Two Instagram Earthquakes Rock AU

July 2, 2020

 

Letter from the Editor: this article contains detailed accounts of sexual and racial abuse, and may be triggering to readers.

 

Throughout the course of the last week, two Instagram pages have sent shockwaves through the AU student body. 

 

Amidst the movement against police brutality and institutional racism, the Instagram account @blackatamericanuniversity has posted over 186 stories of racist on-campus treatment since its inception on June 20. The account describes incidents of racist treatment of AU employees, blatant profiling and exclusion of Black students by their fellow peers as well as on-campus organizations—especially but not limited to sororities and sports teams. A vast number of the page’s stories involve dating, friendships, and social life. Many of these incidents of bias occurred in the dorm halls, at parties, and in the classroom involving both teacher assistants and professors (including Professors Frank Rangoussis, Kimberlee Hollande, and Saul Newman). Stories have been submitted by both students and alumni, all anonymously.

 

 

 

This campus is hardly a stranger to this sort of disillusionment. Most students entered their first year at AU fully aware that bananas were hung from nooses just months before, targeting the Black sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha and former AUSG president Taylor Dumpson, resulting in both school and federal investigations that went nowhere. Merely a year later, cotton balls and confederate flags were found nailed to a bulletin board in MGC, the only evidence of its posting being an indistinguishable security video of several men in traffic jackets walking down the halls of the building late at night. The same year, Confederate flag flyers were found hanging from buildings around campus on the night of Professor Ibram X. Kendi’s presentation on AU’s then-new Antiracist Research Center. 

 

The page was meant to highlight what it means to be a Black student attending AU. Its stories encompass all aspects of college life, including instances of sexual assault.

 

Another page, @exposingauabusers, which immediately generated attention through a frequent posting schedule and raw, unfiltered first-person tales of abuse, several of which mentioned the alleged perpetrators by name. Since its inception just five days ago, the account has published over 170 different posts—all stories of abuse, rape, and harassment told by victims. Multiple fraternities, both professional and social, were painted as complicit in regards to disciplinary action for members accused of sexual abuse. Much of the attention paid to @exposingauabusers also drifted toward @blackatamericanuniversity, which had put up its first post over a month earlier. 

 

According to several sources, the administrators of both pages have received cease-and-desist letters over the past couple days. At around 2 a.m. on Wednesday morning, the page put up an announcement that it would be taking a brief hiatus from posting “due to obsessive threats of legal action from anonymous and non-anonymous accounts.” The appearance of legal threats began as occasional, the post continued, but soon became “over 100 anonymous, copy and pasted threats to our submissions which is meant for survivors.” The post encouraged similar accounts to continue posting.

 

While frequent on-campus racial incidents and unsatisfactory Title IX processes have incited student criticism and demands for reform in the past, it is clear students believed that not enough is being done, and that the culture that protects racist ideologies and perpetrators of sexual assault must be approached through a more radical and disruptive means.

 

In their short lifespans, @exposingauabusers and @blackatamericanuniversity have publicly named a multitude of perpetrators. One of them is Jubilee Witte, a student who was featured in at least three different stories that paint him as a creepy, disturbed fetishizer of Black women and African culture. On a professional profile, he listed that he was the beneficiary of a Fulbright Fellowship Award to study Yoruba and contemporary West African culture. The latest update as of the first drafting of this article is that several members of the AU community have reported him to the Fulbright Association and to the AU Office of Merit Awards in an effort to have this scholarship rescinded.

 

Delta Chi, Sigma Chi, Zeta Beta Tau, Pi Kappa Alpha, Beta Theta Pi, Alpha Sigma Phi, Sigma Alpha Mu, Sigma Phi Epsilon, and Zeta Psi have all been named in posts alleging sexual abuse. Just yesterday, a post went up describing an assault at a PIKE Christmas Party—the victim was subjected to forced sexual activity and managed to escape with the help of friends. “He said he was friends with every sorority on campus and I would be Blacklisted in the spring when I rushed if I talked shit,” the post reads. “I found out later he was on eboard and was running another big org on campus.” 

 

In a post on @blackatamericanuniversity, one Black student wrote of the racist culture to which he was subjected while joining Alpha Sigma Phi. He recounts having to participate in a Civil War-themed party laced with racial epithets, in which the brothers were split up between two teams and fought each other while drinking.

 

Several Greek organizations have met or plan to meet about responses to posts by both groups. Most of already spoken out condemning acts of sexual abuse by members. The professional law fraternity Phi Alpha Delta released a statement that promised mandatory “sensitivity training” and consent training for new and current members come Fall. The statement also called for changing the Student Code of Conduct to make bias-related incidents explicit grounds for expulsion.

 

A statement released by a former brother of Delta Tau Delta, who met on June 28th to discuss the future of the organization, read “As a group, we have ultimately decided to disaffiliate in the hopes of sparking the process of disbandment and ending the cycle of abuse, misogyny, and racism perpetuated by Greek life organizations.” Furthermore, Delta Tau Delta publicly endorsed the efforts of the newly formulated Student Coalition to Abolish [the Interfraternity Council, or IFC] and Panhellenic Greek Life, writing that “the patriarchy inherent within Greek Life perpetuates sexual violence and assault.”

 

On its Instagram page, the Student Coalition to Abolish Interfraternity and Panhellenic Greek Life at American University features the link to a petition, a resources guide, a link to join the effort, and a list of demands in response to the stories that have been coming out of @exposingauabusers and the offshoot account that disagreed with the first account’s style, @exposingauabusers2. Calling for the “complete dissolution and abolition” of all Greek life on campus, the Coalition demands that current Greek life members disaffiliate and renounce their memberships, that all members of AUSG in Greek life resign their positions and be barred from participating, and that the university re-directs resources that would normally go to Greek life organizations to “those who were previously excluded by its actions.”

 

The Coalition defines disaffiliation thus: “When all members of an organization have disaffiliated, the chapter exists as an agreement between the national organization and American University in the form of a charter, but does not have any members, and therefore cannot recruit.” Therefore, either representatives from the national organization have to do the recruiting, and would not be receiving dues from disaffiliated members. As opposed to disbandment, which refers to the ending of a charter between a given host university and the fraternity’s national organization.

 

With regards to Greek life specifically, posts about fraternities are more frequent on @exposingauabusers, while posts about sororities are more frequent on @blackatamericanuniversity. This does not mean either organization are absent from either page. Quite the contrary—stories have been published on blatantly racist occurences in the fraterniand on sorority complicity in incidents of sexual assault. However, the Coalition goes out of its way to explicitly call for sororities to take more action than simply distancing themselves from the IFC, because they have both enabled abuse by remaining complicit and having “instigated recurring incidents involving the ignorance and dismissal of students facing violence and discrimination by tokenizing BIPOC within their organizations and ignoring survivors.”

“I laid it out flat to [the IFC member fraternities]: it’s time to come to the table or it's time to be destroyed. And it seems like it’s that time.”

 

— a former IFC e-board member

Fraternities and sororities are not the only groups that are experiencing internal convulsions. 

 

Two days ago, @blackatamericanuniversity posted a submission that read, “AU College Democrats need to be called out for their performative behavior. White liberals at AU are by far the most dangerous. They have continuously silenced Black people, especially Black women on their executive board … Black and other POCs, please stay away from this group and continue to amplify and support affinity groups on campus.” 

 

AU College Dems released their own statement in response to the post, which includes an admission of fault and an affirmation that the club is dedicated to equity and inclusion principles. “We are so deeply and sincerely sorry for these behaviors [of silencing Black voices],” the statement reads, “and for not publicly addressing the historical inequalities perpetuated by this organization sooner.” This release came just a day after AU Dems had released their own list of demands calling for mandatory consent programming and bias training, establishment of “diversity, equity, and inclusion” (or DEI) principles into the IFC and Panhellenic Council’s constitutions, “comprehensive reform” of Title IX policies, and rigorous review of on-campus harassment policies—the letter doesn’t explicitly state whether that last demand pertains to the ability of the IFC and Panhellenic Council to oversee and police incidents of sexual assault among the member fraternities (which is limited by federal legislation, allowing for more complicity in the reporting process) or to the Office of Student Conduct’s general standards for what could be grounds for harsher punitive action against perpetrators. The AU Dems list of demands also includes a call for the university to specifically investigate those named on social media.

 

Two executive board members of AU Dems have since resigned their positions as of the writing of this article. “While the AU College Dems have been excellent at raising the voices of some students to improve life on campus,” writes the now-former Chief of Staff, “I am very much afraid that many students, specifically students of color, have been left out, and as a fellow student and friend, I cannot in good conscience serve in the executive board of such an organization.” This announcement followed the now-former Executive Vice President’s resignation post, which was particularly critical of the AU Dems leadership’s response to the Instagram accounts: “In light of the discussions taking place over social media over the past days both regarding AU Dems and the overtly racist climate that is our campus, and what I can only describe as an unsettling, disturbing, and lackluster response from certain others on this executive board, I am left with no hope for the future of this organization as it stands.”

 

In addition to AU Dems, AU Student Government and its members’ frequent alignment with Greek organizations have sparked a conversation on whether students who are in fraternities or sororities should be barred from joining student government. If a low number of students vote in a given student government election, Greek life organizations may act like a political machine of sorts, rallying votes and disseminating campaign awareness. Students pay attention to club endorsements, debates, and policy conversations taking place on social media. However, when it comes to logging into MyAU and voting, fraternities in particular are vastly more consistent and coordinated. I mentioned earlier that the Student Coalition to Abolish Interfraternity and Panhellenic Greek Life at American University included such a policy in its list of demands. Stories listed on @exposingauabusers have led to multiple resignations in high positions of AUSG, both for complicity and for alleged abuse.

 

AUSG President Nikola Jok has resigned less than a month into his term, citing mental health concerns surrounding the public scrutiny against his fraternity, Sigma Phi Epsilon. “Although I have not committed any acts of sexual harassment or assault myself,” he wrote in his resignation, “I have been complicit by remaining ignorant to the actions of those surrounding me.” This is the second time SigEp and Jok have come under scrutiny in relation to cases of sexual abuse—the first being an allegation of complicity by Eric Brock’s campaign during Spring 2020 campaign trail with regards to a specific Title IX case that was then-ongoing. Comptroller Justin Levine, who has since left SigEp, is now the acting AUSG president until special elections are called, and he reportedly stated at a recent Senate meeting that he will do the best job he can.

 

The Student Coalition to Abolish Interfraternity and Panhellenic Greek Life at American University also calls for the resignation of Justine Levine as Interim AUSG President, “due to his recent participation in the D.C. Delta chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon.” The fact that Levine simply left SigEp, the Coalition writes,  “does not absolve him of the harm and violence caused by the fraternity, regardless of if these instances were perpetuated by Levine or complictly allowed.”

 

In another instance, now-former Speaker of the Undergraduate Senate and student government veteran Mulan Burgess has resigned following allegations of coercion and abuse, as well as accusations that he exploited his position as a TA in sending around a survey for male students asking sexually invasive questions like, “Throughout the course of a day do you get hard and how do you try to not show this when in public especially in such close living/academic quarters?” He reportedly justified it saying it was for a class. He also sent out surveys with follow-up questions asking what their genitals looked like, if they masturbated, what porn they masturbated to, and whether they were gay. 

 

“I am sick of Mulan’s repeated sexual abuse and harassment being swept under the rug and students continuing to stand by his side,” writes the anonymous victim, “despite knowing everything (you know who you are).” In an email to the campus-wide community two days ago, Burgess called the accusations “unequivocally false,” affirming that “I have never abused my power in any way to coerce a student to perform sexual acts.” A Facebook account that was recently created named “DearMulan Burgess” provides substantial evidence of all these allegations, compiled into a single open letter. A sentence in its final paragraphs reads, “For you to say you want to be a teacher, to go to AU for a degree in education and then abuse your power over your own STUDENTS? You are extremely unfit to be an educator and are a danger to students with this proven behavior.”

 

The university has responded to this social media storm. Here’s a segment:

 

“We encourage anyone who feels that they have been a victim of sexual misconduct to file a complaint with the Title IX office, which is dedicated to creating an inclusive and safe environment for all students and employees. We also ask members of our community to be thoughtful about social media posts and understand their possible impact and unintended consequences. They could negatively affect others, including survivors, who may not wish to have their experiences made public or potentially spread incomplete information. The Title IX process is designed to provide fair and comprehensive investigations. Although not all cases may result in a disciplinary outcome, we understand and respect the bravery it takes for survivors of sexual assault to speak out, and we hear and acknowledge their lived experiences and stories no matter when or how they happened.”

 

“The process for investigating claims of sexual assault requires that a formal complaint be filed with the Title IX office,” a spokesperson for the university administration told the Eagle last week. “We understand these processes can be difficult, but without that formal complaint there may be insufficient information to determine the facts in the case and an investigation cannot move forward.”

“[Sexual violence] is not something exclusive to Greek life but also rampant and protected by the Greek life community. Unless members of that community are committed and dedicated to change and holding each other accountable, the only option is to abolish them.”

I spoke to a former executive board member of the IFC (“Frank”), who spoke on condition of anonymity and has informed me of much of the text below on internal attempts to strengthen the powers of the IFC to more effectively police incidents of sexual misconduct. The office had been in the process of “calling for internal reforms that would probably not be enacted now that I am no longer on the e-board,” Frank told me. At the center of these proposed reforms were implementing judicial board with charges lesser than hazing and sexual violence, because fraternities are deemed not fit to adjudicate on what should be left to the Office of Student Conduct & Title IX or to the legal system. These proposed reforms, which have thus far only materialized in the form of a judicial document, would need to be ratified by both the IFC and the Office of Student Conduct—neither of which have done so yet. 

 

The IFC’s statement regarding @exposingauabusers reads in part: “Since the beginning of the current leadership’s term, we have been committed to fostering change and have worked to develop mechanisms for holding those within the IFC community accountable.” While it has taken some time, we have created a comprehensive judicial policy which … will allow for action to be taken at a much swifter pace than seen on this campus previously.” Among other proposals, the statement calls for an oversight structure in which “all IFC fraternities must submit a detailed policy that governs their handling of incidents of sexual violence to the IFC and Title IX office.”

 

“The proposed changes conflict with the IFC’s current power,” Frank explained. “The IFC primarily oversees recruitment, and that’s about it. Since the beginning of my term, I’ve been trying to expand that authority, but it’s really just been fraternity members dragging their feet.” Among other proposals, Frank had been working to establish more stringent punishments for Greek life organizations with a record of noncompliance, which included a requirement for fraternities to indefinitely suspend members charged by the AU Office of Student Conduct of abuse, as well as pushing for a detailed review of each fraternity’s misconduct records by the IFC—an effort he himself would have led had he not disaffiliated just yesterday.

 

“I submitted a judicial document to all 14 member fraternities and received about one to two responses,” Frank told me. “This is a document that is supposed to govern the self-accountability that we’re trying to create in the Greek community. And I received nothing from them. In the face of that, I felt helpless and now want to join the cause to dismantle everything.”

 

“This is not something exclusive to Greek life but also rampant and protected by the Greek life community,” Frank told me. “Unless members of that community are committed and dedicated to change and holding each other accountable, the only option is to abolish them.”

 

“I should stress that student leadership is not to blame as we were the ones trying to implement change in our respective communities,” he continued. “The real blame is on the university for turning a blind eye for so long and deciding to act like we’re the ones to blame.”

 

The IFC can only do so much because the member fraternities themselves protect will individual members embroiled in sexual assault allegations. “The Office of Student Conduct/Title IX office charges an individual member—not the fraternity—and it’s on the onus of that member that is accused to inform the fraternity. The fraternities have different processes that operate differently from one another,” Frank told me. “This one fraternity may have a mechanism for people within the community to report violations to the President or Vice President of the fraternity. Another might have a tendency to only allow brothers to charge brothers of violations of their creed. Some have bylaws that the member has to inform the fraternity within 42 hours [about what happened].” 

 

There is no consistent standard between 14 IFC member frats about the process to handle sexual violence within the confines of federal law. “One frat can handle it properly, suspending the student, while another may handle it another way, sweeping it under a rug and acting like it doesn’t exist,” Frank said. “There’s no way for the IFC to adjudicate charges for individual members.” Essentially, the IFC can’t do much in these incidents because federal law mandates they should go to the Title IX office, which infamously brings its own inefficiencies. According to the Eagle, the Title IX office is currently dealing with three open investigations brought on by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

 

Demands for reforms on the IFC, in its current capacity, by and large consist of policies that it simply does not have the power to oversee. “I thought I was going to go down with the ship, and to work to establish accountability within the system,” Frank told me. “However, I was kicked out of my fraternity and rendered powerless. I was doing everything within my limitations and I wished the powers were large enough to do what these students were demanding. It really pains me to not be able to do what these people want to happen. The university does not want to comply, and we have to hold out ourselves.” Frank went on to describe the institutional safeguards for Greek life organizations that, in part, keep oversight organizations’ hands tied. “This is the reality of attending a predominantly white institution with tons of fraternity influence even on the Board of Trustees. Jack Cassell was a former member of PSK,” he told me. “There’s a reason why they think they can get away with anything.”

 

With regards to @exposingauabusers, an emergency meeting between the presidents of the Panhellenic Council and the IFC took place on June 26. The topics brought up during the conversation, according to the meeting’s minutes, included “why do people want greek life gone and what can we do to address those issues” and “internal membership reviews” and “mandated smaller parties.” The conversations around these topics itself weren’t recorded. According to Frank, only about seven of the IFC member fraternities showed their faces: DTD, Beta, SigEp, AEPi, SAM, ZBT, and SigChi (who didn’t speak, according to the meeting minutes). Absent fraternities, which included PIKE, had to be called in through group chats. 

 

“I laid it out flat to them,” Frank told me. “It’s time to come to the table or it's time to be destroyed. And it seems like it’s that time.” 

 

 

Mark Lu is a senior in the School of Public Affairs. He is the Editor-in-Chief of the Agora.


Images courtesy American University, Creative Commons

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