Syracuse Suspends Fraternity After Blackface Incident
Syracuse University has placed the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity on interim suspension after one of its members went to a campus bar wearing blackface as part of a costume.
The action followed a sit-in by about 65 students at the school’s administration building. They made 12 demands of Chancellor Kenneth Shaw, including suspension of the fraternity and expulsion of the student.
The university declined to detail what action it took against the student, Aaron Levine, a senior. A final determination on the status of the fraternity and student will be made at a later date by the university’s Judicial Affairs office.
“I offer my apologies to students of color and to all members of the university community that a Syracuse University student could have progressed to this point in his academic career and not understood the hurtful consequences of his actions,” Shaw said last month.
The chancellor’s responses drew lukewarm reactions from students who participated in the protest.
“Everything is still to be determined. There’s nothing fixed. There were no definite solutions,” Sandi Pessin, a senior from Mount Vernon, told The Post-Standard of Syracuse.
Levine declined to comment. The fraternity issued a statement explaining that the incident occurred during the fraternity’s annual bar-golf tour and that Levine was dressed as golfer Tiger Woods.
“Unfortunately, this year’s bar-golf tournament was scarred by our insensitivity toward the African American community. Our Brotherhood did not intend to cause any harm to anyone,” the statement reads. “We should have recognized how the Tiger Woods costume could be offensive and cruel.”
The fraternity is not allowed to organize group activities while on interim suspension.
Two fraternities at Auburn University in Alabama came under fire late last year when pictures of the members in blackface and other racially offensive costumes were circulated on the Internet. The university suspended 15 of the fraternity members (see Black Issues, Dec. 6, 2001).
Last month, one of the fraternities, Beta Theta Pi, settled its $100 million lawsuit against the university. The fraternity will not receive any money but will be able to remain on campus, says Steve Baker, administrative secretary for the Beta Theta Pi national organization in Oxford, Ohio.
A lawyer representing Beta Theta Pi in the lawsuit had argued that pictures indicated several Auburn University fraternities and sororities besides Beta Theta Pi and Delta Sigma Phi held Halloween parties last year where members dressed in racially offensive costumes.
Sanford Johnson, president of the Black Student Union at the time of the incident, said he was not surprised that university officials allowed the fraternity to return to campus. He says Auburn’s “bigger problem” is achieving racial diversity on campus.
“Keeping Beta off campus would not have solved the problem,” he says. “What they did was offensive, but it’s small compared to the bigger problem Auburn has to face, and that’s finding a way to establish an environment that would allow every group, regardless of race, to feel like part of the Auburn family.”
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