Protesters in Iowa City call for closure of Fiji fraternity after alleged sexual assault; house is vandalized

People protesting against University of Iowa’s Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, also known as Fiji, on Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021, in Iowa City, Iowa. — Adria Carpenter/Little Village

A crowd of more than 2,000 people gathered at the University of Iowa’s Fiji fraternity on Tuesday night to protest an alleged sexual assault by members of the fraternity last year, calling for the preparators to held responsible and for the university to close down the fraternity.

The event was organized on Facebook by a group named Protest Fiji University of Iowa. Although most protesters were peaceful, before it was over windows had been broken on two of the fraternity’s houses, the door at Fiji’s main house on Ellis Avenue had been knocked down and other acts of vandalism had occurred.

The allegations against the fraternity members have attracted wide attention online, with petitions describing Fiji members assaulting a UI sophomore on Sept. 15, 2020. The young woman who was “drugged, raped, videotaped and photographed” by Fiji members, according to the petition, which also says fraternity members circulated videos in their group chat, and have faced no repercussions from either UI or the Iowa City Police Department. The petition currently has over 88,000 signatures.

“These boys are still allowed on campus, and even showed up in the same class as the girl that they raped,” according to the petition.

“Shut Fiji down nationwide,” the petition demands.

UI Dean of Students Angie Reams and Executive Officer and Associate Vice President of the Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Liz Tovar released a statement in which they said privacy rules prevent commenting on any particular case.

“The University of Iowa does not condone sexual misconduct of any kind and takes every allegation seriously,” the statement said. “To proceed with an investigation, the university needs anyone with information and evidence to contact the Office of Institutional Equity.”

A spokesperson for the Iowa City Police Department told the Daily Iowan on Monday it also takes seriously all allegations of sexual assault.

“However, we cannot comment on online petitions,” the spokesperson said. “We encourage anyone who believes they have been the victim of sexual assault to contact the Iowa City Police Department.”

In a Facebook post prior to the event Tuesday, organizers encouraged protesters to remain on the sidewalk and not trespass on private property or block traffic.

Before the protest began at 8 p.m., “RAPISTS” had already been graffitied on the side of the fraternity house. Students stood at the edge of the lawn holding signs that read “Abolish FIJI!,” “What would your mother think?,” “No Mercy For Rapists” and many more.

The crowd chanted “My body, my choice” and “No justice, no peace,” and shouted for fraternity members to show their faces.

At around 8:20 p.m., a man approached the door and knocked. The crowd screamed in encouragement. Emboldened, a smaller group joined him beating at door. “Break that door!” they shouted. “Cowards, cowards, cowards.”

Another student spray-painted “Warning” on top of the “Rapists” graffiti. Fifteen minutes later, the crowd had gathered around the right side of the building, beside the parking lot. The sound of shattered glass rang out. “Lights off, turn your lights off!” someone shouted.

At 8:40, people again began beating on the front door, repeatedly trying to push the door off its frame. Protesters broke windows on the second story using a long plank of wood. Others threw rocks and pebbles through the large window on the house’s front face. “Make them pay!” the crowd said.

Some lights were on in the house, but no one appeared to be inside. At one point, a protester said fraternity members were in another house nearby, and some of the crowd left to go that location in the 700 block of Iowa Avenue. But according a comment on the Facebook group, the Fiji members had gone elsewhere by the time the protestors arrived. That house was also vandalized, windows were broken and cars were flipped over.

By 8:50, protestors at the main Fiji house moved to the left side of the building, shattering those windows as well. Clearing the broken glass and laying cloth over the window sill, a woman crawled through the window. “Open the door,” someone said.

While many participated or encouraged the property damage, others attempted to curb the crowd, reminding them to stay on the sidewalk. Others spoke among themselves disapproving of the vandalism. And many more stood across the street to watch the scene with a higher view.

By 9, most of the protestors had dispersed. The few remaining surveyed the damage and took pictures. Iowa City Police officers arrived at the fraternity house 15 minutes later.

In a statement released Monday, Phi Gamma Delta, as the fraternity is formally known, stated that they have a zero-tolerance policy on sexual misconduct and that fraternity brothers in violation of the policy will be expelled.

The members of our chapter want to make a firm stance that sexual misconduct will always be found, rooted out, and justly dealt with in our community. We advocate thoroughly for any and all measures that will serve to further create safe circumstances for every individual regardless of race, sex, or gender. The chapter has and always will fully comply with the University of Iowa’s sexual misconduct education and protocol, and has been involved in serious efforts to establish a new system of member criteria that will ensure such a saddening and irredeemable offense will never be repeated.

The FIJI chapter at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln also faces sexual assault allegations and protests by the student body. UNL has suspended the chapter pending an investigation.

On Wednesday morning, ICPD released a statement about the protests.

“No injuries were reported and no arrests have been made,” according to the statement. “However, the Iowa City Police Department is seeking information on the property damage at both properties and intend to fully investigate those acts.”

Photos by Adria Carpenter

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