Joe Price: Media, Public Were Too Swift To Judge After "Hate Crime" Accusation

As President of Lambda Chi Alpha at the University of North Dakota, the fraternity that was recently vindicated after facing allegations of a brutal hate crime, it is difficult to put into words exactly what the last few weeks have been like. I’m writing this column not in search of sympathy, but out of a hope that we can prevent incidents like this from occurring in the future and spare others from the difficulty that we went through.

This past weekend, alumni and undergraduate members of Lambda Chi Alpha joined together to celebrate our 85th anniversary at UND and the 50th anniversary of our house at its current location. It provided a great opportunity to reflect on all of the great things our organization has done throughout its history—the young lives it has helped to develop, the lifelong friendships it has fostered, and the memories it has created. I’m proud of our fraternity’s history and confident that we will continue to do great things in the future.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]Having been the member that had first reached out to police on the night of the incident, I knew that the accusations were utterly false. I was confident that the investigation would clear our organization, as it ultimately did, but I still feared the repercussions that merely facing the allegations would have on the fraternity and its members.[/mks_pullquote]

I am confident that I echo the sentiments of many members of the Greek community when I say that my fraternity experiences have shaped me into the person that I am today. It helped me to develop my skills as a leader, challenged me to grow intellectually, and reinforced the values that I live by. It showed me the value of being a part of something bigger than myself and taught me the importance of giving back.

I’ve watched this fraternity transform the lives of many individuals. I’ve watched this fraternity be there for its members throughout some of the most trying, difficult periods of their lives—in the midst of academic struggles, relationship turmoil, and family tragedy, the fraternity was there to help them persevere and become stronger men. It is painful to think about how close we were to losing what generations of members have worked so hard to build, all as a result of false allegations.

I vividly remember the first moment I heard of the claims. Having been the member that had first reached out to police on the night of the incident, I knew that the accusations were utterly false. I was confident that the investigation would clear our organization, as it ultimately did, but I still feared the repercussions that merely facing the allegations would have on the fraternity and its members.

The days and weeks that followed were challenging for our brotherhood. Local media jumped on the story. Despite there being very little information available, they continued running segments and publishing articles about the incident. At best, these pieces presented an account of the incident that was slanted; at worst, they were outright defamatory. Many in the public rushed to judgement—ignoring the gaping holes in the alleged victim’s story and presuming our guilt. Commenters on social media called for swift punishment while spewing hateful rhetoric about our organization.

As could be expected, the incident had a significant impact on the morale of our members. Many avoided wearing the fraternity’s letters in public, fearing the judgement they would face from their instructors, peers, and other members of the community. In conversations with concerned family members, friends, and others that had heard about the allegations, we were constantly bombarded with questions about the incident and forced into the uncomfortable position of needing to defend both our own integrity and that of the organization.

[mks_pullquote align=”left” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]Many avoided wearing the fraternity’s letters in public, fearing the judgement they would face from their instructors, peers, and other members of the community.[/mks_pullquote]

We were briefly placed on limited operations by our International Headquarters—a standard procedure whenever allegations of this nature are made against a chapter—and prohibited from participating in a wide range of organizational activities. Amidst the constant worrying and unyielding stress caused by these allegations, members struggled to fulfill their duties as students—classes, work, exams and other obligations could not wait until after the investigation.

It is scary to think about how close this fraternity came to losing all that over a thousand men have worked for, all the memories that have been made and all of the positive things that have been accomplished over a span of eighty-five years here at the University of North Dakota. But, the most tragic loss of all, would have been the loss of opportunity for future men to experience the undeniable impact that an organization like Lambda Chi Alpha can have on his future.

All of this was put at risk due to a false and unsubstantiated allegation. With the support of alumni, the Greek community, and others, we were able to come together as a brotherhood and persevere through this challenging period. Now, we emerge with a greater understanding of both what our fraternity means to us and how damaging slanderous claims have the potential to be. It is my hope that no other organization will ever have to find out these lessons which we have been forced to learn at the hand of a false allegation.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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