ALABAMA — The Auburn University chapter of Beta ThetaPi is suing its national organization and the university for violatingstudents’ free expression and freedom of association rights, guaranteedby the First and 14th Amendments.
The lawsuit names as defendants: Auburn University PresidentWilliam Walker, some university administrators and the nationalBeta Theta Pi organization. The suit also claims the universitydefamed the students by portraying them in a false light and identifyingthem as racists. The lawsuit is seeking $300 million in compensatoryand punitive damages.
The fraternity was recently disbanded by the university andthe national organization after pictures depicting some fraternitymembers dressed in blackface and costumes deemed racially offensiveby members of the campus community were posted on a Web site.The photographs were taken at the fraternity’s Halloween party.One photo showed white students wearing Afro wigs, over-sizedjewelry and T-shirts with the logo of Omega Psi Phi, a historicallyblack fraternity.
After the pictures received national attention, the chapterlost its official recognition and 10 individuals linked with thecostumes were suspended from the university.
At a Nov. 21 hearing, Lee County Circuit Judge Robert Harpergranted a request in the lawsuit for a court injunction to reinstatethe suspended students.
The university is also facing possible legal action from anotherfraternity that lost its recognition and had five members suspended.The Delta Sigma Phi chapter was punished after pictures surfacedof its Halloween party, where members wore blackface and costumessimilar to those at the Beta Theta Pi party. One publicized photoshows a student, wearing Ku Klux Klan ceremonial dress, holdinga noose around the neck of a student in blackface.
The chapter’s president, Matt Furin, said the fraternity plansto take legal action against the university for the suspensions,according to a Birmingham News article.
Photos of the Halloween fraternity parties at Auburn University are available at www.tolerance.org/news/feature/auburn.