May 6, 2012

Number of Alleged Assailants Undetermined in Sigma Pi Controversy

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The number of people involved in an alleged racial incident at the Sigma Pi fraternity Sunday morning has emerged as one of the principal uncertainties in a controversy that has drawn campus-wide attention and national media coverage since it was brought to light a day ago.

On Sunday, according to police and witnesses, people on the roof of the Sigma Pi fraternity house threw bottles and other objects at black students who were walking by the house and reportedly taunted them with references to Trayvon Martin. But exactly how many people either threw bottles or taunted the students remained unclear as of Monday night.

While statements from witnesses and police indicated that more than one person at least cooperated in the event, Sigma Pi President Zach Smith ’13 said that the fraternity had identified a single attacker.

Sigma Pi has “figured out who the perpetrator was, and will turn his name over to police,” Smith said in an email Sunday, adding that the individual identified was not a brother of the fraternity.

Beverly Fonkwo ’14, one of the black students who had objects thrown in her direction, added Monday that it was difficult for her to say how many people were involved in either throwing bottles or taunting the students. Still, she said it was clear that multiple people were on the roof and that no action against the assailant — whether it was one person or more — was taken.

“It’s hard to identify who was responsible,” Fonkwo said. “Obviously, there was a group of people on [the roof], but I don’t know what to think … we don’t know if it was just one person.”

Still, she said, it was clear that even if it was just one person, “it seemed like everyone was laughing and encouraging that individual.”

An Ithaca Police activity log stated that, at about 2:30 a.m. Sunday, an “Officer responded to disorderly subject throwing debris off the roof” of Sigma Pi. About a minute later, “Officers responded for a report of residents throwing bottles at passing vehicles and pedestrians,” according to the police log.

IPD did not return a request for comment.

Meanwhile, members of the Sigma Pi fraternity have been “fully cooperative” with the investigation, Cornell Police Chief Kathy Zoner said, stressing that IPD was leading the investigation and that CUPD was playing a supporting role. The fraternity met Monday with administrators and police, and is expected to issue a statement Monday night.

In response to the incident, Susan Murphy ’73, vice president of student and academic affairs, sent an email to the Cornell community saying that her “colleagues and I regret that this happened at all.”

“There is no place for this kind of behavior at Cornell University; we celebrate our diversity and expect all our members to respect one another,” Murphy said. “Once we have completed a review of the incident, including who was involved, appropriate action will be taken and we will notify the community when that happens.”

Original Author: Jeff Stein

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