Ethics Observations On The Old Dominion University Signa Nu Fraternity Freakout

It is times like this when I wonder if my theory that ethics evolves toward wisdom may be excessively optimistic.

In Norfolk, Virginia, Old Dominion University officials went bananas when a fraternity engaged in randy verbal hijinks of questionable taste at its off-campus home across the street from the institution. ( “Hijinks of questionable taste” is synonymous with “acted like a fraternity.”) Some frat boys hung painted bedsheets as banners to welcome incoming freshmen co-eds, thusly:



ODU’s leadership responded to the tomfoolery by issuing the following statement:

“Messages like the ones displayed yesterday by a few students on the balcony of their private residence are not and will not [be] tolerated. The moment University staff became aware of these banners, they worked to have them removed. At ODU, we foster a community of respect and dignity, and these messages sickened us. They are not representative of our 3,000 faculty and staff, 25,000 students, and 130,000 alumni.

Ours is a community that works actively to promote bystander intervention and takes a stand denouncing violence against women. The ‘It’s on Us’ video is just one example of ODU students’ leadership on this topic. In addition, the University ensures all students receive education on the prevention of sexual harassment and relationship violence.”

Old Dominion’s Student Government Association also issued their own verbal condemnation of the incident. They filmed a video directly addressing the banners and stated:

“An incident occurred this weekend that does not reflect the University’s commitment to the prevention of Sexual Assault and Dating Violence. Not only do these actions taken by a few individuals undermine the countless efforts at Old Dominion University to prevent sexual assault, they are also unwelcoming, offensive, and unacceptable. Over the past year, our community, partners, faculty/staff, and student leaders have stood side-by-side to inform and educate our campus on Sexual Assault prevention. This issue is not new, rather, it is one that continues to be prevalent around the world. It is very important for all of us to take action and be part of the solution! These actions do not reflect the students’ views at Old Dominion University. We encourage YOU to continue to raise awareness, hold each other accountable, take care of one another, and be responsible citizens of the Monarch Community.”

But this wasn’t nearly enough to make it clear to all that a major transgression had occurred. University president John Broderick sent a message to the university community,  also posted to ODU’s Facebook page,  expressing his quivering rage over the banners, replete with a dark hint of coming retribution:

“I said at my State of the University address that there is zero tolerance on this campus for sexual assault and sexual harassment. This incident will be reviewed by those on campus empowered to do so. Any student found to have violated the code of conduct will be subject to disciplinary action.”

But wait, there’s more! The Sigma Nu Fraternity national organization has suspended the Eta Chi Chapter at ODU pending an investigation, and released its own solemn statement, condemning  the “derogatory and demeaning language used on the banners,” and pointing out that..

“…Such language has no place in our Fraternity or within any caring community, such as that of ODU. Any Fraternity member found to be responsible for this reprehensible display will be held accountable by the Fraternity.”

Funny, the language on the signs appears to be English. Are Greek organizations actually supposed to speak Greek? If so, why wasn’t the official rebuke in Greek?


Some ethics observations:

  • What appears to be going on is knee-jerk terror of militant feminist criticism and media attack. University officials ought to have more perspective, objectivity, sense of proportion and basic comprehension of who attends their school—you know: kids. They should also be more interested in supporting what is under attack by the recent assault by campus censors and sex police—individual liberty—than avoiding flame wars on social media. They should be, but we know that odds are approximately 1000 to 1 against any such administrator showing more principle and backbone than a typical flatworm.
  • What should have occurred, in a rational educational institution, would be a short, calm meeting with the fraternity leaders and a discussion about how not to represent the institution. This could include a warning, preferably informal and not public, followed by a brief message to the campus that the issue had been addressed without all the grandstanding and pearl-clutching (I’m not a fan of this cliché, but when a school’s leaders announce that three silly banners expressing nothing but sophomoric bravado “sickened” them, there is no more appropriate term), and even an acknowledgment that, while over the line, the stunt was kind of funny. The ethical values displayed would then consist of fairness, proportion, and responsibility.


  • Back to “the language” and the conduct (hanging  suggestive banners in jest:  “sexual assault”…”sexual harassment”…”Dating Violence”….”actions taken by a few individuals [that] undermine the countless efforts at Old Dominion University to prevent sexual assault”…”violence against women”…”relationship violence”…”derogatory and demeaning language”…in what Orwellian reality does hanging banners including the words “rowdy and fun,” “hope,” “good time” and “drop off” constitute any of those things? They simply do not. The fevered descriptions of the language and conduct do not fairly or accurately describe what occurred, and apparently, nobody notices or cares.
  • For the epitome of this, look no further than the headline on Jezebel’s story: “Frat Boys Designate House ‘Freshman Daughter Drop Off,’ Helpfully Offer to Fuck Moms, Too” Wait…how did I miss the word “fuck” on those banners? The story continues its theme: “Photos of the helpful offers to fornicate with women across multiple generations in the university community have since gone viral.” Unethical, incompetent, hysterical, biased, stupid journalism.

But then, that’s Jezebel.

  • Raise your hand if you don’t think the fraternity is being punished for the carnage at the University of Virgina following the Rolling Stone story about a fraternity party rape that never occurred. See, those fake misandrous attacks on behalf of poor, helpless women who are just rape victims in waiting for the evil male miscreants they attend college with work, even when they are exposed. Good work, Rolling Stone! Success, “Jackie,” whoever you are! Mission accomplished, Sabrina Rubin Erdely!
  • Can the students be punished under the ODU’s Code of Student Conduct? Sure they can, because the Code, like most such codes, is so vague and based on subjective definitions that it could be used to punish almost anything. Can they be fairly punished? That’s a better question, especially since I could make a strong argument that the University, in its handling of the matter so far, has breached its own Ethics Code. For example, I’m not sure mischaracterizing, in public, the banners as encouraging violence and sexual assault doesn’t violate the pledge to  “adopt policies and programs supporting the rights and recognizing the needs of all citizens regardless of race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age, disability, veteran status, sexual orientation, genetic information, or political affiliation,” unless fraternities don’t qualify.
  • Over at Popehat, one of Ken White’s stand-ins has registered a post on this issue that is either too brilliantly subtle, too deftly satirical or too incompetent for me to decipher. The headline sounds right, apparently employing Ken’s tongue-in-cheek scorn, but the rest of the post by Adam Steinbaugh is so arch as to be incoherent. In particular, he seems to agree that the banners radiated intentions so vile that they melted the eyes. He just doesn’t think…well you tell me what he does or doesn’t think. I have no patience for this kind of writing, frankly.

“My advice to these fraternity guys: (1) Immediately complain to the Department of Education and the Department of Justice that you’re being targeted because of your race and sex, and denied your First Amendment rights. No, nothing will come of this, but that’s not the point. The process is the punishment. (2) Sue on the same grounds. (3) The real killer: Go to the Virginia Legislature and tell them they should cut Old Dominion’s budget. Come prepared with figures on the number of administrators on campus now, versus 10 and 20 years ago. File freedom of information requests and get the travel expense figures for the folks in the administration. Look over them for suspicious and large expenditures. (You’ll find them!) Make a big stink about those.

Administrative bloat leads to large numbers of “student life” educrats without enough to do, so they’ve created a quasi-police-state to fill the time. State legislators are looking for things to cut anyway, and higher ed doesn’t have the clout it used to have. This will hurt them more than anything else you can do.”

I’m with Glenn.

  • I think fraternities and sororities (I didn’t bother to post about the earlier social media freakout over this ridiculous but harmless sorority promotional video) are Petri dishes for bad conduct, warped values, retarded maturity and juvenile attitudes, and I applaud Dartmouth’s recent decision to do away with them. If a university is going to have fraternities, however, it should be estopped from expressing excessive disgust and shock when they act like fraternities. Yup, it was a tasteless gag that showed poor judgment, and momentarily embarrassed the Old Dominion, but that is all it was. It presented a time to teach, since that is theoretically what these over-priced institutions exist to do. Instead, ODU chose to grandstand and compete in the Political Correctness Bowl.

UPDATE: I just read Reason’s take. (We agree.)


Sources: WTKR, Popehat, Instapundit, Jezebel

34 thoughts on “Ethics Observations On The Old Dominion University Signa Nu Fraternity Freakout

  1. Oh, good lord. As someone who repeatedly left my dorm and walked to ‘rescue’ some young women when they made poor choices and were in potential harm’s way at frat houses, this doesn’t even bother ME. And I am definitely a feminist. Jack, your next career path should be to run one of these types of institutions. Yes, they were dumb and childish, but they weren’t VIOLENT or even threatening. This is worthy of an eye roll, a “Take it down and don’t do it again, guys,” and perhaps some sensitivity training, since that seems to be the rage on college campuses now. I can’t believe they took those ACTUAL WORDS, which are stupid, but not any of those other things, and twisted them all out of proportion.

    • Now, I assumed that you, as a reasonable person, would have this reaction, and that it would be most co-eds’ reaction, most of their mothers’ reactions, and even the reaction of most men on campus. So why is everyone calibrating the response to the reaction of the non-reasonable? Is it because they are so unpleasant and vicious (as in Jezebel) that their reactions, batty and unfair as they are, are the ones that matter most?

      • Because the University administration has redefined sexual assault and sexual harassment to the point that this incident was a major offense. It is at the point that the Women’s Movement on University campuses has changed the definition so much that this behavior is considered the same as rape. It think it is really degrading to women who have actually been raped, but these groups seem to have little sympathy for them.

        By the way, when I was a college student, the University’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center defined rape as a man having sex with a woman.

  2. I’ve recently been milling over a few new cases, and something I’ve noticed recently, but you can see traces of for years going back, is the deliberate misrepresentation of implicit statements to mean explicit things. In the last year or so, the opposition to individual liberty has gotten… shrill. I think it’s a measure of desperation against the pushback as the pendulum starts to swing the other way, and as the pendulum swings, the opposition gets more ridiculous, becomes a caricature of itself and becomes self defeating.

    One of the problems creating that desperation is a world that doesn’t fit the narrative they’ve been spouting: “Rape culture! Patriarchy! Microagressions! (Thank you squiggly red line). Standpoint!” And they’re twisting themselves up into pretzels to try to fit what people are saying into their preconceived notions of them. So it doesn’t matter what people are explicitly saying, it’s what the person thinks they’re implicitly saying, regardless on whether that has any resemblance to what the speaker actually meant. It’s like a giant war against strawmen.

  3. Sure they can, because the Code, like most such codes, is so vague and based on subjective definitions that it could be used to punish almost anything. </blockquote
    And since this is a public university , the Code should be declared void for vagueness.

    (For a private university with a similarly vague Code, it would be an issue of contract law. I wonder how courts would interpret contracts that are as vague as the Code of Conduct.)

        • Thinking about the comment by Michael Ejercito and the reprinted comment by Glenn Reynolds:

          Would it be fair to say that there would be many lawyers who ambulance chase situations like this bunch of twats (Au/UK usage here folks!) in order to push the PC boundaries/cause, with or without a profit motive, but there are few who would jump in to push back?

          Mind you, suing the people who are going to mark your assignments; not a historically wise move! And that opens a whole new can of ethical worms!

  4. This. “If a university is going to have fraternities, however, it should be estopped from expressing excessive disgust and shock when they act like fraternities.”

    Nice use of estopped by the way.

  5. Overheard at the Sigma Nu house: “Uh oh, I just spoke to the guys over at the Jewish fraternity and I think we’re in “trouble.”

    Not sure what you’re thinking but I’m thinking double secret probation might be in order, Jack.

    With much controversy, my college, Hamilton College, shut down all the frat houses twenty or so years ago. Wasn’t easy, but a good move.

    But gotta love the “drop off mom here” sheet. Nice touch. Is Otter on the faculty at ODU? I didn’t see that in the credits for Animal House (best comedy ever. Sorry Blazing Saddles.)

  6. If I owned that house I would paint a sign on the roof that said:

    “John Broderick is a spineless POS” .

    Lets see how he would react when dealing with people he cant intimidate.

        • Dear Jack,
          What’s all this about forbidding fudging?? I’ll have you know that fudging — there! I said it again! — is a natural process enjoyed universally by, for example, the bald-pate friar who helps out at the church (a notably upright citizen you will admit), or that elderly pussy down the street who blows kisses to her tits every morning at her back window, even the bearded princess, or old blind Bob. Yes, some studies do show that fudging can be used to lure innocent children into wayward habits they can’t brush off so easily, and adults into early decay, but its sweetness is not to be denied. Personally, I have indulged in fudging all my life with no ill effects and no fucking asshole can take away my right to do it. So I’d like to know t’wat purpose you interdict this innocent practice.

          Sch’long for now,

          Emily Tickletail Warmbit

  7. We haven’t had an administrator with a spine in California since S I Hayakawa became President at San Francisco State and personally pulled the plug to the microphones where some Black extremist students were screaming their non-negotiation-able demands. Most of them are pc weenies who are more worried about their fat salaries than doing what’s reasonable and fair.

  8. If I were dropping a child of mine off at that university I would tell them if they came home as or with a member of that fraternity I’d disown them and we’d have a discussion about why. That said, it’s my responsibility to warn my own kids not the university’s. If my child went to that university I’d also want to have a discussion about the correct role the university should play in the free speech of it’s students.

    Kids need to learn to recognize behavior that they want no part of from their family as they grow up and learn. By the time they get to a university they should be ready to sort through the BS on both sides.

  9. The article is not posted to the web yet, but according to Psychology Today, the psychology establishment considers this cowering grandstanding, “Byzantine” sexual education, and adoption of trigger warnings to be infantilizing to college students, and undermining to mental health efforts.

  10. What the actual, what? What does any of this have to do with sexual assault? Why is rape and assault even coming up here? Seriously, feminists…WHY ARE YOU USING THOSE WORDS. I don’t think you know what they mean.

    I saw this on a TV monitor somewhere without sound, and thought the banners were disgusting and embarrassing to the school. I don’t think the boys’ age should preclude them from understanding how crude and stupid this proves them to be. In a world without 3rd wave feminism, these pigs wouldn’t be able to talk to a woman without a credit card, because no self-respecting woman would go near them. But in a world where feminism have “slut marches” or whatever, who knows. Maybe those banners are empowering. And NOW, knowing the school’s overblown response…I just have no sympathy for anyone.

    Sorry, all you feminists who still think that feminism means “equal rights.” That ship has already come in. At this point, the only thing I know for sure about feminism is that it NEEDS TO BE STOPPED. It doesn’t know what it’s doing or what it even is anymore. This is RUDE, not RAPE. Those are TWO DIFFERENT THINGS. STOP MAKING ME WANT TO USE ALL CAPS.

  11. I don’t have a son, but if I did and he was beginning his freshman year at college, I’d tell him “Son, never lose sight of why you are going here. It’s frankly to amass a lot of knowledge, 25% of which might actually be useful, and to walk away with a degree that will open doors for you to become a self-supporting, productive, tax-paying citizen. Anything that gets in the way of that, you need to stay the hell away from.

    The professors will not remember you after you have finished their course, but while you are in it and while you are here, they are holding all the cards. They want you to give back exactly what they give you, so do it. You will need letters of recommendation for graduate school and performance is the best way to get them.

    The administration are like cops, municipal judges, and insurance adjusters, not people you ever want to see if you can avoid it, and if you do, you know you have a problem. In this environment they are all-powerful, and will not hesitate to use that power against you.

    That goes double because you are a white, straight, Christian male, and they will automatically take the word of anyone who is not over yours. So keep your mouth shut, your profile low, and your eyes on the prize.

    Don’t be unfriendly, but don’t invest too much in the friends you make here, in four years you will all be headed back to your own states and in five or six you won’t remember each other.

    Stay the hell away from the girls here. You are not a star athlete, you are not a star anything, and one ill-chosen word or one touch taken the wrong way can be fatal to your college career. You will be 22 when you leave here and that will leave you plenty of time to find the woman you will marry in an environment where she can’t stop your life before it starts.

    Stay the hell away from alcohol and drugs. Period.

    Stay the hell away from fraternities. Nothing good and a lot of bad comes of everything they do. Also stay the hell away from activism. The sixties were fifty years ago and they are not going to come again. The real power players in this world do not care about the opinions of a few young people. I’m not saying don’t get involved, but keep your involvement to activities you actually enjoy and might get something out of, as long as it doesn’t take your eyes off the prize.

    This above all: remember who is paying the bills and why I sent you here. You worked hard to get admitted, but if your tuition is not being paid the school will not hesitate to bodily dump you outside the gates. If your grades don’t measure up, if I hear anything about any kind of substance abuse, if I hear anything about any kind of misbehavior, I will not hesitate to cease paying your tuition immediately and send you to make your own way in the world. I know this last set of standards sounds vague. It is deliberately so. You have been given a great privilege here, which you must prove yourself to be deserving of every day. Please nod to indicate you understand, there is no need for a verbal response.”

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