The Ohio University Student Union passed out a “dis-orientation” tip-sheet to new OU students during the Campus Involvement Fair last Sunday, warning students to avoid a house on Court Street because, the tip-sheet alleged, the residents there are “notorious” for drugging and raping women.
Specifically, the student activist group (which is not an official student organization and is not formally affiliated with OU) wrote the following: “DO NOT go to the ‘Blue House,’ the Acacia fraternity house located across from the BP on Court St. They are notorious for drugging their free drinks and raping girls.”
In a statement issued on Thursday, the Acacia Fraternity’s national headquarters denied that its OU chapter or its members had committed any crimes or violated the Code of Conduct at OU, in connection with the “unrecognized” OU Student Union’s allegations of raping and drugging women.
The comment about the house on the tip-sheet (which is more than 10 pages long) has sparked controversy on campus and among OU’s Greek community. One open letter from a member of the OU Greek community under the name “Danielle E.”, posted Aug. 23, is titled, “Acacia men are NOT rapists.”
The writer called the OU Student Union’s pamphlet “slanderous” (written word defamation is technically considered “libel”), defended Acacia, encouraged OUSU to apologize, and suggested that the fraternity sue the activist group.
This isn’t the first time that the “Blue House” at 59 ½ N. Court St. has faced public scrutiny. Accusations last year in November erupted online (posted originally on Yik Yak, an anonymous social media phone application) that women had been drugged and raped by men in the house.
Community activist group F**kRapeCulture at the time posted a petition on Change.Org that urged OU to ban Acacia, as some members of that fraternity lived in the house at 59 ½ N. Court St. (Some members still appear to live there this year; the rest live at Acacia’s chapter house on 36 E. State St.)
“The accusations are not new to this year,” reads the petition, which currently has more than 1,000 signatures. “The saying ‘ACACIA will rape ya’ has been around for several years and yet Ohio University officials continue to do nothing.”
F**kRapeCulture members also told The NEWS at the time that they had talked to six women who related experiences of being drugged and raped by Acacia members at off-campus parties. They have yet to come forward in any public manner – lawsuits or otherwise.
“As a former member of F**kRapeCulture, I will respect the privacy of the survivors and therefore cannot comment on any updates,” former FRC member Jessica Ensley wrote this week. “I'm happy to see student activists continuing to keep this (Acacia) a public concern and not letting it get swept under the rug.”
OU did investigate the matter after the petition went public last November, according to Martha Compton, director of OU’s office of community standards and student responsibilities, and Ina Baiye, director of the equity and civil rights compliance.
“They spoke with several students,” they wrote Tuesday. “The investigation did not lead to the organization being charged with or found in violation of university policy. Due to privacy laws, we are not able to discuss any individual student cases that may have arisen from an investigation.”
OU spokesperson Katie Quaranta also provided a statement from University Communications and Marketing that distanced the university from the OU Student Union.
“As a point of clarification, the group that calls themselves the Ohio University Student Union is not a registered student organization on campus and has no formal affiliation with the university,” she wrote.
The president and vice president of the Acacia fraternity on the OU campus declined interview requests prior to The NEWS’ Wednesday deadline; two OU Student Union members similarly declined to comment earlier this week – one of whom said that he could not provide a copy of the OUSU tip-sheet because there was no digital copy saved, and all physical copies had been given out already.
The statement from Acacia's national HQ noted that both the university and fraternity had investigated the Student Union's allegations and found no evidence of criminal or otherwise improper activity.
The statement continues, “Acadia Headquarters is in communication with the undergraduate chapter, local alumni and the university, to mitigate the harm done by the ‘OU Student Union’ in this instance.”
The statement says the fraternity “has placed the issue of campus sexual assault at the forefront of our educational programming, to promote the safety and well-being of all students in the communities in which we exist.”
No further comment will be forthcoming, the release concluded, pending further investigation.
JONATHAN PETERS, an Ohio media lawyer and a First Amendment scholar at the University of Kansas, said Monday that based on his basic knowledge of the situation, it seems as if the Acacia fraternity’s national and/or local group could possibly successfully sue OUSU for defamation for the tip-sheet statement.
However, the presence of possible victims further complicates matters, Peters wrote Tuesday, when his attention was called to The NEWS’ previous reporting about the six alleged victims FRC had talked to.
“SU's (Student Union) position would be improved if it could show it had actual contact with, or actual knowledge of, women who were drugged and/or raped,” he wrote. “And SU's position would be improved if it could show that Acacia was ‘notorious’ in that regard.
“If those things were provable and I were the attorney suing SU, I'd focus a little less on the information-gathering practices and more on the content of the statement itself: ‘They are notorious for drugging their free drinks and raping girls.’”
Peters, himself a graduate of Athens High School and OU, said that the pronoun “they” could be interpreted as all-inclusive; he said one of the big determinations in a potential defamation case is who can sue, and for what statements. In this situation, individual Acacia members would probably not be able to sue the Student Union, but the local or national chapter of the fraternity might if they could prove evidence of financial harm or “other losses.”
However, Peters said the fact that the ‘Blue House’ is not owned by the fraternity makes OUSU’s statement somewhat difficult to litigate against.
“If the statement were read as referring only to Acacia members who live in the Blue House, the pall cast on the chapter as a whole and its general membership, and on the national organization, might be mitigated,” he said. “That could make it more challenging for the chapter and national organization to prove harm.”
Peters called the situation “a surprisingly tricky set of issues!”
Acacia has not suggested any plans to file a lawsuit.