University of Chicago responds to racial incident involving mail delivery at a fraternity

Update: This letter to the editor, written by Eleanor Daugherty, Assistant Vice President for Student Life and Associate Dean of the College at the University of Chicago, was published in the Chicago Sun-Times on June 14The Sun-Times also ran this clarification on June 14: "The headline on Mary Mitchell's column in Thursday's paper should have made clear that the racist prank described in the column did not originate from the University of Chicago's Phi Delta Theta fraternity. The incident is under investigation."

Mary Mitchell’s June 13 Chicago Sun-Times column, ‘U. of C. frat’s racist prank not funny,’ failed to include a response from the University of Chicago, which we provided before her deadline. The column and its headline are misleading, especially in the unsupported claim that University of Chicago students carried out this extremely offensive act, and the false implication that the University did not respond. Here is the response we provided Ms. Mitchell:

The United States Postal Inspection Service contacted the University on May 31, 2013 about a delivery of offensive packages to the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. The University of Chicago Police Department cooperated fully with the federal investigation; the Chicago Police Department and the University’s Office of Campus and Student Life also were notified.

I sought a meeting with members of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity; the students indicated that they did not know who had sent the packages, and we had no evidence pointing to individuals who might be responsible. As of our last contact this week with the USPIS, they said they have no suspects and have determined the matter to be non-criminal in nature. If we receive additional information on potential suspects, the University will continue to cooperate with federal authorities, and we will begin disciplinary processes if students were responsible.

The University of Chicago considers this a grave and deplorable incident that offends our community’s core values. Our institution has responded on many levels, including full cooperation with federal authorities in their investigation. We will continue to engage our students in education on diversity issues more broadly, and on why incidents such as this one are unacceptable.

Our commitments to diversity and respectful dialogue and behavior are part of the University of Chicago’s expectations for our community. We are committed to fostering a climate that respects diversity in all forms, including race, gender identity, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, or other aspects of identity. Giving voice to people of all backgrounds and viewpoints is vital to our University.

The U.S. Postal carrier in this case, Mr. Iran Becton, was the victim of a hateful act. Whether or not one of our students was responsible, we will raise awareness in our community that this sort of disrespect goes against everything we stand for. Teaching that is not limited to one incident – it’s an ongoing responsibility.

As part of our ongoing commitment to values of respect and free expression, this spring we launched a new, campus-wide diversity awareness campaign called “RISE – Reflect. Intervene. Speak. Engage.” We will put a focus on how our students' privileges in life give them an added responsibility to approach others with respect and decency. As part of RISE, we will hold campus events throughout the year to explore issues related to diversity and respect. We will also continue to hold conversations with fraternity members about this specific incident when students return in the fall. Fraternities and sororities are not registered student organizations at the University of Chicago, but we engage with their students, who have the same rights and responsibilities as other members of our community.