Content warning: Homophobic and anti-LGBTQ+ language
Update 5/3/2019: This article has been updated to include information from the executive director of the Phi Gamma Delta international fraternity.
Update 5/8/2019: This article has been updated to include an email from UC Berkeley’s Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Stephen Sutton and Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion Oscar Dubón to the campus community.
Individuals inside the UC Berkeley chapter of the Phi Gamma Delta, or Fiji, fraternity house could be heard repeatedly chanting a homophobic slur in a video taken Sunday evening and shared with The Daily Californian.
In the video, filmed about 11:30 p.m. from outside Fiji’s house, individuals in what appears to be Fiji’s garage can be heard from the sidewalk chanting the phrase, “I’m a f*****t.” Campus graduate student Sam Cheyette said he was walking down Channing Way when he heard the slurs coming from the fraternity house and decided to take out his phone and film what he heard.
In the video, the homophobic slur is said at least five times. Cheyette said it sounded like people were instructing others to yell the chant louder. Cheyette added that he “was both surprised and not surprised” by what he heard. He said he was not surprised by the encounter because of reports of similar incidents at fraternities around the country.
“But I was surprised because I’ve lived in Berkeley for a very long time, and it’s pretty upsetting to hear homophobic slurs coming from anywhere,” Cheyette said.
While members of the UC Berkeley chapter of Fiji did not respond to requests to comment, Fiji’s national headquarters is working to determine the appropriate course of action.
“The statement that was chanted by people in our chapter house is offensive and conflicts with the values of Phi Gamma Delta, which promote and require respect for all persons,” said Bill Martin, executive director of the Phi Gamma Delta international fraternity.
ASUC Senator Teddy Lake, who ran to represent the LGBTQ+ community, said in an email that slurs like those heard in the video are common. What is rare, she said, is capturing evidence of these types of remarks on film.
“It’s deeply, viscerally painful to know that there’s such a blatant contempt for queer/trans identities in fraternity spaces,” Lake said in an email. “We’ve known theoretically for years that queerphobia and transphobia exist in fraternities, but to see it captured so clearly and irrefutably is shocking, nonetheless.”
Regan Putnam, the director of the Queer Alliance and Resource Center, said they also felt the chant was “unsurprising.”
“(The) chant is a reminder of deep-seated contempt and antipathy for queer and trans lives on our campus,” Putnam said. “Fiji and the fraternity system have a notorious reputation that they never fail to live up to.”
Members of Fiji have engaged in controversial activities in the past, including posing jokingly for a photo with sexual assault protesters outside the fraternity house. But because Fiji is “unrecognized” by the campus, UC Berkeley’s Center for Student Conduct cannot adjudicate the fraternity for any conduct violations, according to campus spokesperson Adam Ratliff. The campus could, however, adjudicate individuals with student referrals.
Because Fiji is not one of the 63 active fraternities and sororities recognized by the campus, it is not required to attend trainings organized by the LEAD Center that recognized CalGreeks organizations must.
“Many of these (unrecognized) groups potentially put students at risk and in unsafe situations by hosting parties and other social events that do not align with campus policies, practices, and standards,” Ratliff said in his email.
UC Berkeley’s Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Stephen Sutton and Vice Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion Oscar Dubón sent an email to the campus community Monday acknowledging the incident and expressing their regret and concern regarding the “unacceptable expressions” of bias and discrimination shown in the video. The email also affirmed the campus administration’s commitment to creating an inclusive campus culture where students can feel “safe, respected and welcome.”
“While this particular organization is not recognized by the campus, we cannot ignore the pain and suffering caused to our queer and trans members of our community,” the email said. “Indeed, such egregious language is an affront to all us.”
Ray Hurst, the president of UC Berkeley’s Interfraternity Council, or IFC, said in a statement that the IFC does not tolerate “discrimination of any kind.” Although Fiji is not technically affiliated with the IFC, Hurst said if it is determined that an individual or set of individuals acted outside of the fraternity, the IFC will share that information with the Center for Student Conduct.
Putnam expressed frustration with past attempts to reform the Greek system, adding that the IFC should “acknowledge and take responsibility” for how queerphobia and transphobia can manifest in the Greek community and should address it through structural change.
“Our communities have waited,” Putnam said in an email. “Effective reform has yet to come. Our communities cannot wait any longer.”
ASUC Senator Zach Carter, who ran to represent the Greek community on campus, said in an email that he found the slurs “truly disappointing” because there are queer members in Greek life at UC Berkeley, both out and otherwise.
“As someone who came out in college during my time in Greek life, it saddens me that incidents like this occur because they make community members feel uncomfortable, and can make those in the community who are questioning their sexuality even less comfortable,” Carter said in his email.
Lake said in an email that the chant’s slur was “unacceptable and unspeakably reckless” because queer and trans youth can be hurt by rhetoric such as that employed in the video of the chant.
“This kind of language isn’t hypothetically damaging — slurs like these have devastating, real-world consequences for our community,” Lake said in her email. “The bottom line is that we fundamentally refuse to tolerate any amount of queerphobia/transphobia on this campus and we have no interest in protecting or excusing the institutions complicit in spreading this vitriol.”