Recent fights disrupting parties at rented-out fraternity houses not only have provoked concerns about safety, but also have sparked worry among students about a negative stigma associated with parties sponsored by black student organizations.
This stigma, some student leaders said, has resulted in increased police presence at parties sponsored by black student groups and in students being increasingly wary about attending these off-Grounds parties for fear of violence.
"Students are not going to go out to parties as much because of the violence," Black Fraternal Council Co-Chairman Michael McPheeters said.
In the most recent incident, a fight broke out at a Kappa Alpha Psi-sponsored party Saturday night at Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity house, resulting in partygoers fleeing the scene through SPE's windows and doors, said McPheeters, who attended the party.
Dean of Students Penny Rue said several police officers were called to the scene.
"Fighting goes on in Greek houses on Saturday nights," Rue said. "But it's not often that police are called. Usually it's two people that have a fight and it gets separated. But this is more of what you would call a melee."
Asst. Dean of Students Aaron Laushway said fights are not uncommon at fraternity houses, regardless of their affiliation.
"Are there fights at fraternity parties? Yes. I think it's unfair to single out students of color," Laushway said.
The incident at SPE occurred at about 1 a.m. Sunday morning, Charlottesville Police Lt. R.O. Jones said.
Reading from the police report, Jones said a lot of people were out front and there were "a lot" of fights going on inside the house. Officer S.R. Bruce, the officer on the scene who filed the subsequent report, called for backup.
The report said "people started bailing out of the windows and doors," but no arrests were made.
The Saturday before, outside of the Kappa Sigma fraternity house, two individuals at a Black Enterprises-sponsored party were involved in an assault that also prompted police intervention. Black Enterprises is comprised of University students, but is affiliated with the BFC.
However, McPheeters said the publicity from the incidents painted black student groups and their social functions in a negative light.
"Everyone realizes it's not being perpetrated by black University students. All incidents of violence this year have occurred because of non-University students," he said, stressing that neither incident was provoked by University students.
This outside agitation may make Inter-Fraternity Council fraternities more reluctant to rent out their houses, because the IFC fraternity is held liable for any damage or incidents that may occur during the party.
"Certainly we are reluctant to rent out our house again," SPE President Brett Shomaker said. "But we most likely will in the future just update our contracts to include provisions for better security."
IFC fraternities have the right to deny any organization from renting out their house. They do not need to approach the IFC for approval.
"We do have a set policy as for renting out houses," IFC President Wes Kaupinen said, declining to comment further. "I can't emphasize enough, regardless of who's in those houses, safety is our number one concern."
In response to this call for safety, many black student organizations rent assistance from private security companies. They also check for student IDs.
"It's definitely disappointing that those precautions have to be taken," said Mike Costa, Black Student Alliance's director of networking. "But I don't feel personally violated by the presence of security as long as they're acting within the proper boundaries of protection."
But SPE President Shomaker said the security at the Kappa Alpha Psi party was inadequate for that particular night.
"From my understanding, the security Kappa Alpha Psi used were either friends or non-professional security," Shomaker said.
BFC Co-Chairwoman Fabienne Nicaisse said this also was true of the incident at Kappa Sigma the weekend before.
"The problem at Kappa Sigma was that there was no security, no one to handle the situation," Nicaisse said. "As a student you can't stop the fight."
The police intervention, however, has prompted discussion about black student groups being targeted unfairly by authorities.
"I see police presence whenever there's a large group of black students together," McPheeters said.
Costa also said he noticed more police focus on black students' events.
"In the experiences I've had, there is definitely more police presence," he said. "And maybe some of the recent events going on may have justified this presence. They haven't helped the cause for less police presence."
Although some students said police presence is increased when there is a black student party, Charlottesville police denied this allegation.
As for University Police, Capt. Michael Coleman said the only requirement for police presence has to do with the size of the party or event. Coleman said race was not a factor in police intervention.
"In general, if there's gonna be a lot of people, we do require that there be a police presence," he said. "For example, some kinds of live bands draw larger crowds than others."
Still, there may be an even deeper issue at stake besides the recent image problems for black student organizations.
"If there's a challenge out there, the challenge is that our students of color do not have the same facilities that our white students have to hold their own social events," Laushway said.
Since BFC fraternities and sororities do not have their own houses, they must rent out IFC fraternities. To cover costs, they must charge admission. This sometimes leaves the doors open for non-University students to leak in through backdoors despite ID checking at the front door.
"That's enormously unfortunate that traditionally African-American sororities and fraternities do not have facilities to hold social events and when they do, they are faced with the financial burden of providing the expectation, perhaps reasonable, perhaps not, that they need to provide additional enforcement," Laushway said.
Last September, a Delta Sigma Theta-sponsored party held at Sigma Nu was disrupted by what officials called a "possible escalating incident." Once again, University and non-University individuals came into conflict.
In February 1998, gunfire created panic at a BFC-sponsored party at Beta Theta Pi fraternity on Maury Avenue.
Students say these high profile incidents, coupled with the recent problems at SPE and Kappa Sigma, may create social setbacks for the University's black community.
"I hope the stigma won't be attached to black organizations because of these negative incidents," Costa said. "I hope that we can band together to find a solution. We can work to find that solution."
Laushway suggested student self-governance as a starting point.
"The IFC fraternities do not hire security for their parties. They have a self-monitoring force called party patrol. Perhaps it would be helpful if the IFC, BFC, [Inter-Sorority Council] and [Fraternity-Sorority Council] joined forces and continue to do this self-monitoring, which is best indicative of student self governance," he said.