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PBE Denies Racial Slurs Were Shouted

By Jeremy Hylton
Editor in Chief

About 20 students demonstrated outside Phi Beta Epsilon and in Lobby 7 yesterday to protest a series of racial epithets that four black students claim were shouted at them from the window of Phi Beta Epsilon as they walked past the fraternity at 3:30 a.m. Saturday morning. PBE President Andrew T. J. Luan '93 denied the charges.

The students claim someone shouted, "Fuck Chocolate City. Fuck all niggers," according to Dale L. LeFebvre '93, who heads a student group that deals with racial harassment. The shouts lasted for several minutes, he said.

LeFebvre identified two of the students as Kobi S. Burrell '96 and Kamilah Alexander '96, but declined to identify the other two students. Burrell and Alexander could not be reached for comment.

"No statements of any racial nature were shouted from the window," Luan said. He admitted a brother had shouted obscenities from a window that night, but said that the shouts were about the student's frustration with MIT.

No formal harassment charges have been filed, but the students plan to file a formal complaint, LeFebvre said.

The Office of Residence and Campus Activites is investigating the incident, but has not made a finding yet, according to Neil H. Dorow, adviser to fraternities and independent living groups. "We haven't had a chance to meet with the students. It's not clear what happened," he said.

Vest responds to charge

Despite the lack of formal charges, the Institute responded to the allegations quickly. In a statement released yesterday, President Charles M. Vest said, "Any formal complaint that may be forthcoming from this incident will be dealt with carefully and expeditiously."

"On a personal note, this hurts me very much. I have been proud that despite our human failings, the MIT community has had fewer incidents of blatant racist behavior than has been the case on many other campuses," Vest continued.

About 20 students, including LeFebvre, staged a demonstration outside PBE and in Lobby 7 yesterday to "bring awareness to this offense," according to a flier distributed during the demonstration.

LeFebvre characterized the demonstration as non-confrontational. "All we did was stand in front of the fraternity and hand out flyers," he said. The demonstrators were surprised by the student reaction -- some students, white as well as black, joined the demonstration after they read the flyer, he said.

In a statement released by PBE yesterday evening, the fraternity criticized the demonstration. "We were shocked to discover flyers around campus, since we were never approached or contacted by anyone with regard to this incident. We are disappointed in the irresponsible methods in which these charges were raised," the statement said.

"The biggest question facing our fraternity right now is not what happened but what can be done. We are formally asking Chocolate City and the rest of the MIT community for suggestions in finding the means for resolving this issue," the statement continued.

Copies of the statement were posted around campus last night.

Episode highlights race problems

LeFebvre said that many students face racism on campus. "There are a lot of things you just take with a grain of salt and then go on," he said. "Today alone three people have come to me and talked about similar issues that have happened that they haven't done anything about."

The PBE statement, while denying the charges, also acknowledged that racial problems exist. "Although we reject these accusations, we recognize the noble cause Chocolate City is promoting, namely raising awareness of racism on the MIT campus," the statement said.

The residents of Chocolate City, PBE, and MIT officials all agree that the Institute must focus attention on race relations. "It's unfortunate that something like this happened, but maybe it's an opportunity for us to talk about these problems," Dorow said.

Though residents of Chocolate City are concerned about racial problems on campus, LeFebvre believes that MIT "has a good policy on harassment," but that enforcement policies need to be revamped. The Freshman Handbook, for example, should make mention of living groups where racial incidents have occurred, he said.