Syracuse University has placed 16 students from the Theta Tau engineering fraternity on indefinite suspension until fall 2020 after videos surfaced showing them making racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, and ableist taunts as part of a roast.
In one video, a fraternity member pretends to fellate a beer can and says, "I solemnly swear to always have hatred in my heart for n------, s----, and most importantly the fucking k----."
To be considered for readmission, they have to stay away from the school and submit a petition demonstrating "good citizenship" during their time away. They also have to show evidence of "academic progress and/or gainful employment," complete at least 160 hours of community service, and write a 12-page research paper on diversity and inclusion.
In April, Syracuse permanently expelled the frat from campus. The frat has apologized and claimed that the videos were meant as satire, and five of the brothers have sued the university for $1 million each. One of the plaintiffs' complaints is that they are "ethnically diverse," since three of the brothers are people of color: One is a Black student, one is Indian-American, and one is from Latin America.
"Each semester our new members are given the opportunity to write and act out a skit, in order to roast the active brothers. This event was never intended to be centered around racism or hate. This year, one of these brothers is a conservative Republican, and the new members roasted him by playing the part of a racist conservative character," Theta Tau's Syracuse chapter said on its website.
FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights In Education), a nonpartisan free-speech watchdog group, condemned the university's decision.
"When a university expels students for a private roast consisting of completely protected speech, it has no business pretending that it cares about free expression," director Ari Cohn said in a statement. "Labeling this obvious satire 'harassment' makes light of the actual cases of serious harassment that colleges should be looking to combat, and wastes resources that could be used to investigate real offenses. Labeling it a 'breach of the peace' is just stupid."
Whether or not you agree, it's evident that the incident has helped blow the lid off a deeper systemic problem at the university — and on campuses nationwide. "The video itself isn’t the issue. It’s bigger than the video, bigger than this one frat — because, believe me, this is not an isolated incident at 'cuse — and it’s honestly bigger than Syracuse University," a former student told Refinery29 in April.