Controversies over disturbing fraternity behavior are nothing new, but few have ever grown as intense as the one now brewing at American University, where student activists and an entire Greek system are calling for the swift punishment of one house.
At least 70 pages of emails and text messages from an unsanctioned fraternity called Epsilon Iota leaked to students late last week. Immediately, the messages, which date from 2012 to as recently as last month and contain rape jokes, references to the physical assault of women and threats of further assaults, drew outrage from students and administrators, leading to promises that punishment would come.
An online petition and a group of students marching on AU’s main quad Thursday afternoon have called for the university to eliminate EI from the campus. They've been joined by members of Greek life, the students in actual fraternities and sororities.
"No one wants to associate themselves with the group or those emails," Windy Aldeborough, an AU senior and member of Alpha Phi Omega, told The Huffington Post.
Epsilon Iota is not an official fraternity. It has had no national organization since being expelled by Alpha Tau Omega in 2001 following a series of incidents involving hazing and alcohol abuse. American University does not recognize EI, and members of Greek life are pressured not to collaborate with the group on social events. If nothing else, students in Greek life are keen to emphasize that EI does not represent them in any way, and they object to the group even being called a fraternity.
"I really want all the various news outlets to stop calling it a 'Secret Fraternity,'" one AU student wrote on Facebook. "Everyone at AU knows about EI. While we may not have known about some of the despicable brothers in it, seriously it wasn't like this was a secret organization."
Other students took to Facebook to complain that they now feel judged by others simply for being in a fraternity. Still others dismissed the leaked messages, and the behavior described in them, as "just EI being EI."
One junior, who was not authorized by her sorority to speak on the record, told HuffPost, "Each fraternity is different. You can't lump them all into the same rapey, roofie-ing group."
The junior added: "When I was a freshman, I was told EI was the 'rapey frat.' We all giggled at the word 'rapey,' since this was before two of us were sexually assaulted at AU and we still thought rape jokes were funny. Then we started to hear rumors about roofies, then about physical assault."
The Interfraternity Council issued a statement this week saying it "vehemently condemns" the emails and the behavior described therein.
"Make no mistake, [EI] are not an IFC recognized fraternity, nor are they in any way associated with fraternity and sorority life at American University," the statement reads.
Accounts of troubling behavior associated with the group continue to pile up. The AU student newspaper, The Eagle, reported Wednesday that two EI members were arrested this month for allegedly attempting to hit a student with their car, while shouting "We're gonna kill you, you [anti-gay slur]. You f***ing bitch, you're dead."
HuffPost attempted to contact seven of the students whose emails were displayed in the leaked messages. Three email addresses had been closed, while the owners of the other four did not respond. Some members of EI have also deleted their Facebook accounts, according to students who know them.
Some undergrads at AU have expressed concern about the EI members named in the emails, who are allegedly receiving threats. One member of the group is apparently suicidal, according to the Tumblr that distributed redacted versions of the leaked messages.
IFC placed some of the blame for the current situation with the AU administration. In its statement, IFC faulted the university for "failing to effectively intervene over the past 13 years," referring to the period since EI lost its charter and university recognition.
The university, however, says it has made efforts in the past to police EI's behavior.
"Reports are incorrect that the university has done nothing to curtail the activities of the group of individuals that pose as a 'brotherhood' and mask themselves in the rituals and social benefits of a fraternity, but uphold none of the traditions of scholarship, leadership, and service," Gail Short Hanson, vice president of campus life, said in a statement Thursday.
"The university started by deploying all of the tools it has available to hold a group accountable," Hanson went on. "The details of the university's 2001 sanctions and withdrawal of the group's recognition are well known and outlined on our website and in mass mailings. For years, the university has warned students to avoid joining or engaging with this group and also warned parents in orientations and in writing."
It's not clear whether the university intends to redouble its efforts to eliminate EI, or how the school would go about doing so.
Hanson said that the university is undergoing an "intense investigation," working with law enforcement to look into any potentially illegal activities on EI's part and reviewing comments in the leaked messages that, while lawful, may violate the student code of conduct.
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