following the ongoing discussion related to a dispute that took place on the Storrs campus at the end of September which involved some members of two Greek letter organizations – Pi Kappa Alpha and Alpha Kappa Alpha – and others. It is alleged that what began as a disagreement between students escalated into an ugly verbal confrontation that included insults based on race and gender.

These are serious allegations that the university continues to thoroughly investigate, as it should. There is no room for hateful speech or incivility on our campuses. In addition, I am appalled by the comments being made anonymously through social media directed at Alpha Kappa Alpha and other members of our community. I will be meeting with the student leaders of Greek letter organizations in the coming weeks to discuss the broad issues raised during a November 10 town hall meeting in connection with what took place in September.

It is important that our community know that UConn students, faculty, and staff share a responsibility – year-round – to reinforce the values of diversity, civility, and respect that are so important to us.

“Civility” is a term that is used so often on campuses that we need to ensure that its meaning does not become diluted or lost. For all of us who live and work here, it is a very real thing, and something we aspire to make part of our daily lives. If there is anywhere that true civility can thrive, it is a university. It is up to all of us to make these values a reality.

Once again, I hope you are able to enjoy a restful and pleasant holiday next week as we look forward to the remainder of the semester – and ongoing discussion.

Sincerely,
Susan Herbst

GENERAL INFORMATION FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT:

UConn is continuing to review an incident that occurred between two groups of students on the evening of Sept. 29-30 as one group painted “the spirit rock” near North Garage. Painting the rock is a student tradition allowable and governed under UConn policies.

The participants were primarily members of Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA), a historically black sorority; and Pi Kappa Alpha (PIKE), a fraternity. PIKE had previously painted the rock in honor of an individual facing a critical medical crisis. AKA members wished to paint it in honor of the anniversary of their charter.

AKA contacted police twice that night to report that PIKE was attempting to deter the women from painting the rock over a span of several hours. The specifics remain in dispute.

UConn’s Office of Community Standards initiated an investigation upon receiving a complaint from AKA after the incident and UConn Police have an open case as well.

The university interviewed numerous members of both groups at length and reviewed other material to ascertain what occurred, the intent involved, and what conduct constituted a violation of the Student Code.

The sorority adviser and some members of AKA indicated in interviews or via written statements with Community Standards that the men’s conversation to and about them, while rude and intimidating, did not include racial comments.

The investigation found PIKE engaged in intimidation and bullying. Student Affairs recommended a series of sanctions against PIKE, including probation until at least May 2015 (they must apply to have probation lifted; it is not automatic), mandatory education to increase sensitivity on issues of race and diversity, and a ban on painting any rocks through the rest of the academic year.

Several weeks later, during a Nov. 10 public forum, AKA’s adviser said she had been referred to during the incident as a “fat black bitch” and that the women were called “whores.”

The fraternity members at the scene have denied making any comments based on the women’s race or using derogatory language to describe or intimidate them.

Based on additional statements made during the Nov. 10 forum, UConn has reached out to the involved parties to seek more information. UConn Police also contacted them about whether they wished to file a formal complaint that officers would use to initiate a criminal investigation.

Both sides have the right to appeal the sanctions imposed against PIKE.

UConn is committed to a learning environment that respects the rights of all students and provides a thorough, fair disciplinary process. President Susan Herbst is also inviting the leaders of the various fraternity councils to meet with her in coming weeks to discuss broader concerns raised during the Nov. 10 forum about inclusiveness, mutual respect, and civility.

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