Syracuse University scrambles to distance itself from frat video

A joke out of context can be offensive—or even disastrous.

Syracuse University found itself embroiled in crisis after a video was
posted online of a fraternity ritual in which at least one person appeared
to take an oath of hatred and bigotry.

NBC reported:

Later, The Daily Orange, an independently run school newspaper,
shared a copy of a six-minute video
from a new member ceremony last month.

In it, the brothers take part in a performance that includes one person
reciting an oath: “I solemnly swear to always have hatred in my heart,” he
says, then referring to blacks, Hispanics and Jews in derogatory terms. He
then mimics performing oral sex on another person. Participants laugh and
cheer throughout.

The video sparked outrage on campus and drew
protests from students
and a strong rebuke from university officials. The school’s chancellor,
Kent Syverud,
penned an open letter
to students condemning the video.

It read, in part:

The conduct is deeply harmful and contrary to the values and community
standards we expect of our students. There is absolutely no place at
Syracuse University for behavior or language that degrades any individual
or group’s race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender identity, disability or
religious beliefs.

Upon confirming Theta Tau’s involvement, the University’s Office of Student
Rights and Responsibilities immediately suspended the fraternity,
effectively halting all activities. At this time, all evidence has been
turned over to the Department of Public Safety, which has launched a formal
investigation to identify individuals involved and to take additional legal
and disciplinary action.

In light of the suspension, the fraternity issued an apology to the
university community and claimed that the captured scene was a satirical

It wrote:

First and foremost, every single member of Theta Tau would like to
apologize to everyone affected by the racist video that was recorded as a
part of our new member process. Theta Tau is made up of a diverse group of
engineering students from a variety of nationalities, beliefs, and
backgrounds, and we strongly believe that racism has no place on a
university campus. College is supposed to be about the ideals of the future
– a new generation to replace the old one – and it’s with profound
embarrassment and disappointment in ourselves that we find our fraternity
in this situation. Anyone of color or of any marginalized group who has
seen this video has every right to be angry and upset with the despicable
contents of that video.

The fraternity was clear to acknowledge a “bright line” had been crossed
before attempting to explain the situation that led to the video.

It continued:

Not to make excuses for the content of the video, but hopefully to make
those who have been hurt by this video understand that Theta Tau is not a
hate group in their midst—that we are not a house full of bigots or those
willing to tolerate bigotry. Hopefully, understanding the circumstances of
the video – as well as our initial response – will help ease some of the
pain caused by the horrible words that this video contains.

The statement concluded with a call for inclusion and a statement of
purpose from the fraternity:

Engineers join our organization with the intent of entering a diverse group
of people, so that we can all grow into better individuals. We are
open-minded, scholarly leaders, both in our profession and in the
community. We want to let everyone on our campus know that we are truly
sorry, and that nothing like this will ever again be tolerated. Not in
private, not as part of a joke—not ever.

While the fraternity tries to make amends, the university plans on doing a
full review of Greek life on campus. Others say the incident stems from a
toxic fraternity culture.

[FREE DOWNLOAD: 13 tips for preparing for a crisis]

The Washington Post

In an editorial, the Daily Orange called the video “the byproduct of a
toxic Greek environment that breeds complicity in exchange for social

And it’s not the only byproduct, apparently.

The newspaper says it has also obtained, but not yet published, videos in which Theta Tau members parody a
mentally disabled man in a wheelchair, and what one frat member describes
as “gay girly accents.”

The video was reviled by many online:

Alumni tweeted their embarrassment and shame to be connected to such an incident:

Some find their contrition unconvincing:

One official voice, who is also an alumnus, deemed the entire affair a
matter of “stupidity.”

NBC reported:

William Fitzpatrick, the district attorney of Onondaga County, said he was
asked to look into the criminality of the fraternity’s actions, but “to me,
it’s just plain stupidity.”

“I’m a graduate of Syracuse University, and I love Syracuse University, but
the stupidity has me completely shocked,” he said. “To put your career in
jeopardy — despite probably the mindset of these kids that they’d keep it
amongst yourself — it’s foolish.”

The university continued its crisis response
with another letter from Syverud, this time detailing positive steps it will take to foster a more
inclusive culture on campus.

In it the chancellor promised to:

  • Continue Theta Tau’s suspension
  • Conduct a top-to-bottom review of all Greek life
  • Require Greek life leaders to get sensitivity training
  • Expand training for faculty and staff to avoid further incidents

The chancellor also vowed to include a wide range of stakeholders in his
review, including students and faculty.

How would you advise the Syracuse University to proceed,
PR Daily
readers? Has it done enough to distance itself from the video’s creators?

(Image via)

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