‘We’ve been essentially silenced’
Student alleges Greek Life Office requests removal of media posts
A week after The Student Government Association’s It’s On Us Campaign, dedicated to raising awareness of and preventing sexual assault, a student alleged that The University of Southern Mississippi Office of Greek Life is silencing sorority members who are speaking out on social media against the events that occurred at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon homecoming party in October 2016.
The investigation of the homecoming party by the National SAE office, in conjunction with the university, resulted in five SAE members’ expulsions from the fraternity and the assignment of various sanctions to 25 members. The university cannot release information about disciplinary actions doled to students due to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which protects the privacy of students’ educational records. According to FERPA, “education records” can refer to any “information directly related to a student and which are maintained by an educational agency or institution or by a party acting for the agency or institution.”
However, one anonymous student who attended the SAE party said several women involved in USM Greek Life feel mistrust and frustration toward the university and The Office of Greek Life.
“Lack of communication is one problem,” she said. “The other problem is that we’ve been silenced, essentially. People have been trying to post about it on social media, and The Office of Greek Life has contacted people saying, ‘We strongly suggest that you take this down, as there may be disciplinary actions if you don’t.’ Women are scared that they may receive a fine or be kicked out of Greek Life.”
A representative of The Office of Greek Life allegedly indirectly contacted persons involved in Greek Life who posted to social media about the incident, asking them to remove the posts because of the nature of the situation, according to the student.
The student said another issue with how the university has handled the incident is that there was some information never made public by the university to the Southern Miss community.
“A lot of things actually happened at that party,” she said. “It wasn’t just that women were feeling weird or fainting.”
According to her, a physical fight broke out between some of the men in the house and moved to the front yard. SAE members allegedly gathered around the fight. The student said since it was homecoming and there were other parties on Fraternity Row, UPD was patrolling the area.
“The cops saw this fight and approached the house,” she said. “When the cops decided to approach the fight, members of SAE decided to bar the doors so people wouldn’t leave the house. If a fight breaks out or in a bad situation, women tend to leave. I have friends who were trying to get me out. Members of the fraternity were blocking the doors physically so that women would not leave. There was no way to get out. It’s nothing I’ve ever experienced.”
The student said this could constitute kidnapping and she was shocked that no one reported it.
According to Mississippi Code Ann §97-3-53 kidnapping is when an individual “with or without intent to secretly confine, forcibly seizes and confines any other person, or kidnaps any other person with intent to cause victim to be confined or imprisoned against his or her will.”
The student said many of the women affected by the incident did not file police reports.
“During the 24 hours during and following the party, between six and 10 women, at least, were hospitalized, and at least five more women – who I know personally – did not go to the hospital, but should have, because they were experiencing the same symptoms the hospitalized women did.”
According to her, not all of the women affected were in Greek Life or from the same sorority, and more women than was stated in the police reports were affected by drugged drinks.
“Some women who were admitted to the hospital were too scared to file police reports, so the number of police reports is the smallest statistic you have, and then you have the amount of women who were admitted to the hospital,” she said. “Then you have the amount of women who never really told anyone official.”
The student said she was personally affected by the beverage served at the SAE party.
“My memory cuts out at a certain point,” she said. “The people that I went to the party with were able to account for every moment of me being at the party. They were not drinking and came along for the music.”
The student said this was not her first experience at a fraternity party and that the beverage served should not have affected so many women with the kind of symptoms she experienced.
“I experienced symptoms after half a drink,” she said. “I have been to enough fraternity parties to know that the kind of stuff they serve, they shouldn’t have caused those effects. It wasn’t nausea, and I wasn’t throwing up. My brain got foggy and I had trouble with my speech. I had the shakes for days afterwards. My sober friends that were with me said they were shocked that I didn’t remember anything, because I only had one drink at the party. I’ve never experienced blacking out on campus.”
The student said she had never experienced symptoms from consuming alcohol at a fraternity party.
“In my years attending Southern Miss, never have this many women been this seriously affected, and never have this many women been affected by such a small amount of drink,” she said. “I usually have four or five drinks, and I don’t lose my memory. I know for sure half a drink or one drink should not have done anything to me, much less done something that would have affected me for a week afterward.”
She said students who were affected experienced symptoms four days after ingesting the drink.
“I know that a lot of women went to the hospital during the party and after the party,” she said. “After a couple of hours and after eating a meal, I was still shaking so bad I couldn’t drive. I am a very literate speaker. I have done public speaking my whole life. I couldn’t get a word out. I was experiencing short- term memory loss. I would put my keys down and not remember where I had put them five minutes later. These were consistent symptoms between many women who were hospitalized and who had stayed home and tried to ride it out. I was talking to women four days later who still had the shakes.”
According to WomensHealth.gov, depending on the type of date-rape drug used, persons who ingest them experience loss of motor functions, tremors, dream-like feeling, coma, loss of consciousness, problems talking and, in extreme cases, death.
The student said each affected woman consistently experienced the same symptoms and that their stories were similar.
“When I spoke to the police, they said that from what multiple women were describing, they were almost positive there was a drug in the drink,” she said. “The kind of drugs that were supposedly used – date-rape drugs – if you use the bathroom once after you ingest it, they can be out of your system even if you still experience the symptoms.”
The police report stated that no drugs were detected in the urinalysis samples. However, according to WomensHealth. gov, date-rape drugs leave the body quickly and that women who believe they have been drugged should not urinate before going to the hospital. The website also states that date rape drugs can remain in the body from 12 to 72 hours, depending on the type of drug used.
The student said only women who attended the SAE party were affected.
“No one who went to other houses experienced those symptoms,” she said. “No one has filed complaints against any other fraternities. I can speak for myself and say I only went to SAE that night.”
According to her, many students stayed at SAE’s party because a popular band played.
“The Prom Knights were at SAE, and they are a very popular band,” she said. “I went to see the band, and there wasn’t a lot of party hopping between other fraternities. Once the band started playing, there wasn’t a lot of leaving. I have not heard from a single other woman who went to other fraternity parties that felt bad the next day.”
The Office of Greek Life’s initial letter to the Greek community dated Nov. 30, 2016 stated that members of the Southern Miss chapter of SAE were “to vacate its fraternity house at the end of the fall 2016 semester, pending the investigation of several violations of the Student Code of Conduct.” Activities by members of the fraternity were suspended as well, and, in coordination with the National SAE Office, the university announced it would conduct a review of the chapter in spring 2017.
However, on Dec. 5, 2016, Vice President for Student Affairs and Vice Provost Thomas Burke stated in a letter that it would allow SAE members to remain on campus in the fraternity house, after meeting with the Associate Executive Director of Chapter Development for the National Office of SAE.
The student said when the Office of Greek Life reversed its decision to allow SAE to remain on campus, many sorority women felt betrayed.
“If the university is going to decide on a whim whether to close or open a chapter pending an investigation, there should be something concrete,” she said. “Every single time this happens, there should be a procedure outlined that says it’s going to happen like this. The procedures [the university] decides on should be publicized. I had an issue with the fact that seemed like [the university] couldn’t make up their minds, and there should be something in the Student Code of Conduct that outlines this.”
A male USM student who wished to remain anonymous said most fraternity members do not condone this behavior and are “disgusted.”
“I have a sister who is coming up to college, and I’m scared for her,” he said. “ Fraternities are full of great guys, but when something like this happens, [fraternity members] do not want to associate with [those who assault women] – it’s disgusting to us. We don’t understand it. This is not the type of men that they want to be associated with. I think that everybody who was affected by this needs to know what happened. If anyone was arrested or found guilty, it needs to be put out there so that these women can have some peace of mind.”
He said something needs to change at this point and that university officials need to be more public with relevant information.
“Greek Life in general does not have a great reputation – outside and inside of college campuses,” he said. “When stuff like this happens, [Greek Life] men are often clumped together, groups are often clumped together. This wasn’t SAE, this was Greek Life. This was a fraternity. We hate it. Something needs to change at this point. These men don’t need to be protected if they did something.”
The female student said the Greek Life community and Greek Life is not a bad thing.
“It’s not every member of SAE who participated in this,” she said. “Greek Life is not a bad thing. Southern Miss’ Greek Life community has the capacity to be one of the most compassionate communities. [The Greek community] has suffered several tragedies this semester and has come together stronger than any community on campus. I just wish that it didn’t take something that awful to have that community strength.”
The male student said in 2014 when the students were arrested for killing a flamingo at The Hattiesburg Zoo, the university released more information.
“We all know the story of Pike and the flamingo,” he said. “I love animals, but we need to put women before animals. I feel like from what I know and from what I read that the university put out a lot more information about this flamingo and seemed to care more about it. We have a sexual assault case that’s not being handled properly. This a flamingo, – it’s a tragedy – but you have women over here who were drugged and hurt. [The university] is not going to go after this with the same aggression?”
According to the Hattiesburg American,Circuit Court Judge Robert Helfrich sentenced former USM student Devin Nottis, the main suspect in the flamingo killing “to complete Regimented Inmate Discipline Program at the Mississippi Department of Corrections.”
“Nottis was indicted in October 2014 for his participation in the flamingo’s death. The indictment statement Nottis ‘did willfully, unlawfully and feloniously take, steal, and carry away the personal property of the Hattiesburg Zoo, (one) pink flamingo, said property being of the value of $1,000 or more.’’
The female student said she believes that The Office of Greek Life has an outdated vision of public relations.
“It’s 2017 and sexaul assault is at the forefront of the conversation,” she said. “ I feel like the Office of Greek Life wants to paint a sun-shiney picture of the university where nothing ever goes wrong. The university should be open and honest and say, ‘yeah this happened.”’
Burke said no arrests have been made regarding the SAE homecoming party as no medical evidence was produced in the university’s investigation.
“As previously stated, the investigation of the chapter and any individuals affected during the incident did not produce medical evidence of other substances besides alcohol, nor did UPD find evidence of other substances in a subsequent search of the SAE house,” Burke said. “The individual who reported the incident did not press criminal charges, and the investigation did not produce evidence that resulted in any arrests.”