August 16, 2012

Cornell Review Board: Fraternity Shares ‘Measure of Responsibility’ for Guest’s Racial Attack

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Though no longer suspended for a racial attack that occurred at the fraternity in May, Sigma Pi has been placed on probation for the 2012-13 academic year, according to a statement issued Thursday by Kent Hubbell ’69, dean of students. Also in response to the incident, the University has created a new staff position to oversee diversity initiatives specific to the Greek system.

In the early hours of May 6, at least 10 people were on the roof of Sigma Pi when an individual, who was later determined not to be a student at Cornell, threw beer bottles and cans and hurled racial epithets at black students below as they passed by the fraternity house.

The University said Thursday that the fraternity’s probation is in part a result of the fraternity’s “measure of responsibility for the actions of its guests,” an assessment reached by Cornell’s Fraternity and Sorority Review Board. The disciplinary action is also the consequence of a lack of cooperation with the police by a chapter officer on the night of the incident, Travis Apgar, associate dean of students for fraternity and sorority affairs, told The Sun on Thursday.

“When the police arrived, the officer of the chapter was not forthright in the information provided to the police that night. It is an expectation that you would cooperate with the authorities and be truthful,” Apgar said.

He said that “members of the chapter, and an officer, were present” during the attack.

“They interceded when they could; they probably could have done a little bit more,” he said.

During the probationary period, “any infraction” of Cornell’s codes, policies or expectations could lead Sigma Pi to be kicked off campus, Hubbell said. He added that the fraternity will be adopting a new Code of Conduct and continue “to engage actively with the community around the topics of race, equality, diversity and culture.”

Ithaca Police determined that Morgan Brabbs of Orlando, Fla., was the perpetrator of the assault. He pled guilty to charges of disorderly conduct in Ithaca City Court in June, was fined $250 and was banned from Cornell’s campus indefinitely.

In a broader effort to address racial issues within the Greek system, the University has also added a new staff position for diversity affairs in the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs. The staff member hired for the new position, which Apgar said he hopes will be filled by the end of the fall semester, will work jointly with OFSA and the Center for Intercultural Dialogue.

He or she will also serve as the advisor to the Multicultural Greek Letter Council, a role that has been vacant for several years due to financial constraints, according to Apgar.

“We’ve been struggling for the past couple of years being one position down. We saw an opportunity to reshape that position a little bit,” he said.

Apgar said plans for the addition had been underway prior to May but that the Sigma Pi incident had “put a spotlight on the need” to add a staff member to OFSA to focus on tackling issues of diversity within the Greek system.

The University will also launch a new class, Intergroup Dialogue, EDUC 2610, in which diverse groups of students will meet in small sections.

“We’re hoping some students will come out of it so inspired that they’ll sign up again to meet different groups,” said Renee Alexander ’74, associate dean of students and director of intercultural programs, in a University statement. “Out of an unfortunate incident comes an opportunity to work toward broad inclusion.”

Several minority organizations on campus responded passionately to the attack. About 100 students and other activists held a protest to denounce the incident in May, demanding that the University take action in a march from the Sigma Pi fraternity to Day Hall.

Many were particularly incensed that the racial slurs used included references to Trayvon Martin, the unarmed black teenager whose February shooting death raised national outcry.

Original Author: Rebecca Harris