Sunday, November 07, 2010

Emory Frat Has Gay Incident

Alleged anti-gay incident at Emory frat party attracts national spotlight

By Christian Boone
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Student leaders met into the night Tuesday to prepare a response. Emory University's administration also weighed in, sending a campus-wide e-mail promising an investigation into the incident, first reported by the campus newspaper and picked up by countless blogs, including the popular Gawker website.

At issue: a scuffle early Saturday morning at a frat party involving a gay student and an Emory alum. No one was injured and no police report was filed.

A year ago, the story would've likely remained within the Emory bubble. But recent high-profile incidents targeting gay youth, including the Sept. 22 suicide of Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi, has started a national conversation on bullying. Now, the Emory tussle has become a part of that dialogue, merited or not.

As reported by the Emory Wheel, an openly gay student attending a Sigma Nu party was forcibly removed from the house after intimating that his alleged attacker was also homosexual.

Recent Emory graduate Adam Smith admitted being riled by the inference that he was gay and acknowledged dragging the student -- dressed in a lime green jacket, red pants and a wizard hat -- out by his neck, throwing him onto the front lawn of the off-campus residence.

The gay student, whose identity has not been revealed, told the student newspaper several of the partygoers showered him with homophobic slurs as he was being ejected -- a charge that has not been corroborated. One witness told the Wheel that, while many revelers cheered Smith on, most did not know what prompted the scuffle. Smith and his accuser did not respond to interview requests forwarded by the Emory newspaper on behalf of the AJC.

Though questions linger about the fight, the reaction to it has been swift and certain.

"This gives us an opportunity to have discussions that need to take place," said Beth Brandt, president of Emory's Student Government Association. Brandt said she was surprised this particular incident, in which no one was injured, received so much attention but, "in the context of what's been going on nationally, I understand."

In a statement sent to students and the media, Emory's senior vice president for campus life John L. Ford said the university is "supporting the student involved in the incident" and "has no tolerance for discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation."

Brandt said a coalition of student leaders, including representatives of Greek and LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered) groups, will address the controversy in a joint letter to be published in Friday's edition of the Wheel.

"This is a very inclusive community, but Emory's not perfect and not as inclusive as it could be," Brandt said. "The incident itself is very sad, but we hope to use it as a catalyst for change."

Some students expressed concerned about a rush to judgment.

"No one really knows what happened," said Savan Shah, president of Emory's College Republicans, though he adds Smith appears to have overreacted. "Adam handled it wrong, and if people were cheering, they shouldn't have been, but we don't know that they were cheering because it happened to a gay student."

Earlier posting:

Gay Emory Student Dragged From Frat Party

By Asher Smith

An incident occurring at around midnight Saturday morning - during which a gay Emory student was forcibly ejected from a party at an off-campus home inhabited by members of the Sigma Nu fraternity - has raised questions concerning the extent to which Greek life at Emory is welcoming toward the University’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) community.

According to the alleged victim, his admission that he was gay instigated his forceful removal from the premises. His ejection was accompanied by anti-gay slurs and followed by what he termed “affirmative cheering” from many in attendance.

The student, who has not yet filed a police report and wished to remain unnamed for this story, attended the party at Sigma Nu’s off-campus house with multiple friends after first venturing out to Eagle Row. His particular choice of costume - a lime-green jacket, red pants and a wizard hat - meant that he stood out immediately among the crowd at the house, the student acknowledged.

“At first, when I walked into the party, some people were taking pictures of me and appreciating, if you will, what I was wearing,” he said.

About half an hour later, however, another attendee - confirmed by multiple witnesses as recent alum Adam Smith (’10C) - took the student’s wizard hat and began questioning him.

“This guy approached me and asked why I was wearing my hat. ... I said that I like the hat, just as you like your pink shirt. He then asked me if I was gay, and I said I was. He then started choking me with his elbow and put me into a head lock, and he dragged me out of the party by my neck.”

After the student was allegedly dragged the approximately 10 to 15 feet from the house’s common area to the door and thrown onto the front lawn, Smith was overheard telling other attendees “Hey, this kid’s a f****t.”

Adam Smith tells a slightly different story.

"This kid was at the party, and was acting kind of ridiculous. I went over, took his hat and started dancing around," he said.

Smith then said he asked the student: "Why are you wearing this gay ass hat?" According to Smith, the student replied that it was for the "same reason you're wearing your pink shirt."

Smith said that he then asked if the student was implying that he (Smith) was "f***ing gay or something." Hearing an affirmative reaction, Smith then admitted to putting him in a head lock and ejecting him from the party.

College junior Sabrina Bernstein, who attended the party with the student, echoed the student's account of the altercation and of the approving reaction of those who realized what was going on.

“[Someone] said something along the lines of ‘Good, now we got that taken care of,’” Bernstein said.

She conceded, though, that most students at the party did not realize what was going on and did not react to what they most likely presumed to be an isolated scuffle. According to the alleged victim, most witnesses appeared confused by what happened. He said Smith then told security that he was trying to start a fight and should no longer be allowed at the party.

Bernstein expressed regret that she did not call the police and report an assault but cited her desire to tend to her friend. She explained that she reached out to University administrators, including Emory University President James W. Wagner, the next day.

When reached for comment, Wagner wrote in an e-mail to the Wheel that he had nothing to say other than to reiterate his disappointment at what he termed an “alleged act of disrespect and intolerance.”

Sigma Nu chapter President Khurram Dara wrote in an e-mail to the Wheel that: “We’d like the Emory community to know that we are taking this allegation very seriously. We have reviewed the limited information made available to us in an effort to learn as much as we can.”

The statement refers to the alleged victim as “an uninvited Emory student [who] was not known by anyone who lived in the residence.” The statement continues on to say that Smith was asked to leave as a direct result of the altercation.

“At this point,” the statement concludes, “we believe this to be an issue of personal, not fraternity, conduct.”

Yesterday, the student met with Dean for Campus Life Bridget Riordan, Director of LGBT Life at Emory Michael Shutt and Director of Greek Life Buck Cooke.

Riordan would not comment specifically on the content of her meeting with the student but said: “Any student on this campus who feels in fear needs to reach out, and we need to try and get that student help. He believes he was treated terribly, and we need to do something about that. So we’re going to try to support him any way we can because our students always need to feel safe.”

Riordan added that it was fortunate that the student came to the proper administrators.

“Any time any of our students are assaulted or harassed because of who they are we have to take very strong action, and that’s why I’m appreciative that he has come forward. We have to keep a safe community here for everybody, and we need to do everything we can to make sure that everyone feels safe here,” she said.

This occurrence follows on the heels of several high-profile incidents at a number of American universities, including the Sept. 22 suicide of Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi. While in a previous Wheel article Emory administrators conceded that instances of violence have been less visible on Emory’s campus, Michael Shutt, director of LGBT Life at Emory, acknowledged then that the effort continues to implement policies, provide resources and develop programs aimed at providing Emory with an inclusive atmosphere.

When contacted yesterday, Shutt said that he was still in the process of gathering information and did not wish to comment at that time.

Bernstein, for one, expressed a belief that Emory’s Greek life is in need of further education.

“I think it’s something that could have happened at - not every fraternity, because there are differences between the fraternities - but I think there are definitely some fraternities where it would not be completely surprising that it would happen. I guess what was so surprising was the physical nature of it. I would not have been shocked by verbal abuse. You hear things, you hear hate and discrimination from people’s mouths, especially amongst the fraternity population.”

Bernstein added that specific fraternities do not provide a particularly welcoming environment for gay individuals.

“We talked about going to another fraternity that evening, and [the alleged victim] said that he would not be let in. ... I think there are definitely fraternities that are known for being discriminative not only against gays, but against different people in general.”

When asked about this issue specifically, Riordan mentioned the fact that a significant number of Emory students who have participated in Greek life at Emory are openly gay.

“It’s not uncommon for someone to bring a [same-sex] partner to a formal or to an event,” she said.

However, she acknowledged that the need still exists to provide education for students both in and out of Greek life.

“We have new people every year. Every year we have another class of students. And so that’s when we tend to realize that we may have everything going well with some people, but it has not hit everybody yet,” she elaborated.

When asked about Greek life at Emory as it pertains to gay students, Cooke - who is in his first semester working at Emory - declined comment, saying that he was still in the process of learning about Emory culture.

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