SYRACUSE, N.Y. >> Five students are suing Syracuse University for disciplinary actions related to videos of a private event where fraternity members used racial slurs and simulated a sexual assault of a disabled person.
The federal lawsuit filed anonymously on Tuesday by five Theta Tau members accuses the university of ignoring their rights and proper procedures in suspending them and subjecting them to “ridicule and scorn.” It seeks at least $1 million in damages for each student and restoration of their good academic standing.
After the student newspaper revealed the videos last week, the university expelled the fraternity, and 18 unidentified members face disciplinary charges. Chancellor Kent Syverud on Sunday called the latest video clip of crude behavior at Theta Tau “appalling and disgusting.”
The lawsuit says the videos show a satirical “roast” that wasn’t for public viewing.
“The skits did not constitute actual racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, sexism and disrespect for the disabled,” the lawsuit says. “Rather, the entire focus of the skits was to create caricatures and exaggerate to be outrageous.”
It says anyone watching the performances in context would have seen them as “satirical portrayals of offensive conduct and attitudes offered for entertainment with no intent to harm or harass anyone.”
A spokeswoman said today the university doesn’t comment on pending litigation.
“The university stands by the actions it took to protect the well-being of the campus community and maintain a respectful and safe learning environment,” spokeswoman Sarah Scalese said.
The university has said arrangements have been made for those going through the student judicial process to continue their academic work off campus, but the lawsuit claims fraternity members have been banned from class and provided no alternative.