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Suspended University of Iowa fraternity cites lease dispute for ‘less than truthful’ allegations

IOWA CITY — Despite an appeal from a recently-suspended University of Iowa fraternity accused of high-risk hazing involving alcohol abuse and harassment, UI administrators upheld the decision, citing the “dangerous, potentially life-threatening, and overall heinous nature of the violations.”

In appealing its suspension through Dec. 13, 2024 — followed by two concurrent semesters of disciplinary probation — members of the Iowa Acacia Fraternity accused a UI investigator of exercising biased discretion based on erroneous facts resulting in “unduly harsh” punishment.

But UI Associate Dean of Students William Nelson rejected those assertions and arguments.

“It is my opinion that the discretion exercised by the investigator was reasonable and justified based on my review of the entirety of all of the evidence, testimony, and documentation in this case,” he wrote in his decision on the Acacia appeal.

“I have no reason to believe the findings of facts in the case are erroneous,” Nelson wrote. “Given the dangerous, potentially life-threatening, and overall heinous nature of the violations, committed individually or collectively, the sanctions are completely appropriate and commensurate with the violations.”

The UI chapter — re-founded on campus in 2015 — was sanctioned for hazing, alcohol, property, and other violations after a recent investigation revealed fraternity members in fall 2019 and at the start of the 2020 spring semester harassed new recruits and put them in dangerous situations, including ones involving alcohol.

“All new members were berated and called demeaning and misogynistic names at various times during Initiation Week,” according to a UI investigative report provided to The Gazette following a public records request.

But Acacia’s appeal argued a UI investigator “showed unwarranted favorable biases toward the reporting parties and made statements that are not supported by the evidence gathered.” It also accused those who reported the fraternity of having ulterior motives.

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“The original report was not made of good-faith and instead was used solely to help their lease dispute,” according to the Acacia appeal.

Specifically, fraternity defenders said former members who reported hazing and alcohol violations wanted out of a $12,000 lease obligation and threatened to tell on the chapter if it didn’t release them.

“Investigators glossed over the reporting party’s incentives to not be truthful in their report; their perception that reporting what they planned to report would exonerate them from a lease obligation of $12,000,” according to the appeal. “This perspective by members of the reporting parties is clearly an incentive for being (potentially) less than truthful in the reporting party’s interviews.”

The concerned students could have anonymously reported to a chapter adviser but “neglected to mention any concern for a year-plus and instead only went to the university when the lease dispute arose.”

“Throughout the lease dispute, members of the reporting parties made active threats via online communication platforms to report the Acacia Fraternity to the university unless they were fully released from their leasing obligations,” according to the appeal.

UI investigators acknowledged the lease dispute in their findings but found the reporters more credible in that they came forward despite the expectation of being “assaulted (verbally, possibly physically)” as a result.

“They kept their membership in the fraternity last year because they wanted to belong and they wanted friends,” according to UI investigators. “However, time away due to COVID-19 and classes going virtual, as well as frustration over their inability to break their lease, provided an opportunity for deep reflection about their experience(s).”

Investigators found other Iowa Acacia members and leaders less credible in that they presented occasionally-contradictory stories and at times seemed defensive, dismissive, and hesitant to answer questions.

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Acacia addressed that assertion in their appeal, accusing UI investigators of making “unnecessary and demeaning statements directed at the Acacia Fraternity.”

“Numerous members afterward stated that they felt coerced into making statements that the interviewers wanted to hear instead of stating the facts of the circumstances as they recalled them,” according to the appeal. “Members who were interviewed stated that the interviews felt more like an ‘interrogation,’ additionally, numerous stated they perceived as though they were ‘already guilty when they logged onto the Zoom meeting.’”

In summarizing their appeal, Iowa Acacia argued, “Redemption is powerful. Please don’t underestimate that. Our chapter has accepted responsibility for some of the allegations while denying the accuracy of others.”

The group reported its international fraternity “has proposed strict sanctions, which we will do everything in our power to achieve.” A spokesperson for the fraternal organization didn’t respond to The Gazette’s questions Tuesday about what those sanctions might involve.

And Iowa Acacia — while no longer listed among sanctioned fraternities on the UI Fraternity and Sorority Life webpage — maintains its website and last week advertised on its Instagram account the return of its annual holiday fundraiser for the UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital.

UI officials confirmed for The Gazette that Acacia “has lost all rights and privileges associated with being a recognized student organization at the university, including funding and access to space as an organization.”

“Loss of recognition means that they cannot participate in any Greek-life activities and are prohibited from participating in any university function as a group, including activities like Homecoming and Dance Marathon,” according to UI spokeswoman Hayley Bruce. “Individuals are free to associate however they choose, but the chapter does not currently exist in the University of Iowa community.”

The university declined to discuss, per privacy laws, discipline imposed on individual members of the chapter — which already was under sanction following previous and similar violations from 2018.

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In the group’s appeal, members asked, “What educational outcome will be achieved for the students who remain members of the chapter by suspending our recognition for four years as opposed to working with our international headquarters to educate the men who are willing to admit their missteps and earnestly work toward improvement?”

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