The Collegian
Tuesday, August 09, 2022

Forums stir varied student reaction to explicit e-mail

A sexually explicit fraternity recruitment e-mail that leaked more than two weeks ago has sparked outrage over both the e-mail's content and a recommendation from the Richmond College Dean's Office to suspend the student who wrote it.

But widespread rumors that the student has been suspended have turned out to be untrue, according to documents obtained by The Collegian and an interview with the student.

The university is charging the student with violating the university's sexual misconduct, harassment and discrimination policies; disorderly and obscene conduct; and inappropriate behavior or expression, according to an e-mail sent to the student from the Richmond College Dean's Office.

Based on the charges, the student faced three options: resigning from the university, accepting the dean's recommended suspension until May 2009, or taking his case before the university hearing board, according to e-mails and reviews of the university's judicial policies.

The student said he decided to have his case heard before the university hearing board, meaning the sanctions recommended by the dean's office are nullified. The board -- composed of a chairperson, three students, a faculty member and an administrator -- can, at worst, suspend the student. But it can also offer any number of sanctions, including revoking certain student privileges, placing him under residential housing probation or sentencing him to community service, among other possibilities, according to the university's handbook.

The hearing has yet to be scheduled.

Dean's office officials give recommended sanctions to allow students going through the judicial process an opportunity to make an informed decision about how they want to proceed, Richmond College Dean Joe Boehman said in discussing general disciplinary policy. University officials are banned under federal privacy regulations from discussing disciplinary action related to specific cases. Boehman will not be on the university hearing board.

The student is not being identified because of the sensitive nature of the issue. The e-mail he sent to first-year recruits while serving as the rush chairman of the Kappa Sigma fraternity contained demeaning language against women and referred to a "blacked out bitch ... grinding on four dudes at once" and bringing freshmen to fraternity-sponsored events for sex.

Keith McCalla, the Kappa Sigma president, said the student had been immediately removed from his position with the fraternity, but would remain a fraternity member pending the university's disciplinary action.

University officials were alerted about the e-mail on Oct. 7, but it had already been forwarded to members of multiple sororities, fraternities and others outside the Greek system. The student has since issued an apology to sorority members.

While reporting this story, Collegian staff writers were shown other e-mails circulated among members of fraternities and club teams that contained graphically racist and sexist language.

Upon seeing the Kappa Sigma e-mail, a student alerted a Collegian reporter of other e-mails within a fraternity that contained racial epithets and sexually degrading language against women.

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In one e-mail, a fraternity brother wrote that "a girl" who was not dressed "like a slut" should be turned away from the fraternity's lodge party.

Another e-mail contained strongly graphic language about black prostitutes and described "snorting crack" off their sex organs, then having sex with them. The e-mail continued to describe the prostitutes, calling them "worthless" and using a racial epithet.

The student declined that the fraternity be identified because of possible repercussions from leaking confidential e-mails. The student said the actions were "deplorable" and showed a widespread problem at the university.

A member with connections to a club sports team showed the reporter additional e-mails. The student requested anonymity because of their sensitive nature.

E-mails sent to team members referred to masturbating to women while at the gym and talked about "killing some other baby figures on the weekends and rackin up them stds."

The student said it became necessary to become calloused to reading such e-mails.

In the days and weeks since the e-mail's publication, the university has conducted three campus forums about the incident and issues of sexual conduct and respect.

Tuesday night, a crowd of about 115 students attended what proved to be an emotional forum in Whitehurst Living Room, where students accused administrators of using the student who wrote the e-mail as a scapegoat. Many students said they were against the recommendation for the student's suspension.

Boehman said afterward that many students misunderstood the process.

Some people in attendance said the student should lead a movement to change the prevailing sexist attitudes on campus.

"We're losing sight of how we can all grow from this," one student said.

They argued the incident had been overblown, could ruin the student's life and was only part of a larger problem at the university.

Questions were raised about how comments printed in The Collegian in December 2007 -- which some viewed to be anti-Semitic -- had been handled, an incident that did not result in explicit disciplinary action.

Students also referenced during the discussion an article written two years ago by then-opinion editor Jed Shireman, who used what they said was stronger language than what was found in the fraternity e-mail. The piece systematically targeted nearly all on-campus student organizations with stereotypes and insults.

"The e-mail was not meant to be read by certain people," a student said at the forum. Others said that those who had forwarded the e-mail, not the student that wrote it, were the ones who affected the community.

"People need to be careful with what they say not because of what the school is going to do," one student said, "but because of what is right and wrong."

Several students wondered about the privacy policy for future e-mails. And others said gender discrimination was fostered through single-sex housing because men might not be cognizant of appropriate conduct when they're around only other men.

Boehman said he would take students' opinions into account.

Forums held last week addressed the larger issue of misogyny and discrimination on campus, while Tuesday night's discussion was centered on defending the student who wrote the e-mail.

On Oct. 16 at the first forum, about 40 people -- including faculty, staff and administrators -- expressed their sadness and anger about the e-mail.

"Something is wrong with the culture that has been cultivated at this university," said Crystal Hoyt, assistant professor of leadership studies whose research includes women and minority leaders, stereotyping and discrimination.

She said she wanted people on campus to recognize subtle aspects of sexism that exist and argued sexism was accepted.

Junior Mario Emmanuel said he supported continuing the discussion about sexism.

"I have four sisters, a mom, a girlfriend," he said. "I'm connected to women, too. I think it's really important that we speak out."

Lisa Miles, coordinator for Common Ground, said the issue of sexism didn't resound as much for today's students.

"We think of it as something my generation took care of," she said. "This is one of those really painful ways that we realize we haven't achieved equality.

"Without that e-mail, we wouldn't be here today, fighting about women's rights."

Thad Williamson, assistant professor of leadership studies, said, "[The e-mail] reflected not just a person's attitude but the social practice, the party scene in particular."

Bailey Leuschen, a senator in the Westhampton College Government Association, called for a definition of masculinity on campus, and suggested creating the male equivalent of the Women Involved in Living and Learning program.

"I laughed [when I read the e-mail] because I thought, 'Thank God you got caught,'" a student said, adding that she knew of e-mails that existed, but believed now the problem could be addressed by the university.

Five administrators and one student attended a second forum, held Monday.

"There is a group dynamic in fraternities that is not duplicated by any group," the student said. "It's a building experience unlike any sort of friendship. There is a trust and comfort level with each other."

He argued that people made statements like those in the e-mails for entertainment or shock.

Boehman said the university was trying to determine the most appropriate response with the help of the Bias Response Team, a group composed of 17 university leaders that convenes when instances of bias are reported on campus.

A fraternity member who requested anonymity admitted he had seen language similar to that in the fraternity e-mail and that he had considered these e-mails jokes.

He said attending the first and last forums changed his perspective because they helped him see students were upset about the content of the e-mails.

"Of course they're offensive," he said. "It's a misguided attempt at humor.

"Creating discussions about this is necessary, but put it in a constructive light," he continued, reiterating some students' outrage about the false rumor that the student had been suspended.

"We're not disagreeing with the offended men and women on this campus," he said. "We just have a problem with how the school is addressing it. It's like a social experiment. It just looks like they're going through the motions."

Boehman said during the second forum that the university's goal was to establish an inclusive campus where people could feel safe and be themselves. He said he was encouraged by how students were playing an active role in the discussion.

"With any group there are going to be standards of conduct," he said. "There are going to be character expectations."

The university has dispatched Harvard Law School lecturer Diane Rosenfeld -- an expert in gender violence and campus sexual assault -- to assess the university's attitudes about sexual conduct.

"These attitudes that have been expressed recently exist on a lot of other campuses," she said. "You're different in a good way, in that your administration is doing something about this. It's a good thing that these attitudes have come out because we can really look at them -- both the intention and the consequences of these social messages."

She interviewed dozens of people Wednesday and plans to return with several Harvard law students to offer peer-to-peer counseling for university leaders.

University administrators have said discussions about misogyny and sexual discrimination would continue and that they had been encouraged by the discussions and student-led response to the incident.

Next week, members of WCGA will be holding town hall meetings in Westhampton College residence halls to hear student concerns.

Contact staff writers Kimberly Leonard and Dan Petty at kimberly.leonard@richmond.edu and dan.petty@richmond.edu

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