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Investigations Ongoing In Racist, Homophobic Prank Involving University Of Chicago Fraternity [UPDATE]

By Chuck Sudo in News on Jun 13, 2013 6:20PM

The house at University Avenue and 56th Street in Hyde Park University of Chicago's Phi Delta Theta fraternity calls home. (Image via U. of C.'s Phi Delta Theta chapter's website)
A University of Chicago fraternity is making waves for a racist and homophobic prank that involved an African American mailman who hauled postal supply boxes to the Phi Delta Theta fraternity for weeks.

It’s a seemingly innocuous prank until one sees to whom the boxes were addressed. Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell has the details from United States Postal Service carrier Iran Becton, the butt of the joke.

“About a week after Memorial Day, I had an order to bring 79 of the boxes. I came to the address and explained to the frat member that I would have a lot more supplies. I went back to the truck for the boxes about six or seven times,” Becton said.

“After the last trip, one of the frat guys came out and said it was a practical joke. Another guy said that I should read the name backwards and I’ll get the joke.”

The items — all 79 of them — were addressed to “Reggin Toggaf.” Written backward, the first name is a racial slur. The last name is a slur for gay men.

“I was humiliated,” said Becton, an African American.

None of the U. of C. frat boys would speak to Mitchell but the head of the postal workers union representing Becton spoke with the chapter’s former president, who said it was a practical joke between fraternities not intended to offend. (Tihsllub!) Nice of Phi Delta Theta to reinforce the stereotypes of the college Greek system.

Now that the prank is out in the open, the university, the Postal Service and the Aurora-based company from where the boxes were shipped are promising an investigation. Becton indicated to Mitchell it was a miracle an investigation hadn’t happened sooner, so chalk one up to the power of the press. “Someone had to send an email to order those boxes, and the postal inspector should go after the person who ordered all this stuff. This is ridiculous that all you can tell me is that you are sorry it happened,” Becton said.

The Phi Delta Theta website, which looks like it was set up to promote the fraternity before they (we assume) sobered up from a pledge rush, asks "Are you a leader?" in their "Why join?" section. Maybe they should ask themselves the same question.

Update June 14, 2013, 10 a.m.: Since the original post was published we've received emails from the University of Chicago and John Rogowski, Director of Chapter Services for Phi Delta Theta's national headquarters.

The response from Eleanor Daugherty, Assistant Vice President for Student Life and Associate Dean of the College at the University of Chicago, reads:

"I sought a meeting with members of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity; the students indicated that they did not know who had sent the packages, and we had no evidence pointing to individuals who might be responsible. As of our last contact this week with the USPIS, they said they have no suspects and have determined the matter to be non-criminal in nature. If we receive additional information on potential suspects, the University will continue to cooperate with federal authorities, and we will begin disciplinary processes if students were responsible. "The University of Chicago considers this a grave and deplorable incident that offends our community’s core values. Our institution has responded on many levels, including full cooperation with federal authorities in their investigation. We will continue to engage our students in education on diversity issues more broadly, and on why incidents such as this one are unacceptable. "Our commitments to diversity and respectful dialogue and behavior are part of the University of Chicago’s expectations for our community. We are committed to fostering a climate that respects diversity in all forms, including race, gender identity, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, or other aspects of identity. Giving voice to people of all backgrounds and viewpoints is vital to our University. The U.S. Postal carrier in this case, Mr. Iran Becton, was the victim of a hateful act. Whether or not one of our students was responsible, we will raise awareness in our community that this sort of disrespect goes against everything we stand for. Teaching that is not limited to one incident - it’s an ongoing responsibility."

Rogowski's letter reads:

"During the course of this initial investigation it was determined that the Illinois Beta Chapter of Phi Delta Theta received these shipments from an anonymous source, not associated with the chapter, unprovoked. The investigation is still ongoing by both the University of Chicago and Phi Delta Theta International Fraternity."

Chicagoist apologizes for the insinuation the fraternity started the prank.