Syracuse University has suspended 15 students for at least one year after videos of racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic comedy routines were discovered and publicized, according to the students’ lawyers.
Each student is also a member of the Theta Tau fraternity–whose Syracuse branch was recently banned from campus over the incident. That branch had originally attempted to play off the offending skits as “satire” performed during a roast of a conservative member of the fraternity, according to the New York Daily News.
The university described the language used in the videos as racist, homophobic, sexist, anti-Semitic and ableist. The videos were initially taken at a private fraternity event and then posted to a closed Theta Tau Facebook group. Student-run newspaper The Daily Orange later obtained and posted the leaked videos, leading to outrage across the campus and nation.
As part of their allegedly satirical performance, Theta Taus mocked female, Jewish, minority, disabled and LGBTQ communities. Roasts, however, are typically focused on mocking the person being roasted or some aspect of said person’s own community or identity.
In one of the videos, pledges swear an oath to “Tri Kappa,” a barely-concealed allusion to the Ku Klux Klan, which is described as a “newly-formed white empire.” After engaging in a group simulation of forced oral sex, the receiving pledge is eventually asked, “Do you know the oath?” To which he replies, “Fuck Black people! And fuck spics! Amen!” The oath-giver says, “You’re close,” before proceeding to perform an “anointing” of the pledge with expressly phallic overtones.
The same participant is instructed to “solemnly swear” that they will have hate in their hearts for “niggers,” “spics” and “the fuckin’ kikes.” Applause waves the next skit on as the newly-anointed pledge shouts, “You fuckin’ kikes, get in the fuckin’ shower!”
A second video appears to mime the sexual assault of a disabled person.
Each of the 15 suspended students was found guilty of harassment. They were each cleared on charges of causing physical harm, threatening violence and possessing alcohol.
Dean of Students Robert Hradsky addressed the suspensions in a statement issued last Friday before the results of the process could be made public due to federal privacy laws. He wrote:
We treated this investigation and student conduct process fairly and expeditiously. It is now time for our community to focus on the important work of advancing a more inclusive campus community.
Hradsky’s statement also addressed options for the suspended students going forward. He noted, “The students now have the opportunity to appeal the conduct decisions and associated sanctions. The appeal process could take as long as several weeks.”
Gregory Germain, a Syracuse law professor who advised the students during the investigation and quasi-judicial process said they have by 5 p.m. Monday to file an appeal. Karen Felter, another member of the students’ legal team, said they would be appealing the various suspensions–which range from one to two years per student. After that, Germain expects the students will initiate legal action against the school, according to Syracuse.com.
Their case, if any, would be unlikely to implicate the First Amendment because Syracuse University is a private school and therefore the punishments handed out to the students would almost certainly not be considered government action.
[image via screengrab]