Controversy in Kappa Sigma

A series of emails in early April on the listserv of the Kappa Sigma fraternity has sparked significant campus outrage due to content described by many students as “homophobic.”  According to Kappa Sig member Ben Halpern ‘11, four members of Kappa Sig have now chosen to deactivate from the fraternity over the exchange.

Elsewhere on campus, condemnations of the language have circulated on various other community email lists.  The incident may also prove to have broader political implications, as one of the Kappa Sig members responsible for the outrage has ties to prominent political figures with notable pro-gay and lesbian positions.

The episode began with an email from Jonathan Anderson ’11, which requested that members of the fraternity “stop sending out messages with the word fag in them.” In the message, Anderson explained, “I know it’s not meant to be derogatory against gay people, but it does bother me.” The message was followed by an email from Bert McBride ’10, which read, “Delayed April Fools?”

Soon afterward, at least three members of the fraternity issued statements of deactivation on the Kappa Sig listserv. Zack Wettstein, who started the chain of deactivations, noted in his response to McBride, “I’m ashamed to be considered your ‘brother,’ let alone associated with you at all.”

Halpern, another Kappa Sig that has deactivated, indicated that McBride had made no attempts to reach out to him to discuss the situation, stating, “I haven’t heard from Bert.” McBride did send out an apologetic email to the fraternity’s email list, stating, “Sorry about that, the intent was never to offend but to merely be humorous.”

When asked about the incident, McBride declined to comment.

Political Implications?

The episode quickly received the attention of the Inter-Fraternity Council and the University. However, the email exchange may have greater implications still. McBride, the author of the “April Fools” email, is the son of two high-profile Democratic politicians in Florida.

His father, attorney Bill McBride, ran for governor of Florida in 2002, and his mother, Alex Sink, the state’s Chief Financial Officer, is the likely Democratic nominee for governor in the 2010 election. According to the St. Petersburg Times, Sink trails the front-runner, Republican State Attorney General Bill McCollum, by just 4 points in a Quinnipiac University poll conducted April 8 to 13. The poll indicated that McCollum has failed to gain significant support from independents in the state. Differences in campaign proposals, such as those on education reform, have continued to differentiate the candidates as campaigning heats up.

Another such divergence in policy views has emerged around a Florida law that bans gays and lesbians from adopting children. At a campaign event in November 2009 with Florida’s largest gay rights group, Sink advocated for the right of homosexuals to adopt children. McCollum, on the other hand, has defended the state ban on gay adoption. As the two candidates have sought to attract independents, the issues have become increasingly important. According to the Miami Herald, “Sink’s speech at the Equality Florida fundraiser comes as she tries to chart a politically moderate path to the governor’s mansion in 2010.”

When reached on Wednesday, the Sink campaign declined to comment on her son’s remarks on the Kappa Sig listserv.

Campus Responses

Back on campus, student reactions have been overwhelmingly negative, especially within the queer community. On the Diaspora email listserv, Aria Florant remarked that the episode served as “proof that hate crimes still happen on this campus.”

On QNet, the primary LGBT campus listserv, Kyle O’Malley ’13, a staff member at the LGBT community center and Stanford Review staff writer, noted past instances of possible homophobia at Kappa Sig: “I have seen people turned away at the door of some of Sigma’s parties, simply because, in the words of one of your ‘brothers’ they ‘looked like f**s.’”

While comments were consistently critical, some saw the potential for progress. Sam King, co-chair of the Queer-Straight Alliance, noted the possible benefits of the discussion that has emerged: “If frats will respond to embarrassment, it seems as though public discussions like these are a significant way to make progress.”

According to Kappa Sigma’s grand master, Harris Brown ‘11, the fraternity has been working to deal with the results of the email exchange. “The issues raised on the email thread must be first dealt with through the appropriate channel, that being internally within our organization,” said Brown. “Throughout the past weeks, we have been working directly with the individuals involved, our organization, and the University. This process will continue until the concerns have been properly addressed.”

University officials have also begun taking steps to resolve the situation. Sally Dickson, Associate Vice Provost and Dean of Educational Resources, stated, “This matter has been brought to our attention and we are working closely with the students involved.”

According to the Vice Provost for Student Affairs website, Dickson is intricately involved in the administration of the Acts of Intolerance Protocol, which is a “mechanism for addressing situations involving a real or perceived act of intolerance.” When asked whether she foresaw the possibility of punishment handed down, Dickson said, “The protocol states that ‘engaging in constitutionally protected expressive activities will not subject a student to discipline under the Fundamental Standard.’”

Potential reputational consequences for the Kappa Sigma fraternity and political consequences for the Sink campaign, however, remain yet to be seen.

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