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Crude 'welcome' banners lead to frat suspension at Virginia campus

Three sexually suggestive banners erected by students at a Virginia university and aimed at parents dropping off their freshman daughters were probably meant to be funny.

But the joke backfired on the implicated fraternity members whose chapter has now been suspended and who may face disciplinary action by Old Dominion University.

Parents delivering their freshmen to the campus on move-in day were greeted by three bed sheets hanging from the balcony of nearby off-campus housing allegedly rented to Sigma Nu members.

The signs proclaimed: "Rowdy and fun, hope your baby girl is ready for a good time," "Freshman Daughter Drop Off" and "Go ahead and Drop Off Mom Too."

News reports from the scene indicate parents were not amused, although a few students saw humor in the banners. In its excellent story on the incident, the Virginian-Pilot reports :

Rachael Holiday, a 19-year-old sophomore and computer science major, said she saw the banners Friday while working as a resident assistant, welcoming new students and parents to the university. Most of those parents wanted the banners taken down and said they were thinking about taking their daughters out of ODU.

Holiday said the signs made her mad and that she didn't blame the parents.

"If I had a kid here, I'd turn right back around," she said.

Holiday was walking off campus with Logan Goff, also a 19-year-old sophomore, majoring in administration of justice. Goff said he saw both sides. If he were a father bringing his child to school for the first time, he'd be angry. But as a college kid, he said, he thought it was a funny joke and that people were taking it too seriously. "There are worse things," he said. "People are so touchy."

In quick order, the sheets came down and the prank was denounced by the president of Old Dominion, the national office of Sigma Nu and the university vice president.

In a Facebook message  Saturday, Old Dominion President John R. Broderick wrote:

 I am outraged about the offensive message directed toward women that was visible for a time on 43rd Street. Our students, campus community and alumni have been offended.

While we constantly educate students, faculty and staff about sexual assault and sexual harassment, this incident confirms our collective efforts are still failing to register with some. A young lady I talked to earlier today courageously described the true meaning of the hurt this caused. She thought seriously about going back home.

But she was heartened, she explained, when she saw how fellow students were reacting to this incident on social media. She realized this callous and senseless act did not reflect the Old Dominion she has come to love.

I said at my State of the University address that there is zero tolerance on this campus for sexual assault and sexual harassment. This incident will be reviewed immediately by those on campus empowered to do so. Any student found to have violated the code of conduct will be subject to disciplinary action.

In a statement Monday , Brad Beacham, Sigma Nu Fraternity executive director, said:

Sigma Nu Fraternity has suspended the activities of the Eta Chi Chapter at Old Dominion University pending completion of an investigation into offensive banners displayed from an off-campus, privately-owned property near the ODU campus last week. The Fraternity condemns the derogatory and demeaning language used on the banners. Such language has no place in our Fraternity or within any caring community, such as that of ODU. Any Fraternity member found to be responsible for this reprehensible display will be held accountable by the Fraternity. Initial reports regarding the banners indicated that no Fraternity member had involvement with the banners.

However, additional information received by the Fraternity today indicates that some chapter members may have had involvement with the banners. Upon completion of its investigation, the Fraternity will take action in accordance with its principles and code of conduct. The Fraternity will remain in close communication with ODU administrators throughout its investigation and review.

In a message this weekend, Old Dominion Vice President of Student Engagement and Enrollment Services Ellen Neufeldt said:

Messages like the ones displayed yesterday by a few students on the balcony of their private residence are not and will not be tolerated. The moment University staff became aware of these banners, they worked to have them removed. At ODU, we foster a community of respect and dignity and these messages sickened us. They are not representative of our 3,000 faculty and staff, 25,000 students and our 130,000 alumni.

Ours is a community that works actively to promote bystander intervention and takes a stand denouncing violence against women. The "It's on Us" video is just one example of ODU students' leadership on this topic.

In addition, the University ensures all students receive education on the prevention of sexual harassment and relationship violence.

Any student found to have violated the code of conduct will be subject to disciplinary action.


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.