KU fraternity thumbs nose at COVID-19 risks: ‘Brotherhood can’t be quarantined’

By: - August 23, 2020 8:47 pm
Reaction to the video of a confrontation between a Lawrence man and University of Kansas dozens of students ignoring mask and social distancing guidance during an off-campus gathering Saturday at Kappa Sigma fraternity generated a wave of criticism on social media. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

Reaction to the video of a confrontation between a Lawrence man and University of Kansas dozens of students ignoring mask and social distancing guidance during an off-campus gathering Saturday at Kappa Sigma fraternity generated a wave of criticism on social media. (Tim Carpenter/Kansas Reflector)

LAWRENCE — Kappa Sigma fraternity’s indifference to spread of COVID-19 at the University of Kansas was captured on video during a weekend party attended by a mask-averse cluster of male students uninhibited by a pandemic that threatens to derail resumption of in-person classes.

In the incriminating Facebook video more than a dozen rowdy students and one highly motivated chaperone told motorist Jacob Schooler, who had stumbled across the revelers at the off-campus fraternity house, that he could put down his camera and hit the road. Apparently, a guy wearing a pink shirt tossed a drink into his vehicle. Schooler responded with obscenities.

The Kappa Sigma’s minder at the Saturday event — she held a paper-covered canned beverage and had an oddly joyful demeanor — repeatedly told Schooler to get lost. She also noted: “You shouldn’t have been here. You weren’t invited.”

Her youthful understudy wearing a blue Jayhawk shirt and dark shades stepped into the frame to double down on the message: “Leave us alone. We’re doing our own thing.”

Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, repeated Sunday what he had stressed for months. The risk of mass gatherings during the pandemic among people who resist basic precautions places communities at risk, he said.

“Gatherings that do not adhere to public health guidelines, which include wearing if masks and social distancing, don’t just put those attending at risk,” Norman said. “They are a risk to community as a whole. We know how highly infectious this disease is and that we are at a crucial moment with schools opening. We must remain vigilant.”

As of Monday, KDHE said, there have been 426 deaths, 2,183 hospitalizations and 38,401 known positive cases of COVID-19 in Kansas.

On Sunday evening, Kappa Sigma fraternity issued a one-page statement on Twitter that accused Schooler of being hostile, using aggressive language and threatening to drive over fraternity members. It said if someone threw liquid at his car that person would be held accountable by the fraternity.

The Greek house’s statement said all students visible on the video were residents of the chapter’s house in Lawrence. They were outside for the traditional welcome of sorority pledges to the university. All in-house residents tested so far for COVID-19 have been negative, the statement said.

“While it is regrettable that this incident occurred,” the statement said, “it is equally regrettable that individuals have subsequently chosen to invade the privacy of law-abiding individuals residing on their property, including inflicting property damage upon our house.”

KU is scheduled to launch the fall semester with in-person instruction Monday and has issued a flurry of pleas to students, faculty and staff to adhere to social distancing, mask and personal hygiene recommendations to deter spread of coronavirus. It’s not clear how the university administration could respond to the conduct of students at an off-campus gathering.

Early evidence from mandatory COVID-19 testing at the university indicated the virus was spreading more widely among fraternity and sorority members at KU. Interfraternity Council, which guides fraternity life, issued a ban Friday on all parties until further notice.

It took less than 24 hours for evidence of Kappa Sigma’s disinterest in that mandate to appear. The KU fraternity was living out an oblique sentiment shared on social media Aug. 4 by Kappa Sigma International that made reference to the Kansas chapter’s recruiting prowess.

“KU Kappa Sigma just proved that ‘brotherhood can’t be quarantined’ by reporting their largest pledge class since 2014,” the national fraternity leaders said on Twitter.

The Kappa Sigma video generated a steady stream of condemnation on Facebook and Twitter.

“Shameful, disgusting, negligent and unlawful behavior exhibited from Kappa Sigma,” said Marcus Hurst. “I’ve never been embarrassed to be a KU alum until now.”

KU environmental studies student Courtney Marie Woodworth said the fraternity members ought to volunteer in the Lawrence community to better grasp how their actions impact other people or not be allowed on campus. It would be “dangerously negligent” of the university to allow students returning for classes in Lawrence to get away with harassing members of the community, she said.

KU student Jenny Lee said the episode illustrated the “entitlement and blatant disregard for public health” in the university’s fraternity culture.

“How can I expect to go back to school (Monday) and feel safe when even campus officials are allowing this type of behavior?” Lee said.

 

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International. He has been recognized for investigative reporting on Kansas government and politics. He won the Kansas Press Association's Victor Murdock Award six times. The William Allen White Foundation honored him four times with its Burton Marvin News Enterprise Award. The Kansas City Press Club twice presented him its Journalist of the Year Award and more recently its Lifetime Achievement Award. He earned an agriculture degree at Kansas State University and grew up on a small dairy and beef cattle farm in Missouri. He is an amateur woodworker and drives Studebaker cars.

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