A message from President Eric Barron to the Penn State community

President Eric J. Barron Credit: Michelle Bixby / Penn StateCreative Commons

By Eric J. BarronPresident, Penn State

Earlier this week, it was made public that a “members-only” social media site containing highly inappropriate and disturbing pictures had been created and maintained by a fraternity at Penn State — Kappa Delta Rho (KDR). The images, mostly of women, depicted naked or partially clothed individuals — some who appear to be unconscious.

This evidence, which is still being gathered by the State College Police, is appalling, offensive and inconsistent with our community’s values. This is not only completely unacceptable behavior, but also potentially criminal. As president of Penn State, I am shocked and angered by the apparent disregard for not only the law, but also human dignity. I pledge that everything within our power will be done to hold those responsible accountable for their actions and to assist anyone who has been victimized by these shameful acts.

Foremost in our actions is ensuring that a full investigation can occur — unimpeded by the media who clamor for immediate expulsion of unidentified and yet-to-be charged individuals. We are dealing with the early stages of a criminal investigation. There are still no named suspects in this case, nor charges — and we cannot speculate on the details of this matter without potentially compromising the investigation itself. We are not only assisting police, we also are pursuing our own student conduct inquiry. It’s important to note that due process is a fundamental aspect of any criminal or disciplinary investigation. If we wish to find the facts and hold individuals accountable, we must honor the commitment to basic fairness in the processes involved. We will see this process through.

“We will see this process through … we will hold people accountable.”

Our University is deeply committed to doing all it can to eliminate sexual misconduct and sustain a civil climate on our campuses. As you know, just last month I announced the implementation of all 18 recommendations made by the task force charged to investigate the issue of sexual misconduct at Penn State. We are committed to serious action and investment on this issue. As I said Tuesday in response to a question about this fraternity incident at the end of my remarks to the University Faculty Senate: “If those descriptions are accurate of what’s out there — obviously that’s unacceptable. If those allegations are real, it’s intolerable and I don’t think there’s any pause that has to come from the University to address an issue like that."

I applaud our Interfraternity Council, the student body that governs Penn State fraternities, for taking swift action to suspend the activities of this chapter on March 3 when we learned of the existence of this social media site. Some people have asked why the community is learning about this matter only 14 days later — suggesting there was a lag in notification. To clarify, while we have a tremendous partnership with our local law enforcement, it is not the practice of State College Police (or any police agency) to turn over an active, ongoing investigation. Doing so could potentially compromise the investigation and the ability to interview witnesses or others. We generally receive information when investigations are completed. There are usually named suspects and specific criminal charges attached. In this case, the police hit a roadblock and needed assistance in finding avenues to speak with fraternity members and alumni.  

In addition to the shutdown of the KDR fraternity on campus, we are working with the fraternity’s national headquarters to determine if the fraternity will have a presence at Penn State and if so, we will help set the conditions for that future presence. It also brings us to a point where we must ask if a re-evaluation of the fraternity system is required. Some members of the University senior leadership believe it is, and we are considering our options.

There also are issues within fraternal life that involve accusations of hazing, excessive drinking and sexual assault – these absolutely must be addressed. Fraternities do offer leadership and service opportunities and when fraternity members take up their role as citizens with noble intentions, good things can happen. But when individual members deviate from the positive goals they can pursue, they not only tarnish the reputation of their brothers, but also the University community. They also may cause a great deal of harm to themselves and others.

We need to build on the positive aspects of fraternal life, even as we deal with these very serious problems.

I want to urge students or others who have information about this situation or feel that they have been victims associated with this matter, to contact the Penn State Office of Student Conduct at 814-863-0342 or the State College Police Department at 814-234-7150 as soon as possible.

As university campuses across the nation struggle to find ways to end sexual misconduct and assault, it is imperative that our entire community support these efforts and play an active role. I want to again reinforce that at Penn State, we take seriously the issue of sexual misconduct, civility and respect, and we are united in our resolve to eradicate behavior that is inconsistent with our values. 

I ask everyone to please give the best of yourselves to our community and show greater respect for one another. It is the only way to create the change that must occur to make sexual misconduct a thing of the past.

Last Updated March 19, 2015