Racism, hazing raises questions about student code of conduct, administration criticized

Reisa Van Hook, mother of Arluan Van Hook, waits with students gathered in support for her son to finish his meeting with university administration.

It has been about a month and a half since sophomore construction major Arluan Van Hook initially filed a report against the Kappa Sigma fraternity on campus. Van Hook said the group used homophobic and racist slurs against him and engaged in hazing.

Status of the Investigation

There are two separate investigations of the incident according to Chancellor Randy Pembrook. Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Jeffrey Waple and his staff are investigating the hazing, and the Office of Equal Opportunity, ACCESS and Title IX Coordination is investigating the racist and homophobic slurs.

Waple said the Student Affairs investigation should be finished very soon.

“I believe the hazing investigation will be done [this] week at some point. I’m not sure when the racial slur and homophobic slur investigation will be done, but I’m hoping that’s [this] week too,” Waple said. “And then hopefully, whatever the resolution is, we have it before we leave for finals, that would be my goal.”

Waple said he believes his portion of the investigation went quickly.

“Actually, a month to interview all those folks is quick. Because there’s a lot

more going on, institutionally. But, we’ve taken this very seriously from the beginning,” Waple said. “I think that’s one of the frustrating things for people who are not familiar with this due process, and that’s the nature of the beast. We have information that has been shared; we’re trying to verify the details, the accuracy of that information, and that takes time.”

In Section IV of SIUE’s Code of Student Rights and Conduct, specific rules are outlined regarding the process when charges are brought up against a student for breaking its rules.

The Van Hook family believes the investigation is being slowed and that it should have concluded due to the 5-20 day rule outlined in the Student Code of Conduct. Waple said this is not the case because no one has been charged.

“So, when a student or student organization is charged, ... then the whole conduct process that’s in the code starts to take place. And then we stick to that,” Waple said. “It’s 20 days after a student or student organization is charged, but no one has been charged. We are still in the investigation stage, and no one has been charged yet.”

Thursday, Nov. 18, and the University's Response

During a meeting between the Van Hook family and Vice Chancellor of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Jessica Harris on Thursday, Nov. 18, Harris said she was unaware of the investigation until recently. According to Waple, this may have been because of the Bias Incident Response Team at SIUE moving departments this year.

Pembrook agreed and said the Bias Incident Response Team could always use improvement.

“I think that’s something that we’ll be working on more in terms of how BIRT can be involved right from the beginning, regardless of circumstances. I also think that this reminds us that there’s always an importance on emphasizing training so that people think about diversity issues,” Pembrook said. “And so, we will be implementing more diversity training for faculty, staff and students.”

Waple said training for all organizations, but also specifically for organization leaders on campus, is something that he, Harris and Provost Denise Cobb are pursuing. Waple said student organization leaders requested this training.

“The peer-to-peer communication accountability is difficult. Mind you, these are student orgs, with student leaders, who are handling conversations and things that may be coming across that their members are doing or not doing,” Waple said. “It just can’t be the checkbox that you did it, and it can’t be the one off thing ... We have to make it part of our culture.”

More diversity training is something that Van Hook said would be helpful. However, Van Hook also said the university is taking credit for something he asked them to do.

“That was something that should have been happening already,” Van Hook said. “Even now the institution is making it as if they’re the ones who requested that/implemented that, but that is not the case. That is one of the things that I requested.”

Pembrook said he was off campus on Thursday when Van Hook and his parents met with Harris, but, since then, there has been a meeting between himself, the Van Hook family, Harris and Senior SIU System Counsel Phyleccia Cole. Pembrook also said he was happy to be at that meeting.

“I think any time you have a chance to communicate in a situation like this, it’s good,” Pembrook said. “I think I have a better understanding based on the conversation. We had a chance to talk about some of the action steps that they would like to see SIUE implement in the future to try to create an equitable and anti-racist learning environment. ... we’re going to continue to think through the things that we talked about and probably talk again in the future.”

Friday, Nov. 19, The Campus Constituency Statement

A constituency of organizations on campus released a statement through The Alestle on Friday, Nov. 19. The statement called for the university to create on-campus resources for people who file claims from the BIRT, a minimum of annual reports to the public from the BIRT and called on Student Affairs to diversify its staff.

The statement was signed by the Black Faculty and Staff Association, the Faculty Senate, Student Government, the Graduate Council, the Faculty Association, the Non-Tenure Track Faculty Association, the Professional Staff Association and Safe Zone.

Waple said diversifying Student Affairs is something that he wants to do.

“We’re always looking to do that ... Our division had a diverse array of programs and services ... About a year ago, that included [the Center for Student Diversity and Inclusion], which is now the Hub, [the office of Student Opportunities and Resources] and ACCESS. To make better alignment to support students, those three units moved to [Equity, Diversity and Inclusion],” Waple said.

According to Waple, Student Affairs is looking for someone to work for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.

“We are developing and securing funding for that position, and we’re conducting a lot of searches right now. So, we’ll see how those searches pan out. I’ve not seen the finalists for some positions, but we will take a peek at that,” Waple said.

Waple said there are several aspects to diversity training in Student Affairs, and he’s always open to adding more.

“We did some EDI training at our mini conference in July. Dining Services had training from Impact Academy in August. And we are looking at similar training in the Kimmel’s Student Involvement Center, probably in early spring,” Waple said. “But, as a division, we will continue to work with Dr. Harris and her division on developing departmental-specific, individual and group training on those issues that were mentioned in the [campus constituency’s statement].”

Criticisms of University's Response

The Van Hook family said they believe the investigation was delayed due to the race of the students involved. Van Hook’s mother said she initially requested the cease and desist and believes it should have been done immediately upon receiving the report on Oct. 17.

Waple said a no contact order between Van Hook and the fraternity members as well as the cease and desist were enacted after he met with the family the following day.

“I mean, we suspended the chapter. They can’t operate. They can’t do anything, since we put them on cease and desist,” Waple said. “So we did take action against the group quickly. We did put no contact orders in between Mr. Van Hook and all its members that day.”

Van Hook said the university offered to move him from Bluff, where he is an RA, to Cougar Village, but members of the same fraternity that harassed him live there as well.

The family’s attorney Mike Pendergast said the school should offer Van Hook compensated off campus housing, and allow him to keep his RA tuition waiver since the harassment has affected his ability to fulfill his duties.

“They should find him an apartment off campus, away from the people who have been tormenting him and allow him to live there and attend classes here,” Pendergast said. “And make sure that he doesn’t suffer financial problems because now he’s no longer an RA. The least you can do is not take a young man like this and let him twist in the wind.”

Van Hook said he has been questioned during the investigation about his usage of his Cougar Card on campus for building entry and usage of his meal plan among other topics. He said he lets his girlfriend use his meal plan on campus and investigators requested her name because they “may need to talk to her,” which he declined to give. He believes the questioning he has received is unfair.

The Van Hook family said they are concerned that a BIRT email did not go out until after their story appeared on KSDK and The Grio, a publication created by and for the Black community, and said the university was trying to hide the situation. Waple said an email wasn’t sent out due to Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and the active investigation. However, in past cases BIRT emails have gone out within 48 hours of the incident.

Van Hook’s parents also said they felt disrespected due to Waple referring to them by first name rather than Mr. and Mrs. Van Hook. They believe the investigation hasn’t been taken seriously.

"I would like to see accountability"

Van Hook said he was hopeful the institution will do what’s right. And, according to him, doing what’s right means holding people accountable — both the offenders and those who Van Hook feel slowed down the investigation.

“I would like to see accountability. And, furthermore, I would like to see that Jeffrey Waple is no longer in such an important position,” Van Hook said. “Considering he does not have the students’ best interest. He has what’s best for him and what’s best for those under him.”

Waple said he was proud of Van Hook for bringing the injustices he faced to SIUE’s attention.

“It takes a brave soul to call out injustices when they see it. And I’ve said that to Mr. Van Hook on a few occasions ... It takes a lot of personal perseverance to call out your peers when you see behavior that’s not acceptable, and we’ve commended him for it. And I’ve commended him for it,” Waple said. “We are working to create an equitable and anti-racist environment, and we understand that that’s a process, that we’re still in that process, as an institution and as a society.”

Pembrook said he was sorry the incident against Van Hook happened.

“I’m just sorry that Arluan and his family have experienced things that have been painful for them,” Pembrook said.

The Alestle will continue to follow this story as it develops.

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