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- Judge Blows the Whistle On The Implicit Bias Against Greek Organizations by University Administration
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Newsletter > May 2021 > "Judge Blows the Whistle On The Implicit Bias Against Greek Organizations by University Administration"
Judge Blows the Whistle On The Implicit Bias Against Greek Organizations by University Administration
Kaylon Marion, Manley Burke LPA, email@example.com
At early ages, we are taught the importance of being mindful of the company that we keep. It is commonly understood that your friends are an extension or representation of you. The question now becomes, to what extent is this true, and to what extent can we be held liable for the actions of our friends? Is it fair to hold an organization accountable for actions of its acquaintances even if members of the organization are not present when the action takes place?
We can look to actions on the campus of Syracuse University (“SU”) to see how this concept played out with Alpha Chi Rho (“AXP”) and SU officials. In November of 2020, AXP was suspended for allegations that members yelled a racial slur at an African American woman in College Place, a parking lot area on campus down the road from AXP’s house. The woman was standing outside of her mother’s car when the incident took place.
The SU Conduct Board was unable to determine what directly was said to the woman, but it did determine that it was a guest of AXP that engaged in the alleged conduct. The guest “startled or offended” the woman by his alleged attempt to look up her dress and also made commentary about her legs. It is also alleged that the guest used the “N word” a few times. The SU Conduct Board reviewed footage of the incident in late December 2020 and decided that members of AXP were not responsible for any violations. However, Syracuse continued to investigate the fraternity. An email was sent in error to AXP from a Student Conduct Coordinator on January 28, 2021 that was a draft version of the decision stating that AXP did not violate any regulations in the SU Code of Student Conduct. However, the SU Conduct Board was still in deliberation and did not reach their final decision.
The SU Conduct Board later released another decision in February of 2021, finding that AXP was responsible for violating SU’s Code of Student Conduct. As a result, AXP was suspended for one year. University administration argued that there should be accountability by hosts of guests when the actions of the guest jeopardize the safety of members of SU.
AXP appealed the SU Conduct Board’s decision to the SU Appeals Board. The SU Appeals Board reversed the SU Conduct Board’s decision and removed the suspension from AXP. The SU Appeals Board could not find a university policy that held an organization responsible for the actions of its guests. While this seems like a relatively straightforward decision, Syracuse University administration did not see it as such. Dolan Evanovich, former senior vice president for enrollment and the student experience at SU rejected the SU Appeals Board’s decision. Evanovich found AXP responsible for violating SU’s Code of Student Conduct stating “it was more likely than not that the guest used a racial slur” although the conduct board could not determine exactly what was said.
AXP believes that factors outside of the merits led to AXP’s suspension and Evanovich’s overturning of the SU Appeals Board’s decision because of prior decisions of SU’s administration regarding AXP without proper representation. For example, AXP was not allowed to have a lawyer at the hearing in front of the SU Conduct Board which involved allegations of sexual harassment. These allegations involved sexual harassment as well as the racial bias allegations. Their view was that the University did not operate in a fair, unbiased manner when reaching its conclusions about AXP.
AXP sued SU and Evanovich in June 2021. Judge DelConte denied a petition by SU and Evanovich to dismiss the suit. In the ruling, Judge DelConte stated, “The record is clear: Alpha Chi Rho did nothing wrong,” and that Evanovich’s decision to reverse the SU Appeals Board’s decision had “no rational basis.”Judge DelConte argued that it was unreasonable to hold Greek organizations, or any other student organization, on campus responsible for conduct they cannot control. The Court reversed AXP’s suspension and SU released a statement respectfully disagreeing with the ruling.
In the same instance where it is irrational to hold students liable for actions not restricted in student policy, it is irrational to hold student organizations liable for unpredictable actions of guests. This case shines a light on implicit bias that may be prevalent among university administrators and adversely impacts fraternities and sororities.
 Marion is a summer Law Clerk at Manley Burke. She is a second year student at Southern University Law Center and is a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
Michael Sessa, ‘No rational basis’: Court Annuls Alpha Chi Rho Suspension, The Daily Orange (2021), http://dailyorange.com/2021/03/annulled-alpha-chi-rho-suspension/
Douglass Dowty, Judge Rules Syracuse University Frat Accused of Racism Did Nothing Wrong; Trashes SU’s Suspension, Syracuse.com (2021), https://www.syracuse.com/schools/2021/03/judge-rules-syracuse-university-frat-accused-of-racism-did-nothing-wrong-trashes-sus-suspension.html.
The Fraternity Of Alpha Chi Rho, Inc. v. Syracuse University “et al.” WL0003261/2020.