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Protesters Picket Outside Fraternity

By Jeremy Hylton
Editor in Chief

A group of slightly more than 20 students gathered outside Phi Beta Epsilon yesterday to protest the fraternity's response to an incident last spring, when racial epithets where shouted at four blacks students.

"We're not trying to punish PBE for those comments shouted on March 13," explained Tommie A. Henderson '95, a spokesman for the protesters. "We feel that they were being unresponsive to the community, and it is for this reason that we protest them."

There was no noticeable tension between the protesters and the residents of PBE. "We're not incredibly thrilled about it, but it is an important thing to consider on this campus. PBE fully respects their right to protest and we also support the cause of raising racial awareness," said Michael K. Daly '94, president of PBE.

The protest, organized by the Black Students' Union, concluded at 10 p.m. last night and was expected to continue today from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m.

The primarily black protesters were joined by students from a number of other campus groups.

Though the protest began shortly before the Inter-Fraternity Council rush, Henderson said that the timing was largely coincidental. "PBE, as well as a lot of other fraternities, believe that this is malicious because this was during rush. That was not our motive," he said.

"The point of this event is to educate freshmen because freshmen have not been told about this issue. When better to be told about this issue then today -- the first day of their official stay here," Henderson continued.

Daly would not comment on the effects of the protest on the PBE rush.

The protesters emphasized that their primary concerns were educating the freshmen and promoting communication. They were also disappointed by the results of official efforts to promote communication.

"We felt that the particular actions that the Dean's Office and the administration took would not bring about more communication on this campus," Henderson said.

COD heard case in May

At 3:30 am on March 13, four black students were walking along Amherst Alley when they heard someone shout racial epithets from the window at PBE. PBE denied the charge that they were responsible at the time and continue to maintain that no member of PBE was guilty of shouting the slurs.

"We believe that we didn't do it, so we are trying to defend ourselves," Daly said.

One of the four students filed formal harassment charges against PBE, and two members of the fraternity were tried before the Committee on Discipline in May. The COD determined that racial slurs had been shouted, but there was not enough evidence to implicate the students who had been charged, according to Arthur C. Smith, dean for undergraduate education and student affairs.

Immediately after the March 13 incident, protests were staged outside PBE and in Lobby 7. Both PBE and Chocolate City, a black living group, hung posters on campus portraying their versions of the incident. Smith characterized both groups' posters as confrontational and said they had little positive effect.

President Charles M. Vest was quick to respond to the incident in March. He issued a statement that read: "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."

The administration took little direction action last spring, however, because the event occurred to close to the end of the semester. "There was not enough time to get people together because of the timing of things," Smith explained.

Smith hopes for improvement

Smith, however, is hopeful that the protest will help improve the quality of race relations on campus. "I think there's a lot of hope that some positive activities will come out of this," he said.

"I don't think the students want this to be a racist place," he said.

PBE is also eager to put the incident itself in the past and concentrate on improving future relations, Daly said. "We need to get beyond the incident itself and get this campus moving in the right direction," he said.

PBE and the protesters bring to the issue two opposing perspectives. "You have two groups who have two basic starting points not just on racism, but on all sorts of issues," Smith said. "The goal isn't really to get them to agree but to get them to understand each other."

Daly also emphasized the basic difference between the two groups. "In their eyes, they know what happened and they believe the people they know. In our eyes, we conducted a full investigation of this house and we believe the people that we know," he said.

Henderson and Smith both maintain, however, that an apology from PBE would improve relations. "I think that there has to be some action the part of the fraternity. The fraternity has some need to express its feelings to those people," Smith said.

Henderson noted that his concern is primarily that PBE respond to the community. "We don't want PBE to come to us. We want PBE to come to the community," he said.

Smith has been criticized for his response to the incident and his willingness to let PBE dictate its own response. "It's an education positional," he said. "It's not a very punitive position and a lot of people are not fond of that."

Meetings took place

Leaders from PBE and the protest group held private meetings before the protest, apparently to discuss plans for the protest and future dialog. Neither Henderson or Daly would comment on the content of the meetings.

"I think that it's a very positive thing that we can both sit down at the same table," Daly said.

Smith was pleased that students are working on solutions. "Student generated ideas are generally better than dean generated ideas," he said.

"This is really a good group," Smith continued. "They have certain natural problem solving bents."