Community rallies in support of Fran’s House after harassment; University investigates students’, Public Safety’s conduct

After a large group of students formerly members of the banned fraternity Tau Kappa Epsilon (TKE) allegedly attempted to break into Fran’s House––the University’s dedicated LGBTQ+ affinity house––the community rallied in support of queer students and faculty.

Public Safety logs indicate that, shortly before 8 p.m. on Thursday, an instance of disorderly conduct was reported at Tower House, the residence which currently serves as Fran’s House. This would place the incident simultaneous with the University’s “Senior Sunset” ceremony, with the distribution of champagne in customized glasses, happening just a few hundred yards away. In an open letter to University President, John Bravman, Tyler Luong ‘22, the house’s Residential Adviser, stated that “nearly 20 former Tau Kappa Epsilon members banged against our windows and doors, sw[u]ng a metal bar at our flag pole that displays our pride flag, and urinat[ed] on our front porch” He describes how four of those students remained after Public Safety failed to arrive “in a timely manner,” and that the officers “laughed at the situation” while speaking candidly with the fraternity brothers just outside the house. Additionally, Luong alleges that the officers promised to “TALK TO [Chief of Public Safety Steve Barilar] TO GET THEM [the former members of TKE] ACCESS TO OUR HOUSE WHEN FINALS WEEK WAS OVER, SHAKING EACH AND EVERY ONE OF THEIR HANDS.”

The episode, along with Public Safety’s response, has precipitated outrage from the resident’s of Fran’s House and the community at large––even prompting attention from national media outlets such as NBC, The Washington Post, and The New York Times. In a separate letter issued the following day, residents of Fran’s House made two requests of the University administration; the first petitioned “to officially establish Tower House as the permanent residence of the LGBTQ+ community on campus.” Under the University’s current affinity housing process, an affinity group’s tenancy in a particular house is contingent upon their ability to find individuals to fill a certain minimum of required housing slots. Pushing back against this requirement, the letter challenged that “[u]nder no circumstances should Fran’s House be in jeopardy of losing their physical space due to the requirements Bucknell enforces to fill roster spots as opposed to creating inclusive living spaces.” Secondly, residents demanded that “the Public Safety officers and the individuals involved in the incident […] be held accountable for their actions. What happened to this house is abhorrent. Appropriate actions must be taken by the Bucknell Administration to ensure nothing like this will ever happen again.” 

Talia Housman ‘21, a former member of Fran’s House and outgoing Board member of the Gender and Sexuality Alliance, provided her recommendations to the University in no uncertain terms. “I urge the University to listen to [Fran’s] House,” she wrote in a comment to the paper. “They have taken the time to write their requests and the least our administration can do is listen. Gender neutral housing is not accessible in this campus and the little that is should be protected,” Housman continued. “I encourage the student body to stand with Fran’s House, read their requests and amplify their voices.”

At time of writing the University has not publicly responded to either demand from the members of Fran’s House. However, an investigation has been opened into the conduct of both the former fraternity brothers and Public Safety officers, per a May 14 email from President Bravman, Provost Elisabeth Mermann-Jozwiak and Associate Provost for Equity and Inclusive Excellence Nikki Young. “We cannot erase the ugliness and subsequent trauma of last night’s transgression against the students of Fran’s House and, implicitly, many others,” the email concludes, “but we can commit to addressing it in a way that protects LGBTQ Bucknellians and better ensures their safety in the future.”

Philadelphia-based law firm Cozen O’Connor has been contacted by the University to conduct an investigation into the incident, as well as the conduct of the responding Public Safety officers. In the past, this firm has been engaged by institutions like Dartmouth, the University of South Carolina, and Michigan State University, frequently in connection with Title IX and of sexual misconduct policy. “The intent is to conduct a thorough investigation quickly,” said Bucknell Director of Media Relations Mike Ferlazzo when approached for comment by The Bucknellian, “but there is no definitive timetable. The campus community will be notified with additional information when the investigation is complete.” The Bucknellian was able to independently confirm that the officers involved in the incident remain on active duty at this time, pending completion of the investigation, but that they are no longer assigned to patrol of Fran’s House and its environs.

In response to the incident, on the evening of Saturday, May 15th, a group of students and professors organized a solidarity march in support of those affected by the incident and in opposition to what speakers identified as a “culture of toxic masculinity.” While reliable counts of the number of individuals at the protest are unavailable, eyewitnesses estimate the length of the protest to be about a half a mile, end to end. The action attracted support from students, faculty, and community members, who gathered on the Malesardi Quadrangle before marching downhill, past President Bravman’s home shouting call-and-response phrases like, “P-safe! (Isn’t safe!)” and “Who’s house? (Our house!)” Following the march, participants left notes in chalk on the sidewalk in front of the President’s home, carrying messages like “do better” and “you should be ashamed.” Participants noted that President Bravman did not seem to be inside his residence at the time of the protest––arriving later in the evening after demonstrators had already proceeded past his home on University Avenue––nor did he make any explicit appearance at the demonstration itself.

In a May 20 update to the campus, the President assured students of Bucknell’s  that “any consequences for conduct identified” from investigations by Cozen O’Connor “will be determined by Bucknell, and we are also mindful of the relevant timeframes,” though conceding that “it is not possible that every action step in response to this incident will be completed prior to Commencement.” The President asks for “continued understanding” as the investigation proceeds.

As noted in a previous Bucknellian piece, the Beta-Mu chapter of Tau Kappa Epsilon was suspended from the University in 2019, and is currently an “unrecognized organization” according to the University’s website. TKE’s tenancy on campus ended after pledges were subjected to “brutality of a physical nature,” specifically “use of dog shock collars on members; throwing darts at members; [and] slapping members.”

The Bucknellian recognizes that this is a rapidly evolving story and will update this article as more information becomes available.

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