Back in August members of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity at the University of North Dakota were accused of stripping and beating an 18 year old man named Haakon Gisvold at one of their parties. The victim claimed the beating happened because he is gay.
UND President Robert Kelley was quick to pounce. In a campus wide email, Kelley acknowledged that the incident was under investigation but didn’t shy away from characterizing it as something motivated by the alleged victim’s sexual orientation.
“This incident is even more disconcerting given that it followed the recent Grand Forks celebration of LGBT Pride,” Kelley said in the email (full text).
How could Kelley say that the incident was “disconcerting” in the context of the LGBT pride event unless he had already concluded the incident was motivated by animus towards gays?
He couldn’t. And now Kelley looks really, really bad for having jumped to that conclusion because law enforcement has investigated the matter thoroughly and found that it was the alleged victim who instigated the fight and then was something less than truthful about it with police.
“Investigators with the UND Police Department and Grand Forks Police Department identified more than 150 people who may have been at or near the fraternity at the time of the alleged incident and conducted interviews which led police to determine Gisvold had not been assaulted, according to the release,” the Grand Forks Herald reports.
The paper also reports that police found no physical evidence to back up Gisvold’s claims, nor any evidence to substantiate accusations that the fraternity brothers displayed derogatory or discriminatory conduct towards gays.
The police did present evidence to prosecutors that Gisvold provided false reports to police, but charges aren’t being pursued. Which seems a little ridiculous. The Lambda Chi Alpha brothers had to live with more than a month of this hanging over their heads, with sensational news reports (I’m looking at you Valley News Live) and their university’s administration basically describing the incident as a hate crime, and now there’s no consequences for the person who brought that down on them?
That’s not justice.
And speaking of the UND administration, will President Kelley apologize to the Lambda members? He’s already come under fire from student leaders for jumping to conclusions.
“I’m disappointed by [UND] President [Robert] Kelley’s rush to convict students in the court of public opinion without allowing due process to take its course,” former UND Student Body President Nick Creamer, who is in his last year at the school, told me last month. “At this point, local authorities have not issued any sort of statement granting credibility to the allegations that have been made.”
Current President Matthew Kopp echoed those sentiments to me. “There is an active police investigation taking place as we speak and we need to wait until the full results of the investigation are available before any judgments can be appropriately made,” he said. “We live in a country where you are innocent until proven guilty, and that applies to the individuals involved in this matter as well.”
An apology would be cold comfort after what the Lambda members have been through, but at least we could wrap this sorry story up with a modicum of integrity.