By Leah Brennan and Christine Condon
Senior staff writers
Almost a year after a noose was found in the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity chapter house’s kitchen, a university official said the case is closed.
After University Police referred an individual to campus officials in August for disciplinary review, university spokesperson Katie Lawson did not say when the case was closed or whether the individual received punishment from the university.
“Simply put, no arrest was made because placing a noose is not considered a crime in the State of Maryland,” Lawson wrote in an email on Friday. “However, an individual was referred in the university for disciplinary action. University procedures were followed, and the case is now closed.”
University administrators have declined to provide details on the case’s outcome throughout the year, citing privacy concerns, but some students say the school should prioritize transparency.
This university has published case outcome information for other matters, such as non-specific sexual misconduct investigations, which are included in the Office of Civil Rights and Sexual Misconduct’s annual report. Mathew Shepard, a coordinator in the Office of Student Conduct, wrote in an email that the office can’t comment on specific cases.
University Police spent more than 600 hours investigating the case. They interviewed more than 60 people, and reviewed nearby video footage and swipe card access records. University President Wallace Loh said it was “a full-fledged investigation with lots and lots of interviews, not just with people within the fraternity.”
Rashawn Ray, a sociology professor and a member of the university’s Joint President/Senate Inclusion and Respect Task Force, which handles diversity issues, wrote in an email that it is “always a difficult struggle to balance transparency with individual privacy, particularly to protect the privacy of students,” and he thinks “UMD does a good of aiming to balance both.”
“A non-public announcement [about the case’s outcome] should not be interpreted as non-action or a lack of transparency,” Ray wrote.
Students expressed mixed reactions about the investigation verdict. Emily Morgan, a junior biology major, said the case’s resolution is “not what [she] would’ve expected,” and “[she] thought it would’ve been more serious, and we would’ve known more about it.” But Nnaemeka Nwokorie, a senior chemistry major, said “if it’s not illegal, [he] wouldn’t expect any legal action.”
Regardless of the outcome, Trey Huff, vice president of this university’s NAACP chapter, said campus officials should announce the case’s conclusion.
“People are less worried about who did it,” said Huff, a senior biochemistry major. “They’re more worried about what’s going to happen to the person who did it.”
Some students said that not hearing the outcome of a case can make them feel unsafe. Sarah Ahmed, a junior anthropology major who identifies as Pakistani American, said “being a person of color, it just makes me feel like the administration doesn’t really care at all.”
“What kind of precedent does this set for future incidents like this, where we just don’t know how it was resolved?” Ahmed said. “So, who’s to say that they won’t do it again?”
Bobby Ekwunazu, a junior information science major, said this incident, on top of the killing of 2nd Lt. Richard Collins, a black Bowie State University student who was stabbed on this campus in May, contributes to him feeling unsafe on the campus.
“It’d definitely help a lot of people if they found out [they] got appropriately punished,” he said.
As a black student, Huff said the events surrounding the noose and a lack of disclosure of the case’s result build upon already negative feelings from people of color about predominantly white institutions.
“It’s just reinforcing people thoughts on the racial climate at PWIs,” Huff said. “Coming on this campus as a black student, you already feel like you have to watch yourself. Stuff happening like the noose, it kind of just confirms those feelings.”