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UT frat on probation after alleged party assault

Pi Kappa Phi barred from hosting events until May 31, 2017

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The University of Toledo placed a fraternity on disciplinary probation and sanctioned six students following a university investigation into a January off-campus party in which a black student was allegedly punched, kicked, and repeatedly called by a racial slur.

Pi Kappa Phi is on disciplinary probation and prohibited from hosting social events until May 31, 2017, and cannot admit new members until Jan. 1, the university announced today in an email from President Sharon Gaber to students, faculty, and staff.

Fraternity members also must receive anti-bullying and mandatory alcohol awareness training.

RELATED: President Sharon Gaber’s letter to the UT community

Six students, whom university officials refused to identify citing federal student privacy law, also were sanctioned. All of the students were placed on one year of disciplinary probation, must receive alcohol awareness education, and must spend between 10 to 15 hours doing community service.

UT spokesman Jon Strunk would not say if the six disciplined students were fraternity brothers.

The university’s student code of conduct describes probation as a “written reprimand” for violating specific university regulations that continues for a designated period of time. Those who violate school policy during that time are subject to additional and more severe sanctions.

No students were expelled, and the fraternity can remain in its on-campus chapter home.

The fraternity plans to appeal the disciplinary action, said Ryan Aridi, the Toledo chapter’s philanthropy officer. He declined to comment further. A spokesman for the fraternity’s national organization did not immediately return a call for comment.

The penalties come after a university investigation into a reported Jan. 24 assault at an off-campus house associated with the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity.

UT student Rayshawn Watkins, 19, told police that members of the fraternity yelled racial slurs, punched, and kicked him while he was at a party at 3530 Dorr St. The incident involved an argument that broke out over a fallen string of Christmas lights, though Mr. Watkins has said that someone yelled a racial term at him while he first walked toward the house.

Toledo police investigated the incident, but in February the city law director said there was not enough evidence to move forward with charges.

The university’s Division of Student Affairs completed its own student code of conduct investigation that included interviews with dozens of partygoers, according to Ms. Gaber’s letter.

“UT followed its student conduct process precisely to achieve an impartial assessment of what occurred. I am keenly aware that in an environment heavily clouded by alcohol, intolerable words and phrases may well have been used. The 45 interviews provided conflicting views of what occurred,” she wrote.

Ms. Gaber, in a telephone interview today, said that the contradictory witness statements included discrepancies over the use of racial slurs.

The fraternity, however, was found responsible for violating the university’s prohibition against physical and verbal abuse, threats, intimidation, harassment or “other conduct that threatens or endangers the health or safety of any person.”

A student conduct hearing board comes up with disciplinary recommendations, and Dean of Students Tamika Mitchell determines the sanctions.

“From the beginning, I’ve tried to obviously make sure that people understand that diversity and inclusion is important on our campus,” she said. “Our assessment is that there will be many reactions just like there was as the entire process was discussed, but we followed the process and in fact [an] organization and people are being held accountable.”

The incident took place a couple months after Ms. Gaber asked Willie McKether, associate dean in the College of Languages, Literature, and Social Sciences, to develop a plan to enhance diversity at UT. Mr. McKether has met with various student, staff, faculty, and community groups to identify issues of concern.

Last week, he told members of the board of trustees that he wants to get a draft of the plan to Ms. Gaber by April 18, allow time for the campus to review and comment on it, and complete the plan by May 13.

Ms. Gaber said his work could include recommendations on additional campuswide diversity training for students, faculty, and staff.

“I don’t want it to be viewed as a reaction to this case; in fact, it is a best practice,” she said.

Those found responsible of student code violations can appeal disciplinary decisions. Officials said students and the fraternity are being notified today of the sanctions against them.

The UT chapter of Pi Kappa Phi was chartered in 1951, and there are 56 undergraduate members of the fraternity, according to the organization’s national website.

About an hour and a half before the university notified the campus of the disciplinary actions, the local fraternity’s Facebook and Twitter pages posted the message “We’re back!” along with an image of a dancing Carlton Banks, a character on the 1990s television sitcom the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Contact Vanessa McCray at: vmccray@theblade.com or 419-724-6065, or on Twitter @vanmccray.

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