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Hundreds protest outside UNL fraternity after reported sexual assault

Hundreds protest outside UNL fraternity after reported sexual assault

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Hundreds of protesters converged on a University of Nebraska-Lincoln fraternity house Tuesday night after reports surfaced of an alleged sexual assault at the house. 

The crowd organized outside of the Phi Gamma Delta house at 1425 R St. at 10 p.m. on Tuesday, chanting at the men inside, one of whom is alleged to have sexually assaulted a UNL student sometime Monday night.

UNL Police Chief Hassan Ramzah said the alleged assault is under investigation and the department is "looking at a variety of different factors based on what was reported."

The alleged assault was reported to campus police at 3:47 a.m. Tuesday. 

Around 18 hours later, a wave of UNL students flooded the block of R Street and largely remained there for more than two hours, holding signs and shouting chants and expletives as law enforcement from the university's police department and LPD looked on.  

Largely unmasked demonstrators shamed and made demands of the fraternity, often in rhythmic, call-and-response fashion.

"Kick him out," they chanted, referring to a UNL student whom the crowd later identified by name. The Journal Star will not report the man's name unless he is arrested or otherwise identified by police. 

"20-to-life," they chanted, an apparent reference to a prison sentence the crowd hoped to see for the student. 

"No means no," they chanted. 

"We believe women."

Protest

Hundreds of protesters are shown Tuesday night outside the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity house, 1425 R St.

First gathering on the steps of UNL's Student Union across the street from the fraternity house, protesters trickled out onto R Street and then consumed the entire block, inching closer to the fraternity's front door as the night dragged on.

Police intervened only when some demonstrators hopped a thigh-high stone wall and stood on the fraternity's front lawn, where UNL police officers told protesters they were trespassing. 

Ramzah said the department's foremost goal was ensuring students had a safe environment to express their right to protest. One demonstrator had contact with police after he entered the fraternity house's lawn and tried to take someone's bullhorn, Ramzah said, though the police chief wasn't sure if the man was actually detained or if he was just escorted away from the crowd. 

There were tense moments scattered throughout the night, when the crowd's rhetoric escalated with calls for the accused to show his face and for demonstrators to "burn it down," referring to the Phi Gamma Delta house in front of them. 

At around 10:30 p.m., a video emerged from inside the house via AirDrop — an Apple sharing feature that, depending on your phone's settings, allows you to share images with nearby strangers. In the video, men standing behind the camera watching the crowd from a window appeared to laugh as protesters chanted outside. 

Shortly after the video circulated through the crowd, a faction of protesters maneuvered toward an ally behind the row of houses on the south side of R Street, but police blocked that effort — prompting some to turn their frustrations toward officers. 

"You're here for the rapist, right?" one protester, a woman, screamed. 

Nearly an hour into the demonstration, 22-year-old Dominique Liu-Sang — who emerged last summer as an active voice in local protests over racial bias in policing — carried a bullhorn and gave a series of impassioned speeches to the crowd. 

Liu-Sang led the crowd of hundreds in a moment of silence for the alleged victim that stretched on for five minutes. 

In the minutes following, the 22-year-old called on attendees to email their concerns about both the accused student and the fraternity as a whole to UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green. 

In 2017, UNL suspended the fraternity, often called FIJI,  for "reckless alcohol use, hazing and inappropriate sexually based behavior," a university spokesperson said at the time. The suspension lasted until 2020. 

Demonstrators on Tuesday night called for the fraternity to be abolished entirely. An Instagram page emerged during the protest under the username "shutdownfiji" with a link to a petition calling on UNL officials to "BAN FIJI FOREVER." It garnered nearly 7,500 signatures in two hours and had reached more than 17,000 by 8:30 a.m. 

As the protest neared its second hour, Liu-Sang seemed to call for a reckoning with Greek Life as a whole, asking fraternity members of any stripe to step back into R Street, allowing space for women to come forward, closer to the house where the assault is alleged to have occurred. 

"You pay to be safe here," she told the women, later calling for the expulsion of the accused student. 

Other than a few men peeking out of windows, the Phi Gamma Delta house remained still throughout the night. 

In a statement released amid the protest, the fraternity said it was "working closely with UNL Police" to help investigate the alleged assault. 

"As the investigation continues, we are prepared to take immediate, appropriate action to ensure the safety and security of all who are part of or visit Phi Gamma Delta," the statement read in part. 

By midnight, much of the crowd had dispersed, but a small, engaged group — led by Liu-Sang and a handful of sign-wielding demonstrators —  clustered about 10 yards in front of the fraternity's door, still chanting. 

"She could've died," they repeated in unison. 

As storm clouds rolled in from the northeast, the group kept chanting. And they pledged to return on Wednesday night.  


Reach the writer at 402-473-7223 or awegley@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @andrewwegley. 

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