Thursday, October 15, 2015

Another fraternity is falsely accused

Haakon Gisvold, who is 18 and gay, claimed that on August 29th, while he was attending a party at the Lambda Chi Alpha house at UND in Grand Forks, someone shouted anti-gay slurs, a member of the fraternity pushed him to the ground, a fight ensued, then four other men removed his clothes and choked him. Someone called police and the crowd scattered. Gisvold said he hid behind a bush in his underwear until a Good Samaritan gave him clothes. A news report shortly after the alleged incident stated: "Family members of the victim tell Valley New Live people at the frat party didn't like how he was dressed, harassed him for being gay, stripped his clothes of, and beat him up."

School President Robert Kelley sent a letter to University of North Dakota students in early September saying that although the school didn't know all of the details, he was concerned by the report. He said the incident was even more disconcerting given that it followed the city's recent gay pride celebration. "I want to be very clear: Violent behavior of this nature is not tolerated at UND," Kelley said. "Any student or student organization found to have violated the UND Code of Student Life will be subject to disciplinary action."

The fraternity was stigmatized. Some Lambda Chi members felt apprehensive about wearing the fraternity’s letters around town. There was an assumption that something happened.

Except police now say it didn't happen:
Grand Forks and UND police officers identified more than 150 people who may have been at or near the fraternity at the time of the alleged incident. Detectives conducted interviews that led police to determine Gisvold had not been assaulted, according to the release.

A police report obtained by the Herald summarizes detectives’ findings and says multiple witnesses, including sober members of the fraternity and one of Gisvold’s friends, told police no assault had occurred as Gisvold described it.

"He was not held down by four people, he wasn't robbed, his property wasn't taken, he wasn't beaten with a belt, and he was (not) assaulted,” reads the police report.

Instead, police say Gisvold instigated a fight.

Witnesses told police Gisvold and another person, whose name was redacted from the report, got into a verbal argument over why Gisvold had just been kicked out of the fraternity, according to the police summary. The argument led to “shoving,” and witnesses alleged Gisvold ultimately grabbed the unidentified person by the hair and punched him in the head, according to the police summary.

Gisvold initially admitted to the Herald he fought a person outside the fraternity after that person pushed him.

But witnesses told police Gisvold was not subsequently held down and stripped of his clothes, but rather that he took off his own clothes and threw them “either in anger or out of frustration,” according to the police summary.
See here.

And again, another "privileged" fraternity is wrongly accused of harming a member of a marginalized class, the fraternity was stigmatized, and the University rushed to judgment by issuing a statement condemning "violent behavior of this nature."

The Lessons

When an allegation is lodged against someone perceived to be more privileged than the accuser, the accuser is automatically perceived to be a victim, and the accusation becomes its own conviction (the lone exception: when a beloved athlete is accused). Those of us who urge caution and insist that the facts be analyzed carefully and fairly in these situations are condemned. A few months ago, when Professor KC Johnson was speaking at a university about due process in sexual assault cases, an English professor--someone you'd think should know better--asked Prof. Johnson why he defends "the most privileged people" instead of the oppressed. Presumably the questioner meant, why does Prof. Johnson defend white males who are accused of sexual assault, as if white males are undeserving of due process merely by virtue of their birth class.

And that's really why this blog, and every similar effort, faces an uphill struggle.