Return of ISU frat controversial

Wikimedia CommonsGen. Lee: This photo by Julian Vannerson shows Robert E. Lee in 1864.

Efforts to re-establish the Kappa Alpha Order fraternity at Indiana State University have created controversy and strong objection from the ISU Faculty Senate, which passed a resolution in opposition last month.

The resolution states the fraternity “looks to Robert E. Lee for spiritual guidance,” and the senate does not believe “his legacy should be exalted on our campus.”

It says Lee was a slave owner and general in the rebellion against the U.S. and “allowed and inflicted cruelty on African-Americans even beyond that practiced by other supporters of the brutal institution of slavery.”

Lee’s actions “stand in direct contradiction of ISU’s values of diversity and inclusion,” the resolution says.

In response, a statement from the fraternity national office says Kappa Alpha “does not claim Lee for any reason listed in the resolution. KA does not deify Lee nor claim he was a perfect man.

“In spite of his devastating personal loss, he became what is now referred to as a servant leader, trying to make his nation better than it was and making sacrifices to do so. He strove to learn, to evolve, to change and to lead others knowing that excellence in all things was a worthy goal, never fully achieved.”

The relationship is “constrained by history to his [Lee’s] time as president of Washington College when we were founded.”

The response was provided by Jesse Lyons, assistant executive director for advancement for Kappa Alpha

The statement says the Faculty Senate “has mischaracterized this relationship and is infringing upon the Constitutional freedoms of its own students to associate, while rebuffing multiple attempts to have an open and honest dialogue about their concerns and about how KA can bring value and diversity to campus,” Lyons argues.

The ISU chapter was suspended in 2017 due to failure to meet fraternity expectations in academics, membership, finance and education, the KA statement said.

“A return agreement with the university, for fall 2020, was confirmed at that time,” Lyons said in the statement.

Since the suspension, and continuing last year, “KA has been in positive discussions with several members of the administration about all aspects of the return,” Lyons wrote. It has offered to meet virtually or in person with any member of the university community with questions or concerns.

The fraternity is “actively recruiting, Lyons stated, and that effort “continues to be well received by the students.”

ISU responded to the controversy with its own statement.

The university “is aware that many members of the campus community strongly oppose the Kappa Alpha Order’s re-establishment as an ISU student organization. We recognize that the Kappa Alpha Order has an undeniable historical connection to segregation and racism.”

ISU’s regulation of student activities must be viewpoint neutral, but student organizations may not discriminate against any individual or group, according to the statement provided by Mark Alesia, ISU’s director of communication.

The university also is a public institution “that must adhere to our nation’s constitutional First Amendment protections of freedom of speech and association. That is the law, with narrow exceptions,” the university’s statement said.

Indiana State “will continue to promote free speech and encourage respectful dialogue. Offensive speech should be met with more speech and robust debate, not blunt censorship. Otherwise, we risk the undemocratic practice of a single authority determining what is acceptable speech and what is not,” the ISU statement said. “We will continue our institutional commitment to diversity, inclusiveness, equity, and social justice.”

Lyons said the Kappa Alpha chapter at ISU has been diverse, and ongoing recruitment efforts also seek diversity. Kappa Alpha national has a staff member in charge of diversity, equity and inclusion, Lyons said.

Kandace Hinton, an ISU professor who serves on the Faculty Senate, raised the issue at a meeting in January.

She said she voiced those concerns because of the current environment and climate nationally.

“The notion of white supremacy has raised its ugly head in an extremely visible way,” Hinton said. She said she believes that Kappa Alpha Order, because of its history and association with Robert E. Lee as well as the practices of some members, “would not be conducive to facilitating a campus of peace and justice.”

Liz Brown, Faculty Senate chairwoman, said when Hinton brought up the issue in January, “Most of us had no idea what it was about,” but they did their research.

“Their fraternity basically hero-worships Robert E. Lee; he is their spiritual leader. That just seems really not something that we want to have at ISU,” Brown said. “We know the history. We know what he [Lee] did. He doesn’t have a good record — traitor to the U.S., a slave-owner who didn’t treat slaves well.”

She added, “It just seems inappropriate to have that fraternity here. We know there is nothing legally we can do to prevent them from returning, and we’re not trying to do that.”

The intent is to make people aware and to discourage the fraternity from re-establishing on campus. “That is within our purview as faculty,” Brown said.

The resolution was approved by three Faculty Senate committees and the full group on Feb. 18 by a vote of 29-2.

The fraternity also disagrees with ISU’s “narrow characterization — one that you could apply to our nation, many colleges and universities and almost any institution of a certain age, when only taken from a certain point of view.”

The fraternity acknowledges “all sides of our history” but emphasizes positive progress, most recently that it is one of the only national fraternities with a full-time staff member leading diversity, equity and inclusion education for members, according to Lyons.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at 812-231-4235 or at Follow Sue on Twitter @TribStarSue.

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