The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A University of Georgia student exposed pandemic violations. One fraternity responded with racist texts.

A fraternity at the University of Georgia self-suspended after images from a group chat revealed the students using racist, sexist and homophobic language. (University of Georgia/Collegiate Images/Getty Images)

Since August, Arianna Mbunwe has used her Twitter account to expose covid-19 violations at the University of Georgia — particularly by those in Greek life — and to critique the school’s response.

“Hey girly! kappa delta is not winning this semester so maybe you should take this down,” Mbunwe tweeted along with an image showing sorority members posing without masks at a fraternity’s “date night” mixer.

But on Saturday, Mbunwe, who is Black, learned that members of fraternity Lambda Chi Alpha had been privately mocking her in a group chat, using offensive and racist language.

“Lord give me the strength to not call that woman a racial slur,” one person wrote in the GroupMe chat.

Mbunwe promptly posted images from the group chat on Twitter. Now, Lambda Chi Alpha has self-suspended its operations indefinitely, according to a statement Sunday from the university’s Interfraternity Council. The university’s Equal Opportunity Office is investigating the matter “in accordance with our Non-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment (NDAH) policy” the university said in a statement.

“The University of Georgia is aware of outrageous and offensive comments involving members of a student organization over the weekend,” the statement said. “Such statements of bigotry and intolerance do not have any place on our campus, and we condemn them in the strongest terms.”

Mbunwe is one of many students at UGA who have been speaking out about the university’s response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. Earlier this month, UGA reported almost 2,600 total cases of coronavirus infections since mid-August. The university, which has maintained in-person classes, has not released updated figures since then. The state of Georgia has recorded more than 307,000 cases and more than 6,600 deaths, according to The Washington Post’s coronavirus tracker.

UGA also made national headlines last week for announcing that it would not host any on-campus voting sites, saying that the risk of transmitting the coronavirus during in-person voting was too high. Critics, though, noted that the school is allowing thousands of students to attend football games. The university was widely criticized and quickly reversed the decision.

University of Georgia changes course after criticism that it allowed football but not in-person voting

Students upset at the school’s coronavirus response have turned to Reddit to express their outrage, posting memes making fun of the university’s president and videos and images of students in sororities and fraternities apparently violating mask and social distancing rules, the New York Times reported.

Mbunwe, a 20-year-old junior and political science major, did the same on her Twitter feed. Students began sending her tips, which Mbunwe would post.

Last week, Mbunwe tweeted images of an Instagram post from a member of Zeta Tau Alpha with a caption saying she tested positive for the coronavirus but was going to her sorority’s event anyway. Mbunwe tweeted with images: “ummmm I’m speechless.”

But Saturday, instead of receiving tips about other students, Mbunwe received images of texts about herself. The images were from a chat room on GroupMe called “Sex Drugs and Darby House,” made up of Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity brothers.

“What a foul, miserable creature,” someone wrote under an image of Mbunwe.

One person with the username “Ghost of Aunt Jemima” commented on Mbunwe’s genitals and said she “just sits in her room saying how white people are racist because she’s mad she didn’t get a bid lmao.”

The images went beyond Mbunwe. Many were also homophobic and misogynistic, including talk about a “threesome pledge” and making fun of one of the members for “making out with a Black chick in the basement,” to which one person responded by saying, “jungle fever.” The texts included several other racial slurs.

“I was disappointed, but I wasn’t surprised,” Mbunwe said in an interview with WGCL. “UGA has a history of having a lot of racial discrimination. In the past 3 years that I’ve been here, every semester there has been an incident.”

In March 2019, UGA’s chapter of Tau Kappa Epsilon was suspended after a racist video of members mocking slavery went viral.

In a statement Monday from the national chapter of Lambda Chi Alpha, the fraternity apologized and said it condemned the actions of the students in the UGA chapter.

“We are disgusted by the senseless, reprehensible actions and messages of these men,” the statement said. “On behalf of the leadership and brotherhood of Lambda Chi Alpha, we unequivocally condemn any acts of homophobia, misogyny and racism. These actions are a direct violation of our mission of leading an ethical life of growth, service and leadership.”

Get a free briefing on the latest pandemic developments in your inbox with our Coronavirus Updates newsletter

Brennan M. Cox, the president of UGA’s Interfraternity Council, echoed the fraternity’s condemnation.

“Those disparaging remarks are odious to the Council’s desire for any member of the University community to feel welcome in Greek Life and on campus,” he said in a statement. “We have much work toward this vision, and the Council remains committed to forging such realty for our generation, and the next.”

But Mbunwe is not satisfied with the public remarks. In an email to university leadership, which she also tweeted, Mbunwe called the responses “lackluster” and said she never received a “formal apology.”

“Complete radio silence,” she wrote. “I will not accept such a weak statement when it comes to the council that [is] supposed to be holding their fraternities accountable.”

Mbunwe demanded a personal apology from the university, IFC and the national and UGA chapters of Lambda Chi Alpha. She also said the students in the chat should be expelled.

“The silence by both the IFC and UGA is consistent with their attitudes for racism on campus and care for students who are not white,” Mbunwe wrote. “I hope this is not the case however the response to other racist incidents tell me otherwise.”

Coronavirus: What you need to know

End of the public health emergency: The Biden administration ended the public health emergency for the coronavirus pandemic on May 11, just days after WHO said it would no longer classify the coronavirus pandemic as a public health emergency. Here’s what the end of the covid public health emergency means for you.

Tracking covid cases, deaths: Covid-19 was the fourth leading cause of death in the United States last year with covid deaths dropping 47 percent between 2021 and 2022. See the latest covid numbers in the U.S. and across the world.

The latest on coronavirus boosters: The FDA cleared the way for people who are at least 65 or immune-compromised to receive a second updated booster shot for the coronavirus. Here’s who should get the second covid booster and when.

New covid variant: A new coronavirus subvariant, XBB. 1.16, has been designated as a “variant under monitoring” by the World Health Organization. The latest omicron offshoot is particularly prevalent in India. Here’s what you need to know about Arcturus.

Would we shut down again? What will the United States do the next time a deadly virus comes knocking on the door?

For the latest news, sign up for our free newsletter.