Aftermath of Police Investigation of Racist Exchange at UConn’s Spirit Rock

The Spirit Rock findings

The University of Connecticut Student Affairs office, the Office of Diversity and Equity (ODE), and the police department (UCPD) have released separate reports about the Spirit Rock incident between the sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha (AKA) and the fraternity Pi Kappa Alpha (Pike) that took place Sept. 29.

There was an altercation between the two Greek organizations regarding the painting of the Spirit Rock. Pike became angry that AKA was spraying over their recent painting, which wished a member well after a car accident. AKA painted the rock to commemorate their charter day.

Stories of race-based and gender-based taunts were told in interviews, and, most notably, a month later in a public forum held by the African American Cultural Center. The forum unearthed new information after Pike had been put on probation for disruption or obstruction of a university event and harassing/bullying behavior. Pike was prohibited from painting any spirit rocks on campus, and ordered to take gender and diversity classes. At the forum, members of AKA showed racist and harassing Yik Yaks from the night of the event, and testimony from AKA claimed that members of Pike had called them words like “fat black bitches,” and “black whores.”

After the forum, AKA appealed the original decision made by the university. Specifically, the decision to only put Pike on probation, to not punish any members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) or Tau Kappa Epsilon (TKE) for their involvement in the matter, and the fact that the university decision lacked any consideration for gender-based or race-based violations of the student code. The university accepted the appeal and drew up the three reports, none of which found any gender-based or race-based violations, despite the racially charged nature of the incident. 

ODE investigation

The ODE investigation depends mostly on testimony and partly on video evidence. The video footage is from the security camera on top of North Garage. It does not focus on the incident the entire time, instead sweeping the area and only showing the actions of AKA and Pike intermittently.

Testimony between AKA and Pike differed vastly. The report refers to AKA’s campus advisor as “student 1.” Student 1 claims that Pike members ran toward the women at the rock with clenched fists and one yelled “what the f**k are you doing.” In addition, a member of Pike known as student 9 was accused of saying “f**k you” to the campus advisor. The former statement was agreed upon in testimony, but as for the latter, student 9 of Pike denies saying “f**k you.” There is also disagreement over the clenched fists, as video did not reveal this act and Pike members denied clenching their fists.

The women of AKA also said that they felt “intimidated, threatened and harassed,” when the men around them were “throwing a football over their heads” and “swatting trash on the ground near them with golf clubs.”

Pike members admitted to throwing a football to each other, but denied that they threw the football at or near AKA, and that they hit trash towards AKA with golf clubs. Video evidence only showed a football being thrown.

The most divisive issue in the report comes from AKA’s assertion that they were called “whore,” “whores,” “slut,” “black bitches” and “black whores,” among other things by members of Pike either driving by or during conversations held between the groups. Pike denies using any of this language.

The phrase “fat black bitch” is the most heavily contested. The report attaches importance to the fact that student 1 did not hear the phrase firsthand, and was instead informed that it had been directed her way. Furthermore, no specific perpetrator could be named aside from student 9, and he denied using any gender-based or race-based language.

On the other hand, student 10, who is a Greek-affiliated male called by AKA to the scene when the situation seemed posed to escalate, made “consistent statements that he heard the comment (fat black bitch)” and this “weighs in favor of finding that it is more likely than not that the comment was made once during the incident…The evidence does not support fining however that the comment was yelled or repeatedly stated.

While “the evidence uncovered in ODE’s investigation does not support finding that any individual students or Pike as an organization violated the student code with regard to race-based or sex-based discrimination or harassment,” there is a paradox within the report. This is because it recommends “continued education” for Pike, Greek life, and all of campus generally on diversity and sexuality. Simultaneously, there are no sanctions against anyone for race-based or gender-based behavior in either the initial reports or the later ones. So why is there is still required diversity and sexuality classes for Pike during its probation?

This is in part because the “spectacle” of a group of white men “surrounding” a group of black women. Also, the report finds that although “there is sufficient evidence that the sex-based terms ‘whore, ‘slut,’ and ‘bitch’ and the race-based comment ‘fat black bitch’ were used during the Spirit Rock incident,” the harassment had to go beyond “simple acts of teasing and name calling, even where these comments target differences in sex and race.” The report therefore implies that the situation was racially tinged rather than racially driven, and the incident was more closely connected to a matter of respect.

There is also the matter of the First Amendment. “Hateful, racist, and offensive speech is entitled to First Amendment protection and only loses that protection under the fighting words doctrine if it can be said to have incited…an immediate breach of peace.” This raises the question, what would have had to be said or done for race-based or sex-based violations of the student code to have occurred?

The report also looked into statements made on Yik Yak, including such compositions as “F**K AKA YOU FAT BLACK B*****ES” and “AKA. The epitome of white man’s burden.” This is because, according to the report: “A defining feature of Yik Yak is that it allows any user to post anonymously. As a result, there is no information linking individual students, including Pike members, to the hurtful messages posted on Yik Yak.” Even if there were, First Amendment protection may have applied. Yet there are examples of this being overcome in recent instances like school shooting threats. Essentially, if the administration had forced the issue, they could have discovered the Yik Yak users who made the statements, then looked to see if they were affiliated with Pike.

The last male left the premises at 3:23 a.m. after numerous police interventions throughout the night.

Student Affairs Report

The new Student Affairs report, a follow-up to its first report, was written by Christine Wilson, the Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs. Nothing new was found in this report either, even after the testimony at the town hall meeting.

Student Affairs had the same findings (lack thereof) as ODE when reexamining “the direct applicability of race and gender upon the behaviors present during the incident” and “comments that were shared over the social media outlet ‘Yik Yak.’”

Just like the ODE, the Student Affairs report recommended that “continued education, training, awareness, and climate enhancement measures” should be taken.

UCPD Report

The most important part of the short UCPD report is: “Based on the facts and evidence known to police at this time, this investigation has not indicated a violation of the Connecticut General Statutes by a specific person.”

The police were unable to interview several people implicated in the incident because they did not respond to phone calls or emails.

AKA has no comment on any of the findings at this time.

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