By Phan Nguyen—Correspondent
An anonymous sexual allegation on Saturday, September 18, sparked protests against the Theta Chi brothers at the University of Massachusetts (UMass) Amherst.
Theta Chi Fraternity is a men’s collegiate fraternity with a Greek motto translated into “An Assisting Hand.” UMass adapted the chapter in 1908.
A UMass student posted on an anonymous app—Yik Yak—alleging that members of Theta Chi assaulted her at the Saturday night party.
As Theta Chi had previously been the subject of controversy for hosting parties in violation of the University’s COVID-19 protocol in February 2021, the allegation quickly gained attention and spread across the campus.
Students immediately organized the first protest on September 19. Over 300 protesters gathered outside the home of the Theta Chi brothers waving cardboard signs and chanting them “rapists”.
“Fraternity men are much more likely than non-fraternal men to engage in sexual assault,” one of the protest organizers said.
The protest soon turned violent. Protesters began throwing objects and vandalizing the building. Members of the fraternity had to call the UMass Police Department to assist in disbanding the riot.
UMass Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy released an email to the school acknowledging the Sunday protest and the online reports of sexual assault involving the fraternity the following day. But, the university could not take action against the fraternity or the perpetrator because no survivor or witness filed a complaint to the officials. Theta Chi members have also refused to comment on the incident.
“While we respect and support a survivor’s decision whether or not to report an assault or pursue sanctions, we cannot take action against alleged perpetrators, whether they be individuals or organizations, without actionable evidence,” said Subbaswamy in his email.
Hundreds of UMass members returned to Theta Chi to protest for the second time after reading the email.
Erica Marschke, a UMass junior, said students are inspired to take action because there is an increasing frustration that the administration is not seriously taking accusations by victims, including when incidents happen at fraternities.
UMass junior Gala Cares shared her freshman trauma at the fraternity house but never reported the incident because she didn’t think she’d be believed.
“He grabbed me, threw me against the wall by grabbing my hair at the scalp very hard to the point where it hurt. But I do know he was groping me. He was just grabbing me like I was thing and not a person,” Cares said.
Veronica Everett, a professor in the Social Work department, talked about her experience helping students who are survivors of sexual assault. “They don’t report because you know what happens. They don’t get listened to and if they get believed, they still don’t get justice,” Everett said.
1,000 people camped outside of the fraternity the night of the second protest. And a few days later, more than 27,000 people had signed a petition calling for the school to suspend the chapter.
On September 21, the National Theta Chi sent a letter to Subbaswamy, asking the administration to protect the fraternities members. “There is no excuse for the destructive and alarming conduct of the students who organized and participated in the riots targeting Theta Chi,” the letter said.
Raaya Alim, president of the UMass chapter of the anti-sexual assault group “It’s On Us” said the fraternity should focus on the assault instead of their property. “If they’re not going to address it, more people are going to suspect that there’s more stuff going on behind closed doors,” said Alim.
The university encourages victims or witnesses of a sexual assault to report to the Equal Opportunity Office so they can create an environment free of harrasment and discrimination.