For the second time this week, university officials are investigating complaints of racist language by fraternity members — this time at the University of Maryland.
An e-mail dated January 2014 from a U-Md. undergraduate who was a member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity was posted to the Internet this week, just as an incident at the University of Oklahoma had ignited tensions nationally over race relations and Greek life.
The e-mail, which appeared to be written to a group of friends, included racial slurs and graphic comments about wanting to have sex during rush week but not wanting to invite women of certain races.
The note also contains a line using expletives to indicate that “above all else” to forget about “consent.”
At most college campuses, students are taught that it is essential for two people to consent in order to prevent rape and sexual assault.
The letter lit up social media, hitting in the same week as a video of a racist chant by Sigma Alpha Epsilon members at the University of Oklahoma went viral. The scenes of fraternity brothers at OU happily chanting racist slurs and joining in with lyrics about lynching horrified people nationally and amped up scrutiny of Greek life. Two students at that school have been expelled, and officials there shut down the chapter’s house at the campus.
National leaders of Kappa Sigma denounced “the language and views” of the e-mail, suspended the student and moved to formally expel him from the fraternity. He subsequently resigned, the fraternity said in a statement.
The #notjustsae hashtag was already rolling, and soon the U-Md. student’s name became a hashtag, too, linked to comments such as:
“I just want everyone to see this. This is disgusting.”
“That kid won’t have a chance now at getting any job anywhere he basically offended all races in that email.”
“If there was an offensive Olympics, [name removed] would win gold.”
And: “That letter by [name removed] at UMD not only shows the racist culture prevalent in these frats, but rape culture as well. Sick.”
U-Md. President Wallace Loh said officials became aware of the message Tuesday and immediately began investigating it. But when he checked his Twitter feed late Thursday, he saw how much outrage over the e-mail was simmering on campus.
“I said, ‘Uh oh. This is going viral,’” Loh said.
He quickly convened his key aides for an emergency meeting to prepare a public statement. He didn’t want the story to break on Friday morning without the university’s actions being known. Otherwise, he said, if the news coverage did not show that U-Md. was taking the matter seriously, “we’d be toast.”
He issued a statement on Thursday near midnight.
The “vulgar language in the email expresses views that are reprehensible to our campus community,” he said in the statement, and that officials were, “deeply saddened by the impact this email is having on our community.”
Loh declined to comment further, citing the ongoing investigation.
Attempts to reach the student were unsuccessful. His parents, reached by telephone Friday morning, declined to comment.
On Friday, Kappa Sigma’s national leaders announced in a statement that they were just made aware of the e-mail and that the student was immediately suspended from the local chapter pending an investigation. He subsequently resigned from Kappa Sigma, fraternity leaders said, and they are working to formally expel him from the organization.
The group called the incident “clearly unfortunate” but said it was pleased to see the “swift and decisive action” being taken by its chapter at Maryland.
Loh said university officials immediately met with the student, and that an investigation is being led by the Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct.
Loh said fraternity officials had requested training on diversity and respect for all members of the chapter.
“The University of Maryland remains committed to our core values of respect for human dignity, diversity, and inclusiveness,” Loh said in his statement.
T. Rees Shapiro contributed to this report.