Penn’s chapter of Sigma Nu fraternity has been rattled in recent days by allegations of racist actions toward a fraternity member.
Late Thursday night, College sophomore Victor Arellano, who is of Mexican-American descent, covered the LOVE statue in flyers describing what he viewed as racist treatment from the fraternity’s executive board.
The flyers, titled “But We’re Not a Racist Frat, Right?” compared Arellano’s experience to the alleged treatment of a white brother by the executive board.
According to the flyer, Arellano retaliated against another brother after he was assaulted and called an “affirmative action kid” and “hood kid.” He was disciplined by the fraternity the next day and required to attend Counseling and Psychological Services sessions to manage his “anger issues.” The brother who allegedly fought with Arellano declined to comment.
Meanwhile, the flyer said, the white brother, who is a former Daily Pennsylvanian staff member, separately assaulted two fraternity members of color because they voiced concerns about his “ability to be pledge master.” He was allegedly disciplined for the incidents weeks after they occurred and was restricted from two fraternity events without mention of “anger issues,” the flyer said.
The white fraternity member mentioned in the flyer, who is not named in this article because he has not been formally accused of a crime, declined to comment beyond his fraternity brothers’ statements. Both fraternity members he allegedly fought declined to comment.
Feeling unable to air his grievances through the fraternity’s internal disciplinary system, Arellano said he created and posted the flyers as a way to call attention to his own treatment as well as to broader issues of race on Penn’s campus.
“The purpose of the flyers was to highlight some of my perceived racial undertones in the way race played into some of the events I witnessed over the course of this semester, specifically about my fraternity’s judicial processes,” Arellano said in a statement to the DP. “[Racism] does still occur on our campus; I am someone who has faced and continues to witness open discrimination since I got here.”
Arellano and Engineering junior William Archer, the fraternity’s “Eminent Commander” — effectively the group’s president — delivered their statements together in person at the Sigma Nu chapter house on Walnut Street near 39th Street. Neither of them would answer any questions beyond their statements.
Archer acknowledged there was miscommunication between Arellano and the fraternity’s executive board.
“Unfortunately, we were not aware of the thoughts Victor had at the time to talk about his perceived racial biases regarding the two judicial hearings our Fraternity conducted this past semester,” Archer said in his statement. “I, as Commander, failed to provide transparent statements to both the overall Chapter, as well as the individuals subject to the judicial proceedings. I did not explain the problems my executive board faced in organizing the hearings.”
Arellano suggested he misinterpreted some of his fraternity brothers' actions as well.
"I will admit, that the way I perceived the following events centered around race, but there was more to the story than I first understood," his statement said. "There were large points of miscommunication for the discrepancy in judicial proceedings and punishments within my fraternity that were not made clear by our executive board which is why I saw these differences as a form of institutionalized racial discrimination towards me, which was what ultimately pushed me to put out these flyers."
A day after the flyers were posted, Archer sent an email to the chapter calling for an emergency meeting that evening, according to a source familiar with the situation.
The meeting, which involved the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, was nearly twice the length of a typical chapter meeting and included lengthy and emotionally intense discussion, with some brothers in open disagreement, according to the source.
Archer, noting that one-third of Sigma Nu’s members identify as people of color, said the fraternity has met multiple times to discuss the flyer as well as racial prejudices faced by its members.
“We hope that Victor’s letter sparks a conversation for other student organizations on Penn’s campus, as it has done for our own,” Archer’s statement said.
Multiple fraternity members not directly involved in the incidents also declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comment.
OFSL Director Eddie Banks-Crosson declined an interview request, saying he was “back to back” busy with commitments on Wednesday, but provided a statement.
"OFSL works closely with chapters, chapter leadership, and individual members to advise, mediate disputes, and seek resolutions to concerns about group dynamics,” the statement read. “We are encouraged when students come together to listen to each other and address issues arising in any chapter, since Greek life is a learning experience for all members."
Outgoing Interfraternity Council President and Wharton senior David Moore declined to comment.
Arellano’s complaint comes amid heightened tension surrounding fraternities and race following other incidents, including Phi Delta Theta’s controversial holiday photo depicting a black female sex doll and the Vietnamese Students' Association’s accusation that members of the off-campus organization OZ committed a race-motivated hate crime.
Campus dialogue about race relations has been especially tense since freshman students of color were unwillingly added to a GroupMe chat filled with racist language and images in the days following the presidential election.
The source close to Sigma Nu said the chapter has recently been working to make itself a more inclusive chapter — particularly after leaked emails from OZ sparked increased scrutiny of Greek-affiliated groups’ treatment of women.
Archer and College junior Conrad Mascarenhas, another Sigma Nu member, recently helped co-found the Greek Diversity and Inclusion Board, a student panel that aims to make Penn's Greek community more inclusive.
"In light of recent events, we are working together with student groups to facilitate much needed conversations about race and identity on campus," Mascarenhas said in a statement.
Arellano said he is grateful that the flyers have prompted a more open discussion of racial tensions in the Greek community and on campus.
“I want to say that I am really proud of how my fraternity has been handling the situation and has been receptive to my flyers,” his statement read, “and have now began what I think is missing on campus, which is a real and open dialogue on racial bias within our social institutions.”
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