ARKANSAS — Approximately half of the print run of Arkansas State University’s daily student newspaper, the Herald, was stolen from newspaper boxes across the Jonesboro campus on Jan. 24, the day the paper featured a front-page article about a minor who was hospitalized for alcohol poisoning after attending a party at the Sigma Chi fraternity house. Four students, who are members of the fraternity, returned 3,000 stolen papers to the Herald on Jan. 27, after the theft gained national media coverage.
The article also reported that there were alcohol-related arrests outside of the frat house and that the Sigma Chi party was “unregistered” and “nobody was checking for identification.”
Bonnie Thrasher, faculty adviser for the Herald, said the four students did not understand the magnitude of what they had done.
“They just saw the story and thought they would take the papers,” Thrasher said. “They did not realize how serious their actions were.” Along with the stolen papers, the four students reimbursed the $510 it cost the Herald to reprint and redistribute the paper. Each student also wrote a letter of apology, as well as a letter to be published in the Herald.
“‘When I read the front page article, emotions overtook my good judgement and irrational behavior was the outcome of my emotions,'” one of the students wrote in his letter of apology, which was quoted in a Herald story about the theft. “‘I am terribly sorry.'”
In response to the Jan. 27 story, an anonymous “concerned student” identified a reason members of Sigma Chi would steal the papers.
“I can see why they would [steal the newspapers] when only the bad parts of the story were told,” the student wrote on the Herald‘s Web site. “I heard the fraternity actually made the [under-age] girls leave as soon as they found out they weren’t supposed to be there. But the Herald won’t tell you about the things the fraternity did do right.”
Dean of Student Affairs Roger Lee said Arkansas State University is embarking on an investigation that will include a hearing process through the campus judicial system. Once judicial affairs has enough evidence, the university will make a decision as to what disciplinary action it will take. The investigation will also allow the university to determine whether the entire Sigma Chi fraternity or the individual students will be held accountable for the theft.
“We need to let the processes work and then take it one step at a time,” Lee said, adding that First Amendment rights on campus are “very important” and that the university would do anything it could to protect these rights.
The first hearing for the four students of the Sigma Chi fraternity is this week.
–By Diane Krauthamer