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Fraternity apologizes for racial remarks

Alpha Tau Omega, an MIT fraternity, publicly apologized Monday to a hip-hop band and the MIT community for a racial remark made Friday afternoon during a rooftop party to a young black woman on the street below.

The woman, who sings with the Roots, had just been driven to Alpha Tau Omega at 405 Memorial Drive by an ATO brother who was working with the band. The band performed Friday night at Johnson Athletic Center. The president of the fraternity said he barred members of the fraternity from attending the concert.

The woman ran into the house and up to the roof, followed by a male member of the band. Words were exchanged and a scuffle ensued between fraternity members and the male band member. He was kicked but not injured in the incident. Cambridge and MIT Campus Police were called by a member of the band and the fraternity, and Campus Police quelled the disturbance.

President Charles M. Vest sent an e-mail letter to student leaders Saturday, calling it "an ugly and totally inexcusable incident."

The Dean's Office and Campus Police are continuing the investigation of the incident, which occurred at an unauthorized party where alcohol was served.

The fraternity's apology will be published Tuesday in the student newspaper, the Tech. It is addressed to "Members of the MIT Community" and states:

"We the brotherhood of Alpha Tau Omega apologize for the events that occurred on and around our house on the afternoon of Friday, April 27th. To the members of The Roots, our sincerest apologies for the incident. We acknowledge the embarassment that this incident has brought to the MIT community and are working, both among ourselves and in conjunction with the leaders of the campus community, to demonstrate that this fraternity does not promote or tolerate what happened on Friday.

"We apologize to all individuals offended by the words containing racial elements spoken from our roof. The statement in question was undeniably derisive, but it was not meant to be a personal attack. Still, as a racially diverse brotherhood on campus, the member should have known such a statement is very emotionally charged. We fully understand how the statement was construed as racially offensive. We apologize that these words from the mouth of one of our brothers could make anyone in the MIT community uncomfortable or angry.

"We have already begun taking judicial action against the members involved and are moving quickly to remove them from our membership. We express deep-seated sentiments to all in the MIT community and we look forward to doing our part to rectify this situation in a swift and fair manner."

It was signed by Erik M. Glover, president of the Beta Gamma chapter of Alpha Tau Omega.

President Vest wrote in his Saturday statement, "Yesterday an ugly and totally inexcusable incident occurred on our campus. It both angers and saddens me, and it will not be tolerated.

"Totally offensive racial epithets were reliably reported to have been shouted at visitors to our campus from the roof of the Alpha Tau Omega house on Amherst Alley. A serious incident of physical scuffling followed. Professional work by our campus police as well as intervention by others prevented this from becoming an even more damaging matter.

"Our community draws strength and joy from its diversity in many dimensions, including that of race. But mean-spirited behavior suchas that which precipitated this incident can invade our collective soul and destroy our ability to pursue our mission of learning, growth and leadership. No one at MIT, and certainly no one visiting us, should ever be subjected to such virulent and thoughtless abuse.

"Race in America remains a troubling matter, but we look to the leadership and good will of talented young men and women who are privileged to be part of great institutions like MIT to move us beyond this and improve our world. It therefore is doubly disturbing that such behavior would occur among us. We must be a place of tolerance and community.

"MIT's administrative, faculty and student governance systems will deal swiftly and fairly with those responsible for this event. But weall must move equally swiftly to pull together, to learn the lessons of this matter, and to work together in mutual respect and common purpose to live up to our potential as friends, colleagues and leaders."

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on May 2, 2001.

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