4 prospective members, 1 brother of Theta Tau file lawsuit against SU
Alexandra Moreo | Senior Staff Photographer
UPDATED: April 25, 2018 at 4:07 p.m.
Four anonymous, prospective members and one current brother of Theta Tau have filed a lawsuit against Syracuse University, specifically naming Chancellor Kent Syverud among other officials, and claimed that the university rushed to label them as “criminals” in an attempt to “malign the students personally” to salvage SU’s reputation, court records show.
The Daily Orange obtained and published videos last week showing people in Theta Tau’s house using racial slurs and miming the sexual assault of a person with disabilities.
Chancellor Kent Syverud described the videos as, “extremely racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, sexist, and hostile to people with disabilities,” in a campus-wide email sent last Wednesday morning. In his email, Syverud announced the initial suspension of Theta Tau. The professional engineering fraternity was permanently expelled from campus on Saturday.
A university spokesperson in a statement to The D.O. on Wednesday afternoon said, “Syracuse University does not comment on the specifics of pending litigation. The University stands by the actions it took to protect the well-being of the campus community and maintain a respectful and safe learning environment.”
All five students are named as “John Doe” in the lawsuit. In the lawsuit, the students allege that on March 30 they participated in a “Roast” of current Theta Tau fraternity members and that SU, “in violation or contravention of its procedures,” has allowed “Theta Tau and Plaintiffs (among others) to be treated abusively, creating a hostile campus tainted by the mischaracterization and mislabeling the University itself created.”
“The Roast is a time-honored Chapter tradition that builds unity by satirically and hyperbolically depicting brothers,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit states that there were 16 people in Theta Tau’s new member class this spring. Department of Public Safety Chief Bobby Maldonado, in a campus-wide email on Sunday, said SU removed 18 students from “academic participation” due to the university’s Theta Tau investigation.
In one video, a person asks another person on his knees to repeat an “oath” of racial slurs.
“I solemnly swear to always have hatred in my heart for n*ggers, sp*cs and most importantly the f*ckin’ k*kes,” the person on his knees repeats.
The videos were posted in a secret Facebook group called “Tau of Theta Tau” by a user named David Yankowy III, recordings of the videos show. Yankowy was listed as a member of Theta Tau on the SU fraternity chapter’s website before portions of the site was made inaccessible last Wednesday afternoon.
Several videos filmed in the house were uploaded in the secret Facebook group. In one recording, a person, using anti-Semitic language, yells at two other people.
“You f*ckin’ k*kes, get in the f*ckin’ showers,” he says, and the two people run out of the room as others laugh.
In another recording, a person sits down in a rolling chair and a different person yells, “He’s drooling out of his mouth because he’s retarded in a wheelchair.”
The students claim that SU officials have labeled them racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic and hostile to people with disabilities since the release of the videos. The lawsuit also claims that SU placed the students “on an unauthorized, improper ‘suspension’ without cause.”
Several high-ranking university officials are personally named in the lawsuit: Syverud; Theresa Dahlberg, dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science; Robert Hradsky, dean of students and associate vice president of the student experience; and Pamela Peter, assistant dean of student rights and affairs. The lawsuit calls for a jury trial.
The Roast is a time-honored Chapter tradition that builds unity by satirically and hyperbolically depicting brothers.Text of lawsuit filed against Syracuse University by lawyers on behalf of John Doe 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5
Of the five students anonymously represented in the lawsuit, four are members of the Class of 2021 and one is a member of the Class of 2019, court records show.
Three of the plaintiffs were described as “ethnically diverse,” being of Indian American, African-American backgrounds and one being a Central American citizen, according to the complaint filed in federal court. Of the SU chapter’s 48 members, 44 percent are considered “diverse,” according to the lawsuit.
The five students are being represented by the Syracuse-based law firm Smith, Sovik, Kendrick & Sugnet.
This post has been updated with additional reporting.
CORRECTION: In a previous version of this post, the number of prospective Theta Tau members who have filed a lawsuit against Syracuse University was misstated due to conflicting information in the lawsuit. Four perspective Theta Tau members have filed the lawsuit along with one current fraternity brother. The Daily Orange regrets this error.
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Published on April 25, 2018 at 11:22 am