The University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s chapter of Phi Gamma Delta Fraternity, commonly referred to as FIJI, has filed a lawsuit in federal district court alleging that Chancellor Ronnie Green and Andrea Barefield, UNL director of student conduct and community standards, violated the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of the chapter.
The lawsuit, filed on Feb. 18, contains claims that Green and Barefield intentionally accentuated punishment against FIJI due to the political beliefs of members of the chapter, specifically their support of former President Donald Trump. Green and Barefield allegedly showed bias against the fraternity in this regard multiple times since 2017.
In the complaint, individuals involved in the chapter allege that the defendants and Former Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Jaun Franco retaliated against the chapter for their political speech by investigating and suspending the chapter, making false statements about the chapter and failing to follow both the student code of conduct and Title IX policy. The lawsuit also alleges that punishments against the chapter have been made on the basis that it is a “bad fraternity” in reference to their political speech, and that UNL insinuated that FIJI members were guilty of sexual assault.
Plaintiffs allege that the violations of their rights stem back to Jan. 21, 2017, when members of the fraternity shouted at passersby involved in a Women’s March, shortly after the inauguration of Trump. The lawsuit lists that fraternity members chanted “Trump, Trump, Trump.” The Daily Nebraskan reported at the time that members shouted “‘no means yes’ and other harassing comments” at protestors. The complaint alleges that some chants from other individuals were attributed to the chapter house.
A Title IX inquiry began, which the chapter was informed of on Jan. 26, 2017, and on Jan. 31, the complaint reports, the FIJI housing corporation was informed that UNL had already decided on a 3-4 year suspension. FIJI was suspended from March 2017 to August 2019.
In the spring semester of 2021, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Police Department responded to FIJI for alcohol related complaints, the suit alleges, following which UNL proposed an administrative resolution of probation until December 2021, which the plaintiffs refused, bringing the case to a formal hearing.
When the fraternity was allowed to examine the evidence, the complaint alleges, the plaintiffs learned that body cam footage from an officer shows no evidence of fraternity members drinking, and shows the officer shouting “Close that window, f***ing d********” at students in a neighboring fraternity. The university’s punishment from this hearing also referenced failure to wear masks at a campus gathering.
During the course of these conversations, the complaint said, UNL officials referred to the 2017 incident and referred to FIJI as a “bad fraternity.”
The complaint alleges that “rumors” of a sexual assault at FIJI in 2021 are untrue to the knowledge of chapter members, and they are unaware of their origin.
In August of 2021, The Daily Nebraskan reported UNLPD information on an alleged sexual assault at the chapter house. The Daily Nebraskan also reported on protests throughout that week and the following week at the chapter house, which often drew a crowd of hundreds. The complaint describes those protestors as “propelled by unsubstantiated and in some cases completely false rumors,” and said the crowd leveled death threats at FIJI members.
Parents of FIJI members reached out to UNL to set up a meeting with Green, the complaint reads, but were informed that if Green was present, lawyers would need to be present also.
The Daily Nebraskan was unable to reach FIJI’s international headquarters and Brian Brislen, FIJI’s attorney in the case, before the time of publication.
Deb Fiddelke, chief communication and marketing officer for UNL, said the university declines to comment on pending litigation.
A deadline to schedule the next steps of the case is set for March 11.