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Two Instagram Earthquakes Rock AU


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 resignati