After an investigation into anonymous reports of widespread use of date-rape drugs resulting in multiple sexual assaults by fraternities on campus, Northwestern University has concluded its investigation into the allegations. The university’s administration will not be taking disciplinary action based on the assault charges.
The allegations were first announced in a campus-wide email sent on February 6, 2017. Anonymous sources had reported to campus police that they believed they were drugged by members of Northwestern’s chapter of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity at a party on January 21. The university also announced a separate complaint of an alleged assault through email that day. Authorities received an anonymous report that another woman claimed to have been assaulted, possibly also through the use of date rape drugs, but at a different fraternity that was not named.
After the announcement, Northwestern’s SAE chapter became the target of major backlash. The national headquarters of the fraternity had suspended Northwestern’s chapter, and the leadership of the school’s Interfraternity Council decided to suspend all social activities held by fraternities while the claims were under investigation. Numerous students signed petitions demanding that SAE be dissolved if any members were found guilty of the claims of assault, and insisting that SAE be placed under supervision while the investigation was ongoing. University officials refused to state whether or not they had ever spoken with the women who claimed to be assaulted at any point during the investigation. Despite this fact, outrage on campus against SAE, the fraternity system, and the administration grew to a fever pitch. One group of 300 students held a march from the SAE house to the fraternity’s national headquarters, demanding that the fraternity’s Northwestern chapter be shuttered, all before administrators had confirmed that the assaults in question had occurred.
On Friday, March 31, university administrators sent out yet another all-campus email, stating that it had concluded its investigation. “After gathering and assessing all additional information and carefully considering the wishes of those who spoke with [Sexual Harassment Prevention Office] staff. . . the university has concluded its review related to the alleged sexual misconduct. No disciplinary action or further investigative action related to the reports of sexual misconduct will be taken at this time.” Unfortunately, the allegations naming the SAE fraternity had caused such a maelstrom that members of the community are still calling for closure of the fraternity, despite a lack of substantiation of any claims. Experts in the field have provided sharp criticism of the practice of publicly identifying the fraternity before conducting an investigation of the claims.
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