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ATO, Roots Engage In Roofdeck Scuffle

By Brian Loux, Shankar Mukherji, and Jennifer Young


Racially charged language sparked a physical altercation last friday between members of the hip-hop band The Roots and the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity.

At a meeting held yesterday, Senior Associate Dean Robert M. Randolph said that ATO has been suspended by the administration pending a resolution of the conflict. Furthermore, two members of ATO have been suspended from the fraternity.

Under a preliminary agreement between the administration and ATO, the fraternity will undergo sensitivity training and sponsor a campus symposium on cultural diversity during orientation. Additionally, the Interfraternity Council will report the incident to the Cambridge License Commission.

The incident began early in the afternoon as an unregistered party was held on the roofdeck of the ATO house in Cambridge.

Sometime around 5 p.m., members of the band The Roots were escorted to the ATO house. At this time, a brother on the roofdeck shouted a comment to the members of the band. Upon hearing this, female performer known as Jaguar, or Jag, a guest performer with The Roots, proceeded to yell at the people on the roofdeck from the sidewalk. As the verbal argument continued, a member of the fraternity approached the edge of the deck and shouted an inflammatory comment to Jaguar.

An infuriated Jaguar then entered the house, grabbed a large spoon from the ATO kitchen, and ran up the stairs. She was closely followed by The Roots’ lead rapper, known as Black Thought. Upon reaching the roofdeck, Jaguar reportedly threatened those present, asking for the identity of whom she had heard. “She was very angry,” said Lorien M. Paulson ’02, who was on the roofdeck at the time. “She shouted at everyone on the roofdeck, particularly ones near the ledge.”

Soon thereafter, Black Thought appeared on the roofdeck, and more angry words were exchanged. Reports confirmed that the two groups traded curses.

Thereafter the situation quickly deteriorated into a physical scuffle as an ATO brother attempted to restrain the lead rapper of The Roots.

ATO President Erik M. Glover ’02 said, “The scuffle involved four people, two from ATO and two from the Roots. No punches were thrown whatsoever ... one member stepped forward to restrain a member from the Roots and they became locked up.”

The physical confrontation left an ATO brother with welt marks from Jaguar’s spoon and with Black Thought suffering a kick to the head. The fighting was broken up soon after it started. One member of The Roots and one member of ATO agreed to call 911. Emergency dispatch received the call at 5:57 p.m. The Cambridge emergency communications report states “there [are] weapons & 50 people involved,” though no weapons were actually involved. Officers from the Cambridge police department arrived within eight minutes of the 911 call, and MIT police were also on the scene.

The incident did not hinder the performance of the band that night. Though there were subtle references to the incident during some of the songs, The Roots still performed in front of a large crowd and even returned for a 30-minute encore.

The Roots’ manager, Tina Farris, termed the incident “really stupid.” Farris and other members of The Roots purported that more racial epithets were used during the scuffle, a charge which is contradicted by ATO’s account of the episode.

Campus leaders react

MIT President Charles M. Vest wrote a letter on Saturday in response to the events of the previous day.

“Yesterday an ugly and totally inexcusable incident occurred on our campus. It both angers and saddens me, and it will not be tolerated,” wrote Vest.

“Race in America remains a troubling matter, but we look to the leadership and good will of talented young men and women who are privileged to be part of great institutions like MIT to move us beyond this and improve our world. It therefore is doubly disturbing that such behavior would occur among us. We must be a place of tolerance and community,” wrote Vest.

Undergraduate Association President Peter A. Shulman ’01 also issued a letter regarding a possible UA response to the incident between the hip-hop group and the fraternity.

“I think it incumbent upon us all to recognize that race issues are all but settled in this country and on this campus, very sadly. But we face the challenge of using this incident to educate rather than polarize the community. That students, both of minority and majority backgrounds, are hurt, offended, and angry about this incident is understandable -- but we need to address this in a constructive, and not destructive manner,” said the UA president.

IFC President Rory P. Pheiffer ’02 also weighed in on the incident when he said that, “I think they [ATO] took good first steps [in resolving the matter].”

“The house and the IFC need to deal with the alcohol issue. They are right this is a serious issue, but the racial issue is an individual one,” Pheiffer said.

ATO issues apology

Glover issued an apology to the MIT community, sent to the mit-talk mailing list, on Monday afternoon.

“The members of Alpha Tau Omega deeply regret the incident involving two members of the performing group The Roots. We share the MIT community’s concern and agree that the comment that was made from our rooftop was inexcusable and must be fairly and appropriately dealt with,” wrote Glover in his apology.

When asked how the fraternity was confronting the matter, Glover said, “On Saturday evening we met and came up with specific responses [to the incident].”

“We are coming forward with the absolute truth ... and are doing anything we can, including soliciting input from the MIT community, to promote positive growth,” Glover added.

Glover also expressed his concerns about the likely hearing before the CLC.

“We are certainly worried about what could come from the CLC meeting,” Glover said, “but we hope our positive steps forward will help characterize our understanding of the impact of the situation ... and that the punishment be coupled with education and opportunity.”

Faculty, students meet on Sunday

Randolph called a meeting of several groups in the MIT community to discuss the racially charged incident on Sunday.

In attendance were members of the Undergraduate Association, the Graduate Student Council, the Interfraternity Council, heads of minority student groups, senior administrators, and members of ATO.

“The Deans’ office asked ATO to respond to the allegation and asked them to identify the individuals involved in the incident,” said Randolph.

Shulman said, “It was a very comfortable discussion.”

“[There needed to be] a perception of separating race concerns and alcohol concerns,” the UA president said.

During the meeting, the brothers of ATO were allowed to present their response to the Friday incident. As part of their self-imposed punishments, the fraternity has prohibited access to the house’s roof-deck for social purposes until August 15. Furthermore, the house has instituted a moratorium on all social activities.

“All the punishments were thought of beforehand by ATO in a meeting inside the house,” Pheiffer said.

Additionally, Glover said, “we plan on following up on all of these [conditions].”

To the surprise of Glover, however, 15 students also attended the meeting.

“We had no idea that any students would attend. What I had prepared for was a meeting with high-level administration to discuss facts and possible disciplinary action. I felt extremely underprepared to speak to student leaders in the MIT community,” Glover said.

“I truly appreciated the opportunity to speak with the members of the student body, especially the representatives of minority organizations,” the ATO president said. “I just wish I could have maximized that opportunity.”

Details remain in dispute

While participants at the meeting agreed on some points, several are still in dispute.

The wording of the comments shouted from the roof are not agreed upon by the parties. ATO claims an initial comment, “I love black people,” was made, quoting the movie Jerry McGuire. After Jaguar was visibly upset, a member of the fraternity approached the edge of the deck and said, “Who’s that angry black bitch?” Jaguar disputes ATO’s recollection of the wording.

Additionally, whether racial epithets were used during the roofdeck altercation and the amount of alcohol consumed are also key points under dispute.

Minority leaders facilitate meeting

Recognizing the indignation of many members of MIT, minority community leaders quickly organized “an emergency meeting of all minority community members at MIT.”

The meeting, hosted on Monday at Walker Memorial, offered a forum for questions pertaining to the parties involved in the incident at ATO. The meeting gave the suspended brothers the opportunity to share a detailed version of their side of the story, expanding on a set of facts agreed upon at Sunday’s meeting.

Three student leaders facilitated the meeting: Jovanne J. Bickerstaff ’02, senior co-chair of the Black Students’ Union, Ayanna T. Samuels ’02, vice president of the Caribbean Club, and Christopher M. Jones G, co-chair of the Black Graduate Students’ Association.

The tone for the forum was established as Vest opened the meeting.

“I have spent the last two days feeling sleep-deprived, angry, sad, but also proud,” Vest said. “The pride I feel comes from being at an institute full of young men and women who will lead us above America’s legacy of racial turmoil. We can work together to make this a better campus.”

When asked during the forum if the comments in question was racially motivated, ATO brother Alvan Eric P. Loreto ’01, acting as a representative for the living group, said, “There was no racial motivation whatsoever. It was derisive and inappropriate, but race was used as an identifier, not to attack.”

“The comment was still completely inappropriate and not excusable,” Loreto said.

A second question from the audience asked ATO, “If you are not guilty, why have you agreed to the terms?”

“The incident occurred on our property and caused the MIT community embarrassment,” Loreto said. “The house wants to rectify that. We need to take action as a house to show that to the community.”

As the meeting closed, Loreto said that the main motivations for the discussion was to clear up the facts for the people present.

“We came with open arms asking for suggestions on what to do,” Loreto said. “And we wanted to squash any sentiment that ATO promotes or condones racism because it is just not true.”

Forum discusses race relations

The meeting’s tone was appreciated by many of the attendees. “I think the atmosphere was excellent. People were concerned and emotional, but focused on coming to a collectively beneficial solution,” Jones said. “It’s my sincere hope that this meeting and others will make MIT and everyone else understand that two members of one fraternity can’t be used as a scapegoat for all the racial injustices at MIT.

“We have snatched a bandage off an ugly wound. At MIT, there is racism, and I think we can use this as a catalyst,” Jones said.

Mthembu also felt that progress was the most important potential outcome. “I’ll be working with the committee on campus race relations to facilitate programming to address issues of sensitivity and diversity,” said Mthembu.