The Collegian
Thursday, July 16, 2020

Fraternity e-mail sent to Ayers and others results in probation

The University of Richmond placed the Kappa Sigma fraternity on one month of social probation on Sept. 16, after one of its members unintentionally sent a sexually explicit e-mail this summer to various faculty, staff and administrators.

While on probation, the fraternity cannot register lodge events or socials.

The e-mail -- which was sent on July 6 and meant only for the members of Kappa Sig -- describes in detail the student's Fourth of July weekend events and begins with the greeting, "Hey Pledgefucks." Included in the e-mail was the recounting of one frat member, who "slayed" — slang for had sex with — a Westhampton College student. The e-mail specifically named two WC students.

The Collegian is not printing the student's name because of the topic's sensitive nature. An e-mail sent to the student was not immediately returned Wednesday.

Among those who received the e-mail were: President Edward Ayers; Steve Bisese, vice president for student development; Alison B. Keller, director of Greek Life; Al Lane Jr., manager of Custodial and Environmental Services; Timothy Mihalcoe, an investigator at the University Police Department; and other faculty and staff members.

No one was able to explain why the e-mail was accidentally sent to non-Kappa Sigma members.

The student sent out another message 12 minutes later and issued an apology to those who had accidentally received the message.

"Please disregard the last e-mail contents received from me," the student wrote. "It was only intended for a few close friends, however SPAM created a longer list from another e-mail chain. My sincere apologies to all that are offended by some of the language, it was an accident."

Less than two hours later, Keller replied to the original e-mail.

"One could say that I should never have received this e-mail," Keller wrote. "Well, I did and unfortunately, it tells more about the men who call themselves KS [Kappa Sig] than I would like to admit. Needless to say, this is disrespectful in every sense of the word.

"This is not the type of men we want to be representing or even calling themselves fraternity men, let alone Kappa Sigma's and University of Richmond students -- and I am sure Kappa Sigma fraternity, would agree."

Kappa Sigma headquarters and the Richmond chapter adviser were notified immediately, Keller said. A phone message left for Phillip Hoff, a recruitment manager at Kappa Sig headquarters in Charlottesville, Va., was not immediately returned Wednesday.

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Last October, the campus chapter's recruitment officer sent an e-mail that included graphically explicit language encouraging recruits to come to fraternity parties and bring freshman women so they could "get a cock thrown in em by whoever."

Because the e-mail this summer was a repeat incident of a similar topic, the Greek system got involved, Keller said.

At the beginning of the semester, Greek Life informed members of Kappa Sigma that they would have to form a plan to change the internal culture of the fraternity. Members of the InterFraternity Council and Panhellenic Council would then review the plan and modify it, if necessary, Keller said.

On Sept. 16, the fraternity turned in its plan. Members of IFC and Panhellenic Council gave members of Kappa Sig feedback and made modifications to the plan, Keller said.

IFC and Panhellenic Council members also made the decision to place Kappa Sig on a one month probation. Members of IFC and Panhellenic Council are not at liberty to divulge what occurred during the meeting, she said.

Chris Lucas, president of IFC, and Melissa Mitchell, president of Panhellenic Council, declined to comment.

John Frey, president of Kappa Sigma, said members of the fraternity were addressing the matters very seriously.

"We are working diligently to respond appropriately and effectively with the decisions that were reached last Wednesday, which was inclusive of chapter and Greek Life community input," Frey said.

For such a negative situation, it was a very positive experience, Keller said. She said she thought the Greek leadership did an excellent job handling the situation.

"I feel like there is an understanding of being a Greek member in a way that they've never been before," Keller said.

After speaking to administrators, Keller said she had not heard much feedback from the Richmond community since.

Abigail Cheever, an English professor at Richmond, accidentally received the e-mail. Cheever did not understand how this could happen again.

"The specific behavior of a few people should not be used to condemn a larger group," Cheever said. "But it is also increasingly hard to do, especially since that group itself seems unable to influence the attitudes and behaviors of a minority of its members.

"At the very least, it is apparent that the efforts made last year to educate the campus as a whole, and the fraternities in particular, about the importance of respectful interaction among members of our community have not been successful thus far."

Members of fraternities and organizations are held to a higher standard and are placed under a microscope, Bisese said.

"When you do something individual like that, when you're a part of an organization, it affects the whole group," said Bisese, who was not involved with the disciplinary process.

Susie Reid, director of operations and maintenance, also received the e-mail. Reid -- who is involved in weekly inspections of the lodges with members of fraternities and Keller was surprised by the language of the e-mail but said she knew that most of the members were good guys.

"[They] have fun goofing off with one another and it was obvious that was the intent of that e-mail," Reid said. "Yes, it was in poor taste and disrespectful, but the guy obviously didn't mean for it to go to all the people that it did.

"Unfortunately, many students probably have these very same conversations. They just don't show up in everybody's [e-mail] inbox. While I may sound sympathetic, I hope the guy learned a lesson from this."

It sounds as if the students took restructuring their fraternity seriously, Bisese said. He said he hoped the decisions made would make the system stronger and make students better at policing themselves.

"I think that one of the things overlooked is that they really do take responsibility for trying to do the right thing for reputation, safety and taking a part in policing themselves," Bisese said. "For the most part, they are really good people who are strongly dedicated to always making themselves better.

"I don't think that in my years here, or years in student affairs, that there are going to be many judicial-type decisions that everyone agrees with. I am glad to see that whatever the decision was, was heavily debated and heavily facilitated, discussed and decided upon by students with advice by an adviser. I like that the spirit was not, 'The administration is going to tell you what to do.'"

Contact staff writer Nick Mider at nick.mider@richmond.edu

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