Ole Miss investigates accusations of sexual misconduct at Derby Days

Print More

The University of Mississippi’s investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct at a Sigma Chi fraternity Derby Days dance competition is expected to conclude this week, university officials say. The investigation began Saturday, hours after a social media post detailing activity at the event went viral.

Brandi Labanc, vice chancellor for student affairs, says she referred the incident to the university’s Title IX office soon after she became aware of the post. Title IX, a federal mandate, protects male and female students in an educational setting from gender-based discrimination, including sexual harassment.

The university had worked with Sigma Chi on Derby Days, as it does with all registered student events, according to Leblanc. She said she was shocked when the allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced.

“It’s 2016. So, no, that’s not something we expect to have happen. That’s a confident no,” Labanc said Tuesday.

Abby Bruce, a sophomore at the university, wrote on Facebook that she left the competition Friday night near tears after seeing the women, who were the Derby Day Queens of their sororities, fed questions laced with explicit sexual innuendo.

In video footage, two members of Sigma Chi who emceed the event are heard asking a female student what her favorite memory of the Sigma Chi basement was. After the student, whose name is Bobbi Jo, answered, one of the emcees responded, “her nickname is B.J.”

“For me it’s about climate,” Leblanc said, “and we don’t want an environment where anyone feels that they’re unsafe, or that they have any sort of bias directed toward them.”

The university’s office of the dean of students responded to the allegations with this statement: “If substantiated, the behavior reported at this event clearly violates campus policy and one of the UM community’s core values, which is for our students to show respect and dignity for all.  While the investigation into the incident moves forward, the Sigma Chi fraternity has been directed by university officials to cease any official or unofficial Derby Days activities.”

Derby Days is an annual philanthropic event hosted by several Sigma Chi chapters across the country. Sororities compete against each other in contests such as blood drives, scavenger hunts and the dance competition. Proceeds from this year’s event, which is the 53rd on Ole Miss’ campus, benefited the Blair E. Batson Children’s Hospital in Jackson. Approximately $25,000 was donated to the hospital, according to Sigma Chi.

“I’m sure there have been times in the past that there have been some questions about it, but this has been the first time we’ve had this type of a flareup. And believe me, we’re sorry that this has occurred. But yes, this is the first time this has occurred,” said Jon Fischer, Sigma Chi’s chapter adviser at the university.

According to The Daily Mississippian, the audience at the dance competition included not just members of the fraternity and sororities but also their parents as well as patients of Children’s Hospital and their parents.

Sigma Chi president Clay Wooley said the fraternity has delivered in-person and written apologies to each sorority and that they were conducting their own investigation into the members involved in the incident.

“These young women are our friends and our sisters, and it would never be our intention to hurt, upset or embarrass them in any fashion,” the fraternity said in a statement. “This incident, as upsetting and unfortunate as it was, gives us an opportunity as a community to address the issue of the sexually insensitive culture that’s all too prevalent in the Greek system, not only at the University of Mississippi, but also across the country.”

Wooley said that the fraternity is working to repair its relationship with the campus community. Labanc said she’s hoping for a similar focus once the investigation concludes.

“That’s the part for me that’s the most important to focus on, talking about this incident. And in the meantime we’re focusing on educating the community and important dialogues about how we can be a better community,” Labanc said.