Newsletter > November 2004 > "THOUGHTLESS PRANK CLOSES FRATERNITY"
THOUGHTLESS PRANK CLOSES FRATERNITY
Tim Burke, Manley Burke, firstname.lastname@example.org
What apparently began as someone’s ill-conceived idea of a prank has led to the banning of the Phi Kappa Sigma Fraternity at the University of New Hampshire and the criminal conviction of two of its members.
In March 2003, a University co-ed fell asleep on a couch in the men’s fraternity house after an evening of drinking. When she awoke she found drawings in red and black indelible ink on her face, neck, arms and back. The drawings included swastikas, penises and the fraternity letters.
Not until ten months after the incident did the victim report it to the University. That report was apparently made after she suffered harassment from one or more members of the fraternity for seeking an apology. The harassment consisted of late night phone calls and messages left on her house and cell phones containing obscenities.
Subsequently, two members of the fraternity were charged with assault for having drawn on the woman without her permission. While the state did not treat the matter as a “hate crime,” apparently in reaction to the swastikas, the University did find the conduct to constitute discriminatory harassment. Had the state been able to prove that the conduct was motivated in response to the victim’s religion, race, creed, sex or sexual orientation, the perpetrators may have been subject to more severe criminal sentences. As it was, the two individuals were convicted of assault and fined $600 and sentenced to 50 hours of community service.
The University proceeded with disciplinary action against the fraternity and, in relatively short order following the filing of the complaint, the University permanently dismissed the Phi Kappa Sigma Fraternity from campus.
This bizarre incident drew substantial media attention, perhaps because the New England Regional Office of the Anti-Defamation League became very publicly involved. The League contacted the University about what the League referred to as a “deeply troubling incident” and commended the University for its swift action against the Fraternity.
Reactions from the Fraternity varied. The International Fraternity expressed concerns over the failure of the University to notify the International of the issue until after the disciplinary action had been completed. Obviously, that failure of communication extended to the Chapter as well. The Chapter President claimed that the matter was an “innocent, spontaneous thing that went too far” and that it was something that “happens at every college campus.” He also acknowledged that given the punishment imposed by the University, the Chapter won’t be able to participate in the formal rush process or in the IFC.
Obviously, the conduct engaged in by those who drew on the woman’s body was absolutely wrong. No doubt, it was made more offensive by the drawing of swastikas and penises, but fair questions can be raised about how far a university should go in making an entire chapter collectively responsible for the criminal conduct of two of its members.
If the assault had occurred in the private apartment of two fraternity members, would the Fraternity be responsible? In this case, perhaps the University may have felt that the Fraternity had a greater deal of responsibility, not simply because the conduct occurred in its house, but because of the harassment of the victim that occurred afterward. That harassment may have been known to other members of the Fraternity.