There was standing room only in the Anderson Room of the Michigan Union Wednesday night as more than 100 people gathered to watch a formal hearing against members of the University’s chapter of Theta Xi fraternity for a Facebook event posted by a brother that drew sharp criticism from the University community for its insensitive content.
A case brought on by three university students alleges that the fraternity violated sections of the Standards of Conduct for Recognized Student Organizations.
Music, Theatre & Dance senior Erica Nagy and LSA seniors Erin Fischer and Brian Thomas were the plaintiffs in the case, which was heard by the Greek Activities Review Panel — the judicial body for the Panhellenic Association, the Interfraternity Council, the National Pan-Hellenic Council and the Multicultural Greek Council.
The Facebook event was for a party that promised twerking contests and used terms such as “ratchet pussy” and “bad bitches” to describe intended partygoers. Dean of Students Laura Blake Jones filed an official complaint with the fraternity after the Facebook event went viral. The event was later cancelled. Theta Xi’s national headquarters also launched its own investigation into the incident.
The review panel is comprised of five members of the Greek community. It has three business days to privately consider and issue any sanctions against the fraternity or individual members, which could range from educational programs to fines.
LSA senior Eric Quang, president of Theta Xi, and LSA junior Allen Wu, who created the Facebook event, represented Theta Xi at the hearing.
For considerations of sanctions against the fraternity, the plaintiffs stressed to the panel that even if the members of the fraternity may not have known the event could cause harm to certain people and groups on campus, the impact was more important than Theta Xi’s intent.
Quang, however, said it was more important for the panel to take the intent of the party, which was not malicious, into consideration rather than the final impact. He and Wu also emphasized that the party was of Wu’s creation, not the fraternity’s, and that the fraternity as a whole should not suffer as a result of one individual member’s actions.
“Anything that we put on the Internet we’re responsible for, and we’d like to take responsibility for those acts,” Quang said. “As a fraternity, I’d only like to take responsibility for the specific problems we have caused.”
Fischer said it was obvious that Quang and Wu still don’t fully understand the effects of the party. She believes the fraternity should take full responsibility for the event and its ramifications on the entirety of the University community.
In addition to the insensitive concept of the party, the plaintiffs argued that the steps Theta Xi leaders took to remedy the situation, including an apology issued by Quang and a Viewpoint printed in The Michigan Daily authored by Wu, displayed a lack of understanding of and disconnect from the reality faced by many students on campus.
“This hearing is important because I want to make sure other students always feel as if they are a valued member of our Michigan community,” Fischer said.
“Yes, we were angry, and yes, I am still angry,” said Thomas. “I am not Black; I am not a woman … I have never directly experienced racism or sexism, nor will I ever. I am still upset.”
Nagy told the panel that she brought forth the complaint to open up a dialogue about the issues that still plague campus. She pointed to #BBUM, the Black Student Union’s viral Twitter campaign, as evidence of the impact that raising one’s voice against perceived injustices can have.
Wu and Quang both acknowledged that they needed to educate themselves on racial and sexist issues on campus.
“Moving forward, I definitely look forward to education and I really hope that can help me become more conscious and aware of the social issues that people on this campus are facing,” Wu said during a cross-examination. “I hope that through this education my fraternity members and myself just become more aware and responsible for our actions.”
After the hearing Quang said there is much more to learn “for the parties involved and for the University.”
“I’m glad to open the conversation,” he said. “And I believe not only for the perpetrators of the harm but just for everyone, there’s a lot to be learned.”
Members of the panel asked questions of both the plaintiffs and defendants, but did not make formal statements regarding the case.
After the hearing ended, Thomas said that it was important to have a formal hearing against Theta Xi so future organizations could have a record to look to if similar issues arise again.
“I think that (members of Theta Xi) are trying very hard to have their minds open,” Thomas said. “I am hopeful that they are as receptive as possible to all positive change that can occur.”