Campus News

Sigma Chi chant ‘encouraging sexual assault’ not considered violation

University says chant is protected speech, not factor in suspension or restrictions

Sigma Chi, whose fraternity house is located at 221 Langdon St., was suspended by the university Tuesday. 

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger

Students walking down Langdon Street Oct. 6 could not have heard a single catcall but instead a chorus promoting sexual assault. Sigma Chi fraternity house, located at 221 Langdon St., is reportedly the source of the explicit chant, according to documents obtained by The Daily Cardinal.

Roughly 50 members of the fraternity chanted—about an implied woman—that they would “throw her against the wall,” have sex with her as well as “her mother and sister,” then “line up 100 girls on the wall” and also have sex with them until physically unable.

Although UW-Madison spokesperson Meredith McGlone said there was “no dispute” that the chant occurred, and the committee that heard the case said it “encouraged sexual assault,” she said the decision to suspend Sigma Chi was based solely on past infractions and an alcohol-related violation during the October function.

The university announced the fraternity’s suspension Tuesday; there was no mention of the chant.

Assistant Dean Ervin Cox investigated the incident, which was originally reported to the university Oct. 17 and heard by the Committee on Student Organizations.

Cox investigated Sigma Chi for three possible violations of policies for student organizations. Only one charge against the fraternity came as a result of the chant.

The investigator met with members of the fraternity Nov. 7 to discuss these charges. At the meeting, the fraternity members present admitted to learning the lyrics before the event and then chanting the song.

The next day, fraternity members sent lyrics of the song to Cox, which were nearly identical to the lyrics quoted in the first report.

McGlone said that the charge relating to the chant was brought against the fraternity because the Student Organization Code of Conduct prohibits hazing. The CSO held a hearing Dec. 2 with some members of the fraternity to determine whether Sigma Chi was responsible for the possible hazing, as well as other alleged violations.

As noted in the decision letter, delivered to the fraternity Tuesday, the CSO found Sigma Chi responsible for two of the code violations, but not for the charge stemming from the reported chant.

The CSO determined the chanting did not constitute hazing. Therefore, the chants, which the investigator clearly said promoted sexual assault, were not a violation of any other area of the code of conduct.

“In this case, the Committee primarily considered the effect of the chant on the members of Sigma Chi and University Community as well as the reliability of the information provided regarding the allegation of alcohol being present,” the CSO said in their report.

In discussing the reliability of the evidence, the decision letter said “it was more likely than not that at least one member brought alcohol to the pre-social event while acting as a representative of Sigma Chi.”

However, information was determined to be less reliable regarding the negative impact of the chant.

“While the chant was performed voluntarily by its members, it remained unclear if any of the membership considered the song to be degrading or humiliating,” the CSO wrote in their decision. “Because the Committee had no evidence of specific adverse reaction to the chant, Sigma Chi was not found in violation of code 11.”

McGlone further explained the lack of violation for the chant, saying that “the Constitution extends broad protections to speech, including speech that may be offensive.”

Because of this, she said “the university through the Code of Conduct may prohibit specific behaviors, such as hazing, but may not prohibit speech simply because its content is offensive.”

The CSO did voice its strong disapproval of the chanting, despite the lack of technical violation.

"It is discouraging and disturbing that no member of leadership took steps to move away from the inappropriate traditions and CSO violations of the past," the CSO wrote in its letter to the chapter. "The language chanted by its membership contributed to a culture of fear and concern felt by its neighbors and the greater University community."

In a summary of his findings from the event, Cox said many other groups in Greek life sang chants like these, and that “there remains much work to be done with this population of student groups,” regarding sexual assault on campus.

Executive Director of Sigma Chi Fraternity International Headquarters Michael Church issued a statement Thursday to The Daily Cardinal in response to the suspension and chant. He said that the international fraternity is "deeply disappointed" in the UW-Madison chapter of the fraternity because of the recitation of the sexually explicit chant, which he called "disrespectful and disgusting."

"We fully support the university’s sanctions and are working quickly to implement an appropriate and impactful restorative justice process," Church said in a statement. "Sexual violence is a pervasive issue on college campuses today and Sigma Chi will continue striving to improve education and prevention through our efforts in concert with the Fraternal Health and Safety Initiative."

Two pages from the documents obtained by The Daily Cardinal were redacted to protect the identity of the individual who filed the report.

UPDATE Jan. 19, 6:15 p.m.: This article has been updated to include a response from the International Headquarters of the Sigma Chi fraternity.

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