Washington University Frat Scandal: "Very Sad and Painful," Says Vice Chancellor Sharon Stahl

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We reported yesterday that the Washington University chapter of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity was suspended this week after allegations surfaced that pledges played a racist prank on fellow students. Now, officials are pushing forward with an investigation into the matter, and Vice Chancellor for Students Sharon Stahl says she has been getting all kinds of feedback on the administration's response -- positive and negative.

"People felt very strongly that we needed to comment on what happened...without prejudicing things in anyway, because we do have a process we go through," she tells Daily RFT, adding, "There are people upset with us."

After news broke that a student had allegedly used a racial slur in front of a group of black students as part of a pledge activity, Stahl sent a university-wide email condemning the actions and noting the frat was suspended.

Some in the university community were not pleased, she says.

"As you can imagine, there are some people who viewed this as an attack on the Greek community, which it was not," she says. "Some said we didn't handle this the right way. But that's good -- that means that people care about the university."

Reportedly, a group of white male pledges photographed a group of black students in a dining facility as part of a prank and then one did a rap in front of them that included a racial slur.

Stahl wrote an email to students that said in part:

The university received reports that late last evening in the Bears Den on the South 40, new members of one of the university's fraternities, Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE), engaged in racially offensive behavior directed toward a group of students of color.

This morning, I called together a group of university leaders after hearing about the reports, and we have already set in motion a thorough investigation of the incident and all those involved. In addition, all chapter activities of SAE have been suspended until the investigation is complete.

Sharon Stahl - VIA
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In a follow-up interview, she tells us that this was personally difficult for her.

"I felt just so incredibly sad," she says. "And surprised. You never want to think that something like this can still happen in a community.... We're still gathering information. We're still gathering a complete picture.... But I felt very sad. I felt very angry. When anybody in our community is made to feel diminished or feel that they were the object of a racist attack, any kind of singling out because you are a part of a certain community is unacceptable."

She continues, "Certainly, there's no room in this community for disrespect based on any kind of race, gender and...any kind of demographic."

Continue for more of our interview with Sharon Stahl and for the full letter.

Stahl, who has been at the university for decades, says it's clear that now is the time to examine why something like this could occur.

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"When anything like this happens in a community, it's time to reflect and really say where we are in our relationships with one another," she says. "I see that as moving forward. Those are conversations that are going on now and will continue at all levels. That's something that's positive that will come out of this."

Campuses across the country grapple with tensions like this, she adds.

"Something like this is so painful, but it is not going to deter us from continuing to be the wonderful institution that we are," she says.

Here's her full letter to students.

Dear members of the Washington University community, Core to our values as an institution is a firm commitment to creating a welcoming and inclusive environment that not only recognizes but also celebrates the diversity of our students, faculty and staff. When we fail to meet those values in any way, we are all affected. The university received reports that late last evening in the Bears Den on the South 40, new members of one of the university's fraternities, Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE), engaged in racially offensive behavior directed toward a group of students of color.

This morning, I called together a group of university leaders after hearing about the reports, and we have already set in motion a thorough investigation of the incident and all those involved. In addition, all chapter activities of SAE have been suspended until the investigation is complete.

Just as important, we need to listen to each other about what happened and recognize the pain and disappointment that occur when any of us fail to live up to the expectations of living, studying and working here at Washington University. Therefore, as an important first step, members of my team and I will be reaching out to a number of student group leaders, including those from the Association of Black Students and Student Union's Diversity Affairs Council, to begin this dialogue.

It saddens me and it is unacceptable when any member of our community is a victim of discrimination, ignorance or hatred. The reported behavior is totally incongruous with the university's firm belief in the power of diversity. We are a community that values everyone, and this kind of behavior is an insult and an affront to us all. We are stronger as an institution and a community when we draw on our differences to learn and grow.

If you have any concerns or have more information about the incident, please contact my office directly at 935-3359.

Sharon Stahl Vice Chancellor for Students

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