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UNL suspends Fiji through 2026 for repeated alcohol violations
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UNL suspends Fiji through 2026 for repeated alcohol violations

From the What you missed this week in notable Southeast Nebraska crimes and court cases series
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Phi Gamma Delta fraternity Temporarily Closed, 8.25

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln said Aug. 24 it was closing the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity house while an investigation into an alleged sexual assault takes place. On Tuesday, the university suspended the fraternity through 2026.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln on Tuesday suspended Phi Gamma Delta through 2026 for violating the university’s rules on alcohol use, stripping the fraternity of its status as a recognized student organization.

The lengthy suspension was handed down by the University Conduct Board, a committee of students and faculty responsible for holding hearings on alleged violations of UNL’s Code of Conduct and recommending sanctions.

In a statement, UNL said the board determined Phi Gamma Delta — better known as Fiji —  had broken university rules governing alcohol use at its chapter house at 1425 R St. while on probationary status for the same infraction.

A spokeswoman for UNL said Fiji was placed on probation earlier this year for an alcohol-related violation.

The conduct board’s recommended penalty was determined so to outlast any current member of the fraternity, forcing Fiji to potentially start over in five years.

Fiji is no longer recognized as a fraternity or a student organization at UNL. As such, it cannot hold meetings or host functions on campus, nor can freshman members live in the chapter house, which though directly across from the Nebraska Union is private property not controlled by UNL.

Furthermore, the international Phi Gamma Delta fraternity said it was closing the UNL chapter immediately following its own investigation, according to executive director Rob Caudill.

“Phi Gamma Delta suspended the charter of its Lambda Nu chapter at the University of Nebraska, closing the chapter, following a trial where it was found guilty of violations of the fraternity’s risk-management policy related to alcohol use and social events,” Caudill said in an email.

The fraternity expects its chapters to abide by its laws and policies, "and holds them accountable if they are not upheld," Caudill said.

"We hold all of our members to high standards of ethical behavior, and will continue to do everything in our power to have a positive impact on college and community," he added.

The moves made Tuesday did not specifically address an alleged sexual assault at the Fiji house on the first day of fall classes.

According to university police, a 17-year-old student said she was sexually assaulted by a 19-year-old member of the fraternity during the early morning hours of Aug. 24.

Later that day, thousands of students and others gathered outside the fraternity house for the first of four nights of demonstrations that included chants, marches and calls for Fiji to be banned from campus permanently.

The next day, UNL temporarily suspended the fraternity, citing the previous violations of the Student Code of Conduct.

The 19-year-old accused in the sexual assault left campus, but has not been charged with any crime in Lancaster County.

The campus police investigation into the alleged assault is still "open and ongoing," the university said.

After the first two nights of protests were marked by hours of intense, vulgar call-and-response chants that directly targeted both the accused and his fraternity, the third night of protests saw a shift in tone that placed an emphasis on survivors and continued calls for a broader cultural reckoning.

In all, protesters gathered five times over the course of seven days, prompting scrutiny of the UNL Police Department's investigatory track record and a wave of activism that stretched to college campuses across the country. 

The demonstrations also prompted action from UNL administrators. 

Eight days after protesters first descended on the Fiji house, Chancellor Ronnie Green announced sweeping changes that included altering the university's sexual assault prevention training and furthering investment into support programs for survivors. 

The efforts, which Green referred to as "first steps" when he introduced them at a student government meeting Sept. 1, were largely applauded by student leaders and survivors of sexual assault. 

"It's always gonna feel like it's not enough," said Patrick Baker, the external vice president of student government at UNL and a member of Greek life. 

"But we were really quite impressed with what (Green has) done," he said. "We recognize within ASUN that the chancellor is not able to just abolish Fiji essentially with one strike of a gavel, or something. But we do recognize that he can provide more funding to CARE and other organizations on campus."

The promised changes seemed to quell demonstrators, who had vowed to continue protesting "every night until they move the letters — letter for letter — off this house," said Dominique Liu-Sang, who led several of the demonstrations.

Hours before the chancellor introduced the changes, protesters canceled a scheduled sit-in and announced a two-week hiatus from in-person demonstrations that was set to end Sept. 15.

No further large-scale gatherings took place that day or any days since, however.

Deb Fiddelke, UNL's chief of communications, said Fiji could be penalized further if the University Conduct Board determines that more violations of the Student Code of Conduct occurred.

But the stiff penalty announced Tuesday dwarfs previous sanctions dealt by the university.

In 2017, UNL and Phi Kappa Psi suspended the charter of the local chapter for two years after an investigation uncovered problematic alcohol use and other behaviors.

That suspension included having the chapter vacate the house at 1548 S St. until it was allowed to "recolonize" in 2019.

UNL also closed the FarmHouse fraternity and placed the organization under indefinite suspension after an 18-year-old member was found dead following an off-campus party in 2014.

Five members pleaded guilty to procuring alcohol for a minor, and were sentenced to probation.

FarmHouse was reinstated less than a year later after completing a series of requirements outlined by the university.

Fiji previously came under scrutiny in January 2017 after participants in the Women’s March said members were shouting sexually harassing comments at them.

UNL opened a Title IX investigation into the incident, as well as a parallel investigation into potential violations of the Student Code of Conduct.

The fraternity was later suspended for three years for multiple violations of university rules, including “reckless alcohol use, hazing and inappropriate sexually based behavior.”

The suspension was lifted in 2020.

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A Kansas City, Missouri, native, Andrew Wegley joined the Journal Star as breaking news reporter after graduating from Northwest Missouri State University in May 2021.

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