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President Thorsett's May 8 message about fraternity conduct

Dear members of the Willamette community,

Many of you have heard about the distribution this weekend of pages from an internal Facebook group belonging to the Sigma Chi fraternity. The documents are filled with ugly and misogynistic language, crude references to other students, and violent imagery directed at staff. Perhaps in part because of how greatly the expressed culture diverges from our institutional values, it has been deeply shocking to be reminded in this way of how much remains to be done.

I want to bring you up to date on actions taken in response to this incident. First, the university's conduct processes have begun a review of the behavior of individual students relative to our conduct standards.  Second, the participation of students in leadership or employment positions is being reviewed, and has in some cases been terminated. Finally, the Sigma Chi fraternity has been suspended as a campus organization, pending outcome of a review by both Willamette's conduct system and the national Sigma Chi office into the role of the organization in the behavior of a number of its members. I understand that about a dozen members of Sigma Chi have already been suspended by the national organization, pending their formal disciplinary processes.

As important as all of these actions are, it will be more important for us to identify ways that we can continue to make institutional progress against the underlying issues exposed in this case. As an institution, we have a zero tolerance policy on harassment and sexual violence, and we must continue to work towards the elimination of cultural or social practices that promote or allow violence. As an educational institution, our main weapon in this fight is education, both in the classroom and in informal settings in the co-curriculum, and I welcome the engagement of students, faculty, and staff in strengthening our existing programs and developing new approaches.

At Willamette, we are blessed with committed faculty, well-trained and expert staff, and an outstanding student body committed to service and social justice. I have confidence that we will emerge from this week as a stronger and better institution, and I thank you for your continued support of Willamette University.

Steve Thorsett
President