Amid spate of fraternity investigations, feds indict Georgia man for noose at Ole Miss

Lisa Neff, Staff writer

The federal government indicted a Georgia man on one count of conspiracy to violate civil rights and one count of using a threat of force to intimidate African-American students at the University of Mississippi.

Graeme Phillip Harris was enrolled in classes on the Jackson, Mississippi, campus in February 2014, when the noose and a flag bearing the Confederate battle emblem were found on a statue honoring James Meredith, the student who integrated the school in 1962.

University officials turned the case over to the Justice Department after the local district attorney declined to prosecute, saying no state laws were violated.

“This shameful and ignorant act is an insult to all Americans and a violation of our most strongly held values,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder stated in a recent news release.

He said, “No one should ever be made to feel threatened or intimidated because of what they look like or who they are. By taking appropriate action to hold wrongdoers accountable, the Department of Justice is sending a clear message that flagrant infringements of our historic civil rights will not go unnoticed or unpunished.”

The Justice Department announced the indictment in late March, when several investigations were underway on other campuses over alleged sexual harassment, abuse, racist and sexist chants, and violent hazings.

This spring, the University of Mary Washington in Virginia suspended its men’s rugby team for violating the school’s code of conduct for club sports. An audio recording captured team members chanting a song with sexually explicit, derogatory and violent language.

The University of Oklahoma disbanded a Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter after a video revealed fraternity members taking part in a chant that included references to lynching, a racial slur and a vow never to induct a black member.

The chant was part of the pledge process, according to school officials, who said punishment for fraternity members included expulsion, community service and sensitivity training.

At Penn State University in State College, Pennsylvania, local authorities are investigating an invitation-only Facebook page hosted by Kappa Delta Rho that contained nude and seminude photos of women, including some who were either sleeping or passed out. The university suspended the fraternity for a year and police are looking into possible criminal charges, including invasion of privacy.

In late March at the University of Maryland-College Park, a member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity was suspended after sending other fraternity members an email containing racial slurs and sexually aggressive language.

At North Carolina State University, a chapter of the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity recently was suspended after the discovery of a notebook containing sexist and racist comments. 

Another NCSU frat, Alpha Tau Omega, was suspended in March after drug paraphernalia was seized in the execution of a search warrant related to a sexual assault allegation.

University chancellor Randy Woodson, in a statement to the press, said, “The poor behaviors we’ve seen recently by a few in no way represent the strong character and values of our larger student body.”

Meanwhile, hazings that occurred last fall resulted in recent sanctions against the Acacia fraternity at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. The Advocate newspaper reported that pledges of the now-dissolved chapter were required to stand in hot steam, prohibited from eating the week of initiation and required to participate in activities that interfered with “academic and psychological well-being.”

And, at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, the fraternity that partly inspired “Animal House” is now accused of branding pledges.

Gawker first reported the story, saying the incidents took place last fall, when the chapter was under suspension over a party.