AUSTIN (KXAN) — Students at The University of Texas at Austin are circulating a petition demanding the city “shutdown and dismantle” what they call the “rogue” social fraternity Texas Rho.
The petition has garnered more than 6,500 signatures since Thursday and calls for community members across Austin to “speak up and speak out against this group that is doing nothing but ruining the college experience for everyone else at the University of Texas at Austin.”
“I have been increasingly concerned over the lack of oversight and response to the constantly growing issues and behavior surrounding Texas Rho,” petition organizer Justice Horn said. “It is widely known both in the Greek Community and around campus. I also wanted the opportunity to give a voice to the survivors and people who are afraid to speak up.”
The petition comes after an Instagram post Monday on a UT student’s account saying she and her roommate were sexually assaulted by two Texas Rho members on the night of August 27.
“I am taking a stand and will not allow these predators to victimize one more young woman by being silent,” wrote the student, who KXAN is choosing not to identify. The post goes on to say, “We are working diligently to prosecute these boys for their actions to the full extent of the law within the University of Texas system and the State of Texas.”
The Instagram post has received more than 59,000 likes since Monday. KXAN reached out to the student for more information, but has not heard back.
KXAN also reached out to the Austin Police Department twice in the last week to ask if it is investigating the case. After no response, KXAN called APD Thursday and asked again. A public information officer responded in an email and said she was still waiting to hear back from the sex crimes unit before commenting.
UPDATE: APD confirmed to KXAN on Monday, Sept. 28 that it is an active investigation, and wrote in an email, “The APD Sex Crimes Unit has no information to release and or confirm at this time.”
UT Austin said it cannot confirm nor deny that it’s looking into the matter, however, the Department of Education and the Office of Civil Rights requires the university to investigate allegations of student misconduct involving sexual assault which are classified as Title IX investigations.
“The university takes allegations of sexual misconduct very seriously,” said Brittany Clay, Communications Coordinator for the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost at UT Austin. “Due to federal privacy laws, the university does not comment on student disciplinary procedures, including whether or not individual matters are under investigation. Our policies and procedures in such cases are followed and applied with utmost diligence.”
Texas Rho is a remnant of the former UT Austin chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, which was shut down by the university in 2017 for hazing violations. While the fraternity lost its charter and disassociated from their national organization, former members of SAE formed Texas Rho and now unofficially operate as a prominent social club from SAE’s former property.
The group has received negative attention from the university and students since their rebranding in 2017. Upon SAE’s removal from campus, The Daily Texan revealed internal university documents that detailed harsh hazing tactics within the group. Among the university’s grounds for removal were “physical brutality,” forced consumption of alcohol and “Fear Factor-like” substances and forced confinement in a small hatch beneath their property.
The petition also cites public health concerns, following a party on September 12. During the first football game that day, the Austin Fire Marshal’s Office shut down a large gathering on Texas Rho’s property hosting hundreds of mask-less students in defiance of the city’s pandemic guidelines.
Because Texas Rho is not an official organization, the university does not appear to have any direct control over its actions. The UT administration says it can, however, discipline members who are UT students.
“The university takes allegations of sexual misconduct and hazing very seriously, investigates allegations when warranted, and holds students accountable for violations of university rules,” University Communications Director J.B. Bird said. “This private, off-campus residence has no affiliation to UT Austin, but all UT students remain accountable for their actions and subject to university rules and conduct proceedings.”
Horn says she hopes outside authorities like the city and state can take action to curtail illegal behavior within the group.
“The City of Austin, Mayor Adler, President Hartzell, and Governor Abbott all have the power to intervene and shut down this operation that has been out of control and has become increasingly dangerous with no affiliation or oversight from a National Organization or the University,” she said. “In addition, the Chief of Police for UTPD and Chief of Police for APD have the ability to investigate criminal behavior at the property.”
Texas Rho’s advisory board states on its website that board members “are very hopeful that, once having reestablished itself as such an exemplary fraternity, the University will be persuaded to readmit the Texas Rho Fraternity as a registered student organization at UT.”
It is not immediately clear what steps the organization has taken to establish itself as such.
“Through this petition I have received private messages and emails from some people sharing their experiences and what they or their friends experienced at Texas Rho,” Horn said. “[They] shared their relief and appreciation that someone has finally spoken up.”
KXAN has made multiple attempts to contact Texas Rho leadership over the last 10 days, but has not received a response.