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IOWA CITY — After more than 1,000 protesters rallied outside the University of Iowa’s Phi Gamma Delta fraternity late Tuesday — including some who broke windows, spray painted expletives and overturned cars — Iowa City police and the Johnson County Attorney’s Office on Wednesday issued a call for more details about the alleged sexual assault behind the outcry.
The authorities requested “the public’s assistance in further investigating a sexual assault alleged to have occurred Sept. 5, 2020, at the Iowa Phi Gamma Delta (FIJI) Fraternity House on Ellis Avenue in Iowa City.”
Social media posts promoting the protest accused police of failing to investigate the incident and the county attorney of declining to prosecute, though the agencies insisted in their joint statement that “We have and will continue to take allegations of sexual assault seriously and will investigate them to the fullest extent.”
Protests against the fraternity, which was accused of promoting a culture of sexual assault and housing members accused of violence, continued Wednesday as dozens walked out of classes and sat with signs on the lawn outside UI President Barbara Wilson’s house.
“We want to make a statement to the president that she needs to start taking action to remove FIJI from Iowa’s campus,” said UI freshman Payton Day, 18, from Naperville, Ill. “They’ve not been accountable in the way that they should be.”
Protesters outside the president’s house said they were planning to return for another round Wednesday night.
Earlier this week, organizers began planning the Tuesday night protest outside the fraternity known as “FIJI,” alleging that “members of UIowa FIJI are getting away with sexual assault.”
“Protest outside their house to send the message that they are not welcome on our campus,” organizers wrote on social media.
More than 1,000 people showed up — some of whom vandalized the house, according to Iowa City police and online photos. Images posted on social media show overturned cars, tagging and shattered glass.
When protesters learned the students they were targeting could be at another location, the protest moved to 713 Iowa Ave., according to police and social media posts.
“That residence also sustained significant damage including broken windows and overturned cars before the crowd dispersed,” according to police. No injuries were reported and no arrests were made.
“However, the Iowa City Police Department is seeking information on the property damage at both properties and intend to fully investigate those acts,” according to a news release.
A petition on change.org circulated this week accused Iowa City police of failing to follow through with charges against two fraternity brothers it alleged drugged, raped and recorded the crime last September. The petition accused the UI of failing to reprimand the students, who protesters have named and shared pictures of on social media.
Both students are currently listed in the UI directory. Some on social media have come to their defense, blaming accusers of spreading “mere conjecture” without doing research.
Others are calling for their expulsion and for their employers to fire them. They’re encouraging emails to President Wilson and the UI Office of the Sexual Response Coordinator.
Some of the protesters online criticized the vandalism.
“The point of these protests is to MAKE CHANGE HAPPEN,” one person wrote on Facebook. “Not to destroy personal properties and bring charges of vandalism upon ourselves. Do better you guys, please.”
The protests come on the heels of similar allegations against the same fraternity at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
CBS News last week reported the chapter there was suspended — again — after a member was accused of raping a minor on the first day of classes.
The Iowa FIJI chapter issued a statement on its Instagram account vowing to treat sexual misconduct “with a zero-tolerance policy.”
“Any individuals who have proven themselves incapable of the exemplary conduct expected of fraternity brothers have always been and will continue to be expelled from our community as swiftly and as completely as possible,” it said.
In response to The Gazette’s request for all Iowa City police reports and records involving the 303 Ellis Ave. property between Aug. 1, 2020, and Wednesday, police provided a limited police log from last year that showed two assault reports on Aug. 29, 2020, and a warrant served on Sept. 22, 2020. But no details about the reports were provided.
UI officials did not answer The Gazette’s questions about whether it’s investigating allegations of student code violations — namely sexual assault — at the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity. And the university did not provide any communications or letters UI administration had sent the fraternity recently.
The university instead provided the following statement:
“Sexual violence of any kind is unacceptable. The University of Iowa takes every allegation seriously and responds to every complaint. While the university is prohibited from sharing details about specific cases, we can share information about the resources and options available for our students.
“The University of Iowa responds to reports of misconduct by offering to meet with individuals who may have been harmed to provide supportive measures and talk about options. Not everyone chooses to engage with university officials or utilize the complaint resolution process. We strive to balance the wishes and concerns of individuals harmed, the rights of those accused, and campus safety priorities.
“This is separate from a criminal investigation, which is conducted by law enforcement. These processes are different and may result in different outcomes and consequences.”
In a Tuesday message to campus, Dean of Students Angie Reams and Associate Vice President of the Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Liz Tovar said:
“We hear your concerns and anger, and we share your feelings regarding the serious allegations of sexual misconduct on our campus and across the nation. Sexual assault is unacceptable and putting a stop to it on our campus starts with each of us. If and when you see something, say something. Misconduct should never go unreported, even if the perpetrator is a friend.
“The University of Iowa does not condone sexual misconduct of any kind and takes every allegation seriously. To proceed with an investigation, the university needs anyone with information and evidence to contact the Office of Institutional Equity. The university responds to every complaint, and we encourage you to review the resources and options available to you or someone you care about. Please note that investigations that occur through the Office of Institutional Equity are separate from police investigations.
“To be clear, students must comply with the Code of Student Life. If convicted in a criminal court of behavior prohibited under the Code of Student Life, a student also will be charged with violating Section E. 2 Criminal Conduct of the Code of Student Life and subject to disciplinary sanctions.
“The university is also releasing an update to our anti-violence plan in September. This plan will guide the university over the next three years and contains action steps along with reviews of existing processes.”
Urging the public to help their investigation, Iowa City police made the following plea:
“Anyone with information on this alleged incident is encouraged to contact the Iowa City Police Department at 319-356-5275. The Department has previously and will continue to work closely with the Johnson County Attorney's Office on this case. We have and will continue to take allegations of sexual assault seriously and will investigate them to the fullest extent.”
Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.
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