A UT fraternity was recently under investigation by the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards (OSCCS) for hazing incidents which involved taking pictures specifically of Asian students.
The incident was also reported to the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life. The hazing, dubbed by some students as the “Asian Scavenger Hunt,” required new recruits to approach Asian students and ask to take a photo of them, usually under the pretense that the picture was for a class project.
While the duration of the scavenger hunt has yet to be confirmed, students such as Jonathan Thomas, senior in healthcare and community transformation in the Middle East through College Scholars, are confident that the hazing activity has been occurring for at least three years each fall semester since 2016. Thomas is one of the students who have been investigating the scavenger hunt and said that the fraternities engaging in it have switched each year.
“I can’t tell you which frat it was, but it was not Sigma Nu (this year) like we thought,” Thomas said. “So I sort of investigated a little bit more with our people that (it) seems pretty likely that (the fraternity responsible for the scavenger hunt) might have been Sigma Nu last year ... people just thought it was a continuation of that, but the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life (OFSL) checked with (Sigma Nu) this year, and they said they had nothing to do with it.”
The Daily Beacon also reached out to the OFSL and the OSCCS to confirm the identity of the fraternity initiating the scavenger hunt this year but was met with similar responses.
Maya Bian, junior in global health equity through the College Scholars program, also investigated the incidents after she was targeted her freshman year.
“When I was a first year student and it happened specifically to me and my friend in the library, my friend got really heated about it. Then we started pursuing about it because his Ignite team leader knew the Dean of Students at the time and knew someone involved in the fraternity that we were thinking it was because some students had heard them talking … and so his Ignite team leader reached out to someone in that fraternity and it seemed like it was going to be resolved there,” Bian said.
According to Thomas, while the pictures usually have been taken with consent, an Asian student recently had their picture taken without their consent.
According to Tennessee State Law, it is not illegal to photograph someone unless the photograph is taken somewhere where the individual has a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as a bathroom.
While not raising legal concerns, the incidents have raised some questions about students’ rights and their safety on campus.
“In the conversations I’ve had with students that have been affected or families that have been affected by this, that’s my primary concern is that we provide support to anyone who feels unsafe or threatened or that their sense of comfort in this university, knowing that they matter,” Kelly Phillips, director of OFSL, said.
Kelly Rubin, associate dean of students, explained the different resources students have to report bias incidents, such as the 974-HELP telephone line and an online incident reporting form at bias.utk.edu.
“There’s a team of people who serve on the bias education response team. That includes members of UTPD, the dean of students office, multicultural student life, student disability services, Office of Equity and Diversity and someone from HR,” Rubin said. “And we review all of these incidents together and talk about recommendations on how to improve education in the community, and we also offer direct support to the person who filed the incident report.”
Amanda Samsel, associate director of student conduct and community standards, explained that Student Conduct launched an investigation into the allegations but declined to comment specific details, stating that in order to keep the integrity of the case intact, as the office does not speak about ongoing cases.
Samsel said that each incident that is reported has a pre-investigation occur, after which a written notice for an educational conference is sent out briefly describing the incident that was reported and a date, time and location for the conference.
At the educational conference, the organization’s student representative can respond to the allegations and ask questions. Then the investigation takes place, which leads to a resolution.
On Friday, Phillips confirmed that at this point in the investigation, no groups have been charged or found responsible and that updates on the investigation can be found on gogreek.utk.edu on the accountability and conduct page.
“Our (OFSL) staff and our fraternity and sorority leadership works to combat hazing and bias behavior,” Phillips said. “I hope that everyone will look for opportunities to address this kind of behavior when they see it and be active bystanders to support all students.”
Depending on the findings and the organization, different resolutions may occur, but a majority of cases end with a resolution agreement where the organization accepts responsibility for the violation, accepts the recommended sanctions and waives rights to a formal hearing.
OSFL addressed the issue with all fraternities within the inter-fraternity council.
“One of the things that we have done internally is to address it directly to all, because we cannot identify specifically last week who (did it). I wrote in our ... Friday email newsblast that goes out to all of our council leaders and our presidents of all 45 organizations,” Phillips said. “But this email was directed out to the community and specifically said that if this behavior is happening in your organization it needs to stop immediately and forever. That again that is not acceptable behavior.”
Although UTK has an Anti-Hazing policy, the policy does not mention any information that pertains to those not directly involved with hazing.
“Well, it’s pretty easy to say that this is something we don’t tolerate. It’s not something that is wanted on this campus and it’s not something that should be on this campus. I mean, having students be identified and ... be subjugated to taking pictures that aren’t warranted because of their skin color, background, sexual orientation, or so on ... it’s just not something should ever happen, regardless of the reasons,” Ovi Kabir, senior in political science and president of SGA, said.
According to Thomas, the fraternity whose members were carrying out the hazing were doing so without the fraternity's knowledge and permission and will be disciplined internally. The fraternity has also reached out to Student Conduct about having diversity training.
The scavenger hunt is not an isolated to UT. In 2016, an investigation was launched into Sigma Nu’s Michigan State chapter after another student discovered a similar scavenger hunt list.
The list included a variety of different tasks for different points, including “picture with at least four Asians” with five extra points being awarded for a picture with an Asian baby, for stealing sorority house codes and for pictures of acts of public nudity.
Dalton Teel, senior in agricultural communications and chair of SGA's diversity affairs committee, said his plan is to continue to provide support to marginalized communities on campus so that every Volunteer can feel safe and that they belong.
“The SGA Diversity Affairs Committee is committed to creating, sustaining and promoting an environment that prioritizes diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives in order to establish a campus culture that values all Volunteers and enables them to succeed at UTK. We must hold ourselves accountable and ask what we’re doing to specifically uplift members of the AAPI (Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders) community, especially when they are experiencing targeted events such as this,” Teel said.