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Syracuse University fraternity suspended after 'extremely racist' video apologizes

Kent Syverud, Syracuse's chancellor, said of the video purportedly showing members of Theta Tau: "I am appalled and shaken by this."
by Erik Ortiz /  / Updated 

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An engineering fraternity at Syracuse University has apologized for its "disgraceful language" after it was suspended for videos on a private Facebook group that showed members using racial slurs and mocking certain groups of people.

Syracuse Chancellor Kent Syverud announced Wednesday that an investigation was being launched to identify the participants and determine any legal and disciplinary actions that could be taken against Theta Tau.

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The videos, Syverud said in a letter to the campus, includes "words and behaviors that are extremely racist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, sexist, and hostile to people with disabilities. I am appalled and shaken by this and deeply concerned for all members of our community."

Earlier Wednesday, Syracuse students demonstrated in front of the chancellor's building and the Theta Tau fraternity to demand the release of the videos after they were removed from Facebook.

Later, The Daily Orange, an independently run school newspaper, shared a copy of a six-minute video from a new member ceremony last month.

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In it, the brothers take part in a performance that includes one person reciting an oath: "I solemnly swear to always have hatred in my heart," he says, then referring to blacks, Hispanics and Jews in derogatory terms. He then mimics performing oral sex on another person. Participants laugh and cheer throughout.

Theta Tau updated its website Thursday to apologize for the video and explain why it was done.

The fraternity said that each semester, new members are given a chance to write a skit to roast the active brothers. One skit was meant as a parody in order to roast a brother who is a conservative Republican. A new member pretended to be a racist conservative character.

"It was a satirical sketch of an uneducated, racist, homophobic, misogynist, sexist, ableist and intolerant person. The young man playing the part of this character nor the young man being roasted do not hold any of the horrible views espoused as a part of that sketch," Theta Tau said.

The fraternity added that it has a diverse membership, but that "many bright lines were obviously crossed. The language used in this sketch is disgraceful, and it made the active brothers very uncomfortable." The group added that it would "maintain a dialogue" with fellow students.

Syverud on Thursday announced new measures as a result of the video, including a review of all Greek life policies, activities and culture, and requiring all Greek and student organization members and advisers to participate in implicit bias and inclusivity trainings.

William Fitzpatrick, the district attorney of Onondaga County, said he was asked to look into the criminality of the fraternity's actions, but "to me, it's just plain stupidity."

"I'm a graduate of Syracuse University, and I love Syracuse University, but the stupidity has me completely shocked," he said. "To put your career in jeopardy — despite probably the mindset of these kids that they'd keep it amongst yourself — it's foolish."

The school declined to release videos it received related to the incident because of the ongoing investigation. But students who protested Wednesday told NBC affiliate WSTM that they needed to be made public.

"I think we're allowed to see what they're saying. I don't think it should be withheld to protect the individuals that did it," said Syracuse junior Saumya Melwani.

Theta Tau is the fourth fraternity to be suspended this academic year at Syracuse, with the most recent one occurring this month after an investigation into hazing.

Syverud told NBC News that the latest incident shows how much more training and understanding needs to be developed in order to have a diverse campus that also feels safe and inclusive.

"So this is a wake-up call that if we care about that and want to work on it, everybody in our community has to come together to work on this right now," Syverud said.

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