Georgia Tech restricts frat; chapter denies harassing black student

Georgia Tech has placed restrictions on a fraternity with a history of disciplinary penalties, over what the university says was discriminatory behavior.

In early August, a black student at the university said three members of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity yelled racial slurs at her from windows of the fraternity house.

An investigation led to Phi Delta Theta’s sanction, termed “suspension held in abeyance,” which lasts through August 9, 2016, according to a release posted to the university’s website Wednesday afternoon. Officials with the local and national fraternity chapters released their own statements disputing the university’s finding.

Under the restrictions, the chapter may continue “recruiting new members, holding meetings to conduct chapter business and service activities,” but may not participate in Greek Week or homecoming, nor host, co-host or participate in social events on campus, with or without alcohol.

Chapter members will be required to complete specified training to get the restrictions lifted.

On Wednesday, the local chapter disputed the university’s findings and requested an independent investigation.

“We remain convinced that the allegation is false, and that no one from our fraternity was involved. There is compelling video and an abundance of other credible evidence that contradicts the claim, which remains unsupported by any corroborating evidence,” Matt Edwards, alumni association president of the Georgia chapter, said in a statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Wednesday.

“We are troubled by a disciplinary and investigative process that we believe was flawed, and we ask that the Institute be open to an impartial and independent review by a respected third party.”

The fraternity says the windows in the house where the black student claimed the racial slurs were made were locked or inaccessible, video surveillance does not show the student in front of the house, and that the dean conducting the investigation predetermined the fraternity’s guilt before the investigation began.

Georgia Tech officials declined to comment beyond the online posting.

In August, the student’s allegation set off an immediate response on social media and was reported nationally. A group of students held a silent protest outside of the fraternity house, and other black students complained of similar experiences at the university.

The fraternity’s national chapter had previously disputed the student’s claims, saying in August: “Through a preliminary investigation there is no indication that members of the Phi Delta Theta chapter at Georgia Tech were involved in such an act.”

On Wednesday, the national chapter stood by its initial findings. “While we respect the administrative process, and will honor the sanction by (Georgia Tech), our internal investigation did not find evidence of discriminatory conduct,” said Sean S. Wagner, associate executive vice president of the national organization.

Phi Delta Theta has had previous run-ins with Georgia Tech authorities, and records reviewed by the AJC show it had just come off disciplinary probation in May after an intoxicated recruit set fire to a sofa outside the fraternity house in July 2014.

In a separate incident, campus police and the Atlanta Fire Department in August 2012 had to help the brothers extinguish another blaze outside the house. An intoxicated 18-year-old at the house told police he started the fire, according to a campus police report. The incident resulted in findings of student conduct-code violations for arson and underage drinking but the campus police report noted that prosecution was declined.

Then that same month, the fraternity was put on probation for roughly five months after members were accused of etching a threatening message in wet concrete outside a rival fraternity house. The message allegedly targeted someone who had reported Phi Delta Theta for a recruitment violation over the summer, police said.

Staff writer Shannon McCaffrey contributed to this report.

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