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EMU students protest fraternities amid sexual assault lawsuit

Hani Barghouthi
The Detroit News

Ypsilanti — Greek life at Eastern Michigan University took center stage Tuesday afternoon when dozens of students marched from one fraternity house to the next, protesting what they said is the fraternities' complicity in rape culture on and near campus. 

The students' targeted fraternities that have been the subject of scrutiny in recent months for allegedly allowing sexual assault to go unchecked on their property, Delta Tau Delta, Alpha Sigma Phi and Theta Chi. Theta Chi is not under review. 

"This whole protest is to give the student body a voice and to show these fraternities that we will hold them accountable no matter what," said Lynn Green, 18, who organized the protest along with the Sexual Assault and Rape Awareness group at EMU.

Dozens of students march past the Delta Tau Delta and two other fraternities Tuesday at Eastern Michigan University that have been the subject of scrutiny for allegedly allowing sexual assault to go unchecked.

Universities in Michigan and across the United States have seen an uptick in campus protests against sexual misconduct and responses to it, with sexual assault victims and supporters picketing schools in at least seven states according to the Associated Press.

They have been triggered in part by high-profile cases of campus sexual abuse, including that of former Michigan State University doctor Larry Nassar and former University of Michigan doctor Robert Anderson. 

Green said the protesters wanted Delta Tau Delta to "accept accountability" and for Alpha Sigma Phi to be disbanded.

Attorneys for the national fraternity have argued that most of the claims occurred more than three years ago, so they are barred by the statute of limitations.

The national office of Alpha Sigma Phi did not immediately return requests for comment late 

Students met on campus then marched to the Delta Tau Delta house, followed by Alpha Sigma Phi , Theta Chi and finally an impromptu stop outside Sigma Kappa, a sorority which protesters said had a close relationship with the fraternities.  

Students then returned to EMU, and attendees were given a chance to tell their stories of sexual assault that happened on and off campus. 

"I'm a student here, and I want to feel safe, and I want to feel protected by my university," said Green. "And I do not want people like that on my campus."

The protest was held in response to Delta Tau Delta filing a motion on Oct. 12 to be dismissed from a March lawsuit filed by 23 women and one man against EMU, its board of regents and its Police Department, saying most alleged assaults had passed the three-year statute of limitations.

"(Delta Tau Delta) have proven time and time again that they are trying to escape accountability," said Green. 

The plaintiffs claim in their suit that between 2014 and 2020, the university "turned a blind eye to the individuals who made credible reports of sexual assaults."

The university denied accusations on Oct. 7 that it failed to protect the students, filing a response to the lawsuit that rejected most claims the plaintiffs made. 

The protesters also gathered in response to EMU's Oct. 12 announcement that Alpha Sigma Phi was disassociating from the university, meaning it would no longer be recognized as a student organizationor have to follow university regulations or participate in a university review of its policies and practices. 

Alpha Sigma Phi officials have said they were willing to participate but EMU failed to address member concerns about the process, and the fraternity was concerned about a "kangaroo court." 

"The matters that students are concerned about are serious," said Walter Kraft, vice president of Communications at EMU. "Students speak out, protest and take action because they want action and change.  Our administration advocates for students to voice their concerns on critical issues that impact them."

Members of the faculty also showed up to support the students. Professor Christine Neufeld of the English Department said she came out of concern for the students, and during the march walked up to each house they picketed to hang up flyers that said "believe survivors" and listed resources for students who had been assaulted. 

Protest organizer and EMU student Lynn Green, left, of Brighton talks with others before they march in front of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity house and others on Tuesday.

"I think that we need to listen to what they have to say and address it seriously," she said of the students. "I want them to have the say about what happens to these fraternities." 

One of the youngest students Neufeld referred to was perhaps also the loudest.

Hannah Berberoglu, 16, is a high school junior who attends early college classes at EMU. She helped organize the protest and led most of the chants outside the fraternity houses, and said what she saw as the university's attempts to "brush aside" these accusations angered her. 

"I'm here today to show (the fraternities) that we're watching them. If EMU isn't going to hold you accountable, we will and we're not just going to cover it up," she said. "We're not going to ignore it. We're not going to stop until they're punished for their actions."