UM College Park investigating email containing racial, ethnic slurs

University of Maryland officials investigating email containing 'vulgar language.'

The University of Maryland, College Park found itself thrust into the spotlight Friday after a racist and sexist email allegedly sent by a student fraternity member surfaced, sparking outrage and fierce debates about free speech.

The email, purportedly sent in January 2014 to six people, went viral on social media Thursday night as users condemned the message.

The student, identified in the email as a member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity, wrote that he wanted to have sex with women during rush week and used racial and ethnic slurs to refer to the groups of women he didn't want invited. The student also used an expletive to disparage sexual consent.

While the authorship of the email could not be confirmed, it prompted strong reactions at the school and from the Kappa Sigma national organization, which released a statement Friday that said officials were taking action to remove the student from the chapter.

UM President Wallace Loh issued a statement condemning the email late Thursday, saying officials were made aware of it Tuesday. On Friday afternoon, he launched into an impromptu discussion with students on Twitter about racism, sexual assault and free speech.

He wrote that the email compelled him "to speak out as a person, and not as a university president," and that the email "has shaken me." Loh wrote that though he would uphold the constitutional right of free speech, he was "struggling with justifying this email as free speech."

"Where does free speech and hate speech collide? What should prevail?" he asked. "What justification can we have that tacitly condones this kind of hate?"

The incident comes after members of a fraternity chapter at the University of Oklahoma were expelled this week after video surfaced of them chanting that they would rather see black men lynched than allow them to join the fraternity; the chant included a racial slur.

UM junior Patrick Ronk said students were shaken by the email, especially in light of the recent events at the University of Oklahoma.

"You think, 'Oh my God, that's terrible. I'm glad we don't have it here.' Then it happens here," said Ronk, a government and politics major who is president of the university's Student Government Association. "It's not just the racism, it's the allusion to rape at the end. You really couldn't write a worse email."

Ronk said the email has upset students across the campus.

He called the email a jarring reminder that while Maryland is a diverse university without outward racism, racist ideas still persist among some students.

"We say we're post-racial … but we don't acknowledge all of these micro-transgressions, these subtleties of racism that are definitely there and still exist," Ronk said. "It's kind of a reality check that this stuff is everywhere and it is on the Maryland campus."

Some students expressed frustration with the email by writing messages in chalk, including one about "racist frats" in front of McKeldin Library, and "President Loh, what are you going to do about it?" in front of the administration building.

Ronk said the chalk messages were quickly washed away Friday.

In its statement, the Kappa Sigma national organization said: "The language and views expressed in the email were inexcusable and are in stark contrast to the values of Kappa Sigma Fraternity. They are counter to everything Kappa Sigma stands for."

It remains unclear whether the student or the fraternity could face disciplinary action. Ronk said Loh and his administration have shown signs that they are taking the matter seriously.

On Twitter, Loh said "serious legal issues are in play" in response to a student inquiring about punishment.

Attempts to reach the student and his family were unsuccessful.

Ronk said the SGA likely will play a role in organizing forums or town hall meetings to discuss racism and issues in Greek organizations. He said hopes to initiate conversations about the issues, possibly by replicating meetings that were held for students to discuss issues about police brought up by the events in Ferguson, Mo., last year.

Baltimore Sun reporter Joe Burris contributed to this article.

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