A Johns Hopkins University fraternity that sponsored a Halloween party publicized with an invitation appealing to racial stereotypes has been found guilty of breaking university rules and was placed Monday on social probation until January 2008.
The Sigma Chi chapter is barred from hosting parties and holding other social activities during its probation. To ensure better control over chapter activities, Sigma Chi also has been ordered to recruit four adult advisers — two alumni and two non-alumni — and to incorporate a diversity component into its new members program, including four on-campus cultural events and four off-campus cultural events. The chapter was also ordered to comply with university party registration requirements once its probation ends.
The sanctions were imposed by a Student Conduct Board hearing panel — three students and two staff members — convened last week to consider charges filed after a university investigation of the circumstances surrounding the party and the Internet invitation posted by a fraternity member. The board found the chapter responsible on all charges filed against it by the administration.
Though the university is announcing the sanctions against the fraternity as an organization, it cannot, because of federal privacy law, disclose disciplinary proceedings against any individual student, spokesman Dennis O'Shea said. The student who posted the invitation on the Internet, the social chairman of the chapter, disclosed in the Nov. 10 issue of a student newspaper — The Johns Hopkins News-Letter — that he had been charged as an individual under the Student Conduct Code. These charges were also heard and addressed by the board, O'Shea said.
The Oct. 28 party at a 33rd Street house rented by fraternity members was publicized by an invitation posted on the Johns Hopkins section of the Web site Facebook.com, an invitation that referred to a "Halloween in the Hood" theme and made broad stereotypical references to African-Americans and derogatory references to Baltimore.
According to a statement from the university's Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action Programs, the university's Greek life coordinator found the invitation on line and ordered it removed from Facebook. Though the invitation was taken down for several hours, it was later reposted in slightly altered form and with the same offensive language.
The OEO/AA Office statement said the university investigation found that the invitations “did contain statements that invoked stereotypes of African-Americans, residents of Baltimore, and victims of HIV.” It said, however, that there was "insufficient evidence" to support assertions that activities at the party itself constituted racial harassment. It also said that testimony at the hearing did not support allegations that a plastic skeleton Halloween decoration in pirate costume hanging on the house's front porch was intended to invoke racial lynching.
The OEO/AA Office consulted with the Office of the Dean of Student Life during the investigation, observed the hearing and provided guidance to the hearing panel on the university's anti-harassment policy.
The Student Conduct Board panel convened on Thursday, Nov. 16, and heard about three and a half hours of testimony. It then deliberated for nearly four hours before finding the Sigma Chi chapter responsible on all charges and deciding on the sanctions. A letter detailing the findings and the sanctions was provided to the fraternity on Monday and took immediate effect.
The board found that the chapter, as an organization, had failed to exercise appropriate supervision over the member who posted the invitation, resulting in actions taken on the chapter’s behalf that failed to respect the rights of others, that constituted harassment and intimidation under university policy, that violated the express directions of a university administrator and that harmed the university's reputation. The board also found that the party itself was held in violation of university party registration requirements.
The chapter, which formed at Johns Hopkins in 2002, has the right to appeal to the dean of student life.
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