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Syracuse puts ‘satirical skits’ fraternity on trial for sexually harassing … everyone

‘I do not know of any student ever winning a Title IX procedure’ at Syracuse

One of the quirks in Title IX enforcement on campus is you can be prosecuted in campus courts without anyone claiming to be a victim.

It happened to a black athlete whose white sex partner did not accuse him of wrongdoing – the woman’s friend determined she had been raped based on a hickey, and the director of diversity and inclusion agreed. Colorado State University-Pueblo later paid him to drop his lawsuit.

Now Syracuse University is taking the complaint-with-no-victim route to prosecute Theta Tau fraternity members and pledges who participated in (or were simply present during) “satirical skits” – performed privately in its house, but recorded and leaked – that offended large swaths of the community.

In a May 3 charge letter obtained by The College Fix, Associate Director Eric Nestor of the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities (left) informed the students of the charges against them, including sexual harassment, and their hearing date of May 9.

It says all 16 respondents will attend the same hearing before the three-member University Conduct Board, where they will be allowed to address the board after “a presentation by the primary investigator from the Department of Public Safety.” The evidence standard is preponderance, meaning a hair over 50 percent certainty.

The letter alleges violation of five sections of the Code of Student Conduct: “physical harm” or the threat of it; harassment, which can include targeting a specific person, “fighting words” or “likely to cause an immediate breach of the peace”; unbounded “conduct” that threatens the “mental health” of anyone; and Syracuse policy on alcohol, drugs and tobacco.

The fifth section concerns various other policies, which appear just as broad. It says “sexual abuse and harassment” under fraternity and sorority policy includes any behavior “demeaning to women or men”; anti-harassment policy includes “humiliating” speech; and sexual harassment policy includes “unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature,” including “physical gestures conveying a sexual meaning” and “derogatory jokes.”

Charge letter to Syracuse Theta Tau members, pledges for ‘satirical skits’ on leaked video by The College Fix on Scribd

MORE: Athlete not accused of rape by sex partner gets paid to drop suit

The basis of the charges is the the March 30 incident at the Theta Tau house:

It is alleged that you participated in the creation, direction, depicting, filming and/or dissemination of a production depicting sexually explicit activity demeaning to women, the physically and developmentally disabled, and certain racial and ethnic groups.

The university said the members and pledges are being charged “to educate and protect all members of the University community.”

It refers to a “complainant” without giving even a vague description of that person or entity, and explicitly tells students that if they have a lawyer, that person cannot “present your case for you,” even in writing.

In an email obtained by The Fix, the longtime director of Student Legal Services – funded by the Student Association and Graduate Student Organization, not the university – explained the procedural quirks of the hearing. Christopher Burke wrote:

I presume the basis for the school to combine the Code of Student Conduct violations and the Title IX violations under the Title IX hearing will be Part 13, Modification of Procedures, which basically allows the University to modify their procedures under their sole discretion, whenever they feel like it. As long as they provide the students with the required elements of fundamental fairness, if it is by their own procedures, it is next to nothing.

Burke said he accompanied one of the charged students to a hearing with Title IX coordinator Pam Peter, one of the defendants in the lawsuit by Theta Tau members and pledges:

Based on what was said in the hearing, I believe that the school is going to try to make a case that the pledges felt they had no choice to engage in this behavior if they wanted to become members of the fraternity. They were unaware that the video was going to be posted and felt harmed by that posting.

He concluded: “I have had a number of students accused of Title IX violations in my office and I do not know of any student ever winning a Title IX procedure.”

Read the charge letter.

MORE: Punished for satire, then accused of sexual harassment

MORE: Syracuse sued for depriving Theta Tau of due process

IMAGES: CLS Digital Arts/Shutterstock, Syracuse University

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg Piper served as associate editor of The College Fix from 2014 to 2021.