DKE’s open secret: Eight more women make accusations against fraternity

DKE's open secret:
Eight more women make accusations against fraternity

Published on February 20, 2018

Editor’s note: Two days after this story was published, Yale College Dean Marvin Chun opened an investigation into DKE’s sexual climate.

The Delta Kappa Epsilon house on Lake Place has gone quiet this semester, as DKE grapples with public accusations of sexual misconduct against the Yale chapter’s former president, Luke Persichetti, now expelled from the fraternity, and another DKE member who resigned his membership in January.

After stories in the News and Business Insider detailed the allegations against Persichetti — who was suspended by Yale in March 2017 until the end of the current semester for “penetration without consent” — DKE put a halt to all social activities and began meeting with administrators and campus groups to devise a plan to improve the fraternity’s sexual climate.

But the problem of sexual assault at DKE runs deeper than two former brothers, according to eight women who shared previously unreported stories of sexual misconduct by DKE members with the News and more than 30 interviews with Yale sorority members, first-year counsellors and Communication and Consent Educators. The majority of those interviewed said the problem is not just a few bad apples — it’s an institutional culture that tolerates sexual misconduct. Still, some students interviewed cautioned that DKE is not alone, emphasizing that sexual misconduct takes place in fraternities and other social spaces all over campus.

The second DKE brother accused of nonconsensual sex is currently a senior. His accuser filed a formal complaint against him with Yale last month, and he is now being investigated by the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct, according to two sources close to the situation.

In interviews over the last month, four additional female undergraduates told the News that the same former DKE member forced them into unwanted sexual encounters.

In addition to those accusations, four other women shared previously unreported stories with the News about alleged sexual misconduct by other DKE members, speaking on the condition of anonymity to protect their privacy and avoid social repercussions. All eight women’s accounts — which range from stories of forcible kissing and groping at parties to nonconsensual sex in Yale suites and off-campus houses — were corroborated by text messages, direct witnesses or friends whom the women later told about the alleged incidents. Some took place in the DKE house, some in dorm rooms on Yale’s campus and others in off-campus party spots like Toad’s Place. The stories span a two-year period, from fall 2014 to spring 2017, and involve a total of five current or former members of DKE.

For a variety of reasons, none of the eight women has filed a formal Title IX complaint against the man she says assaulted her. The four women who alleged that the same former DKE member coerced them into nonconsensual sex all named him on the record. The News has chosen not to identify the alleged assailant because his accusers have all requested anonymity and because Yale has not found that he committed an offense. Of the other four women, three could identify their assailants, and all three declined to name them on the record.

In a statement to the News, a DKE spokesman said the fraternity “openly and vigorously” encourages members of the Yale community to take complaints of sexual misconduct to the University. The statement emphasized that DKE has a “zero tolerance policy” of expelling members who are found to have breached Yale’s Title IX regulations.

“Without knowing the full details of these allegations and given that most DKE social events are open to every Yale student, we have no way of knowing whether DKE members were involved in all of these cases,” the statement said. “We are also, however, all entirely aware that we have failed to promote a welcoming and safe space at our events in the past. That is why we completed a working group report last week to identify reforms for how DKE can improve.”

“I KNEW I WASN’T OK WITH IT”

“I’ll walk you home.”

It was 1 a.m. on a warm, misty night in the early fall of 2014. A first-year woman stood alone on Lake Place, down the street from the DKE fraternity house, texting friends to ask where they had gone. It was only the second or third time she’d attended a DKE party. As she typed on her phone, a tall, muscular first year who went on to pledge DKE that semester approached to ask if he could walk her home.

“I just remember saying, ‘No, no thank you,’” the woman recalled earlier last month. “He said, ‘No, it’s OK, I’m just walking you home.’”

She was still getting used to campus life and doubted she could convince him to leave her alone. She’d also had a few drinks. So with the man following behind her, she began the 10-minute walk from Lake Place to Old Campus. She felt exhausted after a long night out and was not fully alert.

The male student walked behind her, never trailing by more than a couple of feet. He made a few light attempts at small talk but otherwise said little. As they walked, she kept telling him, “No, no thank you. Please don’t walk me home.”

When they arrived at her entryway, he followed her inside. But it was only when she’d reached her common room that she turned around and realized the man had entered her suite.

“I was pretty intoxicated, but I hadn’t blacked out or anything, so I remember it,” she said. “I remember standing there thinking, ‘How in the world? Why [is he] in my common room?’ My suitemates weren’t there or they were asleep or they were still out, and basically he came into my room.”

While she does not remember precisely what happened next, she said, she knows the man — who is now a DKE member and a Yale senior — soon began having unprotected nonconsensual sex with her. She said he took advantage of her delirious state.

“I wasn’t punched or pushed or anything physical like that, so yeah, more taken advantage of. … It was late at night, and I was exhausted. I don’t remember being asked if I was OK with what was happening, and I definitely didn’t consent to unprotected sex,” she said. “I knew I wasn’t OK with it. But I just didn’t know that it was something I could report or talk to someone about because it wasn’t the blunt rape that happens in the movies.”

The woman did not report the incident to Yale. But she emphasized that she never would have agreed to unprotected sex under any circumstances.

The woman kept the story to herself until 2017, when a friend recounted a similar experience involving a different DKE brother. More than three years after the fact, she acknowledges she has no way to prove her story: She never texted her friends to say that a man was following her home, and she never wrote about the experience in a diary. But a friend of the woman and her current boyfriend both corroborated her account, saying she told them the same story three years after the alleged assault took place and three months before she shared her memories of the night with the News.

It was not the only time that semester that the woman had a bad experience at DKE, she said.

At a separate party at the DKE house in fall 2014, the student said, a member of the football team who does not belong to DKE shoved her onto a sofa, forced her hands down his pants and aggressively kissed her. Then, she said, he pulled her upstairs by the hand and pushed her against a wall, relenting only after two other people walked up the stairs. She later returned to her Old Campus dorm with a swollen lip.

The woman never reported the incident to Yale. But again her friend and boyfriend corroborated the account, and she provided the News with copies of text messages discussing the swollen lip.

The other students who also spoke to the News without naming their alleged assailants said their experiences with DKE members or at fraternity events, while troubling, never rose to the level of unwanted, penetrative sex.

One woman said that while she was at a DKE party in fall 2016, a brother she knew began lifting women up and trying to kiss them, even as they protested. Eventually, she said, the brother made eye contact with her, lifted her into the air and tried to kiss her.

“Tons of people were yelling at him to stop because I was visibly scared, but he didn’t listen,” she said, adding that she could not remember who the people yelling were. “Then, he put me down and pinned me against the wall and tried to kiss me again. I struggled to get out of his grip, but I couldn’t because he is much taller and heavier than I am. A number of people looked on as this happened, and finally, someone pulled him off me. I haven’t been back to DKE since.”

A third female student described standing toward the side of an off-campus formal with friends last April when a DKE brother suddenly grabbed and began kissing her. The incident was mostly innocuous, she said, but it still shocked her.

A fourth student said she has been groped in the dark at DKE on each of the six occasions when she has gone to the fraternity for a party.

“It often would happen that I would be pushed to the side and someone would start groping me, and I would try to push him away, and it was very hard to push the guy away,” said the woman, who said she doesn’t know the names of the men who groped her. “I remember one time where I was just very, very overwhelmed and then just slid through his arms on the side and then left. And another time, my friend had to literally pull him off me and tell him to stop.”

None of these four women ever reported her experience with DKE brothers or at the DKE house to Yale. The woman who says she was followed home in fall 2014 said that at the time, she did not understand that what had happened might constitute sexual assault.

“As a freshman, I just did not understand that there was a spectrum of sexual assault,” the woman said. “Yale did not provide the toolkit to think about it.”

THEY SAID HE WAS CHARMING

Yale declined to comment on criticism of the University by the female students who did not report their allegations against DKE brothers.

“We do not confirm, deny or discuss the existence of cases before the UWC and ask that the YDN and others respect the confidentiality of the processes, which is important to ensuring fairness for all those involved,” Vice President for Communications Eileen O’Connor said.

Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Melanie Boyd noted that Yale first years have been required to attend six mandatory sessions designed to “help students recognize, prevent and respond to sexual misconduct” since 2012. In these sessions — such as “Health and Sexuality Workshops” led by the Community Health Educators and “Understanding Sexual Assault: The Myth of Miscommunication,” led by the CCEs — students practice the “kind of clear, open sexual communication” that makes for good consensual encounters and learn to identify situations in which “consent may be in question,” Boyd said.

In the 2016–17 academic year, 56 undergraduates contacted Sexual Harassment and Assault Response & Education center, or SHARE, about sexual harassment and sexual assault. The center offers resources for victims of misconduct and guidance on how to pursue disciplinary action against perpetrators.

“At Yale, we have an array of resources available to anyone in need of support and accommodation, regardless of whether or not they choose to file a complaint,” Boyd said. “Over recent years, I’ve been pleased to see more and more people making use of those resources as community awareness has grown.”

Still, those efforts have not entirely removed the social stigma against reporting sexual assault accusations against popular male students.

The four other women who spoke with the News said they were assaulted by the same male student — the one who resigned after the publication of the Business Insider story. In a statement provided by his lawyer, the former DKE brother issued a blanket denial of all the allegations against him in this story.

“While I have not been told the identity of my accuser, nor have I been provided any factual details that would allow me to substantively respond to these anonymous accusations, I absolutely deny that I have ever raped or engaged in nonconsensual intercourse with anyone,” he said in the statement.

Still, the female Yale student who has already spoken about her experience with the News and Business Insider alleges that she was raped by the former brother in April 2017. The four others say he assaulted them during the 2015–16 school year, when they were first years and he was a sophomore.

One of those four said that while her sexual relationship with the former DKE brother began as consensual, it quickly took a turn.

“I decided I did not want to continue and clearly verbalized I no longer wanted to hook up,” the student said. “He didn’t respect my withdrawal of consent and continued to act as though he was entitled to my body and attention.”

In December 2015, she said, she let him into her room on the condition that nothing sexual would occur. Soon, however, he began to massage her, she said. Then, she said, he got on top of her and began penetrating her without her consent.

“He was literally on top of me, and I couldn’t really stop it, and I didn’t know what to say,” she recalled. “He disregarded my pre-established boundaries and coerced me into penetrative sex.”

The incident left her feeling “gross” and “confused,” she said. But in the following months, she recalled, all she heard about him from friends and acquaintances was that he was the “guy you’d want to introduce to your parents” and “who makes a girl feel like a princess.”

A second woman told the News that, in January 2016, during her first year at Yale, she went home with the former DKE brother after a party and slept in his bed with him. When she woke up the next morning, she said, he started having sex with her.

“I had just woken up and was still kind of half asleep, and then it happened, basically without any warning. This wasn’t violent per say, but it was sex blatantly without my permission,” she said. “I was so shocked that I froze and just let it happen, and then I told him to stop, and then I immediately pushed myself away.”

At the party, she had found him “charming,” and the next day friends told her that he was “such a great guy” and that reporting him would turn her into “the freshman who objected to that.”

A week or two later, she said, he sought her out at Toad’s Place and groped her so forcefully that, after she began to fight back, they both lost their balance and fell onto the dance floor.

A third female student recalled going to the former DKE brother’s bedroom in the spring of her first year at Yale after a different Toad’s party. After she told him she did not want to have sex with him and called an Uber to take her home, she said, he became aggressive and would not let her leave, pushing her onto his bed.

“I even went to the bathroom to call my friends and try to get someone to help, but that didn’t work,” she said, because no one was able to come pick her up. “The entire night he had sex with me three or four times as I repeatedly told him to stop and that I wanted to leave. I had to sneak out in the morning when he was sleeping because I was really scared that he wouldn’t listen to me again.”

The fourth student said she had briefly had a casual, consensual sexual relationship with the same former DKE brother during her first year at Yale. But one night in his dorm room in fall 2015, she said, she repeatedly turned down his sexual advances as he pulled her head toward his crotch. After a while, they both fell asleep. But she woke up around 3 a.m., she said, to find him vaginally penetrating her.

“I basically just laughed and said, ‘OK, I just won’t ever see him again,’” she recalled. “And that was that, and then I was talking to friends and someone said, ‘That is the definition of sexual assault.’ I said, ‘No, we had been hooking up for a bit, so it doesn’t count.’”

Later that semester, she told her first-year counselor about the experience, and the counselor filed an informal Title IX complaint against the former DKE brother. First-year counsellors are legally obligated to report to Yale any allegations of sexual misconduct they hear. While an informal complaint can lead to counseling or no-contact agreements between students, only a formal complaint prompts a fact-finding process, a hearing and potential disciplinary action. This option spares women the stress of participating in a formal Title IX investigation while allowing them to bring a perpetrator’s conduct to the University’s attention.

In a statement, the DKE spokesman said the fraternity had no knowledge of the allegations against the former brother until the publication of the Business Insider article.

“The member in question immediately resigned his membership from DKE following the article’s release,” the spokesman said. “Consequently, he no longer has any involvement in our organization.”

The DKE spokesman, a student at Yale, provided statements to the News on the condition that he not be named. During a phone call last Thursday, he asked the News not to publish this story and expressed frustration that, as the fraternity’s spokesman, “I’ve spent way more time close to this shit than I would’ve preferred,” referring to the allegations of sexual misconduct against current and former members of the fraternity.

The female students interviewed for this story have told other women over the years about their negative sexual experiences with the brother in question, long before the Business Insider article came out. Last March, for example, the Yale chapter of the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority prevented the brother from attending its “crush” event after members raised concerns about him on an anonymous feedback form, according to people with knowledge of the party. Such forms — which allow sorority members anonymously to blacklist from parties men who have reputations for sexual assault — are common practice among Yale sororities. The DKE spokesman said he could not confirm whether fraternity members had heard rumors about the former brother. But he said nobody in the fraternity’s leadership knew he had been barred from sorority events or were aware of any other rumors about him until allegations surfaced in Business Insider.

In addition to the student whose first-year counsellor filed the informal Title IX complaint, two of the other women who say the former DKE member assaulted them — including the student who filed a formal complaint last week — told the News they have filed informal complaints against him.

The women who have stopped short of filing formal Title IX complaints against the former DKE brother cited a range of reasons for their decisions.

“Everyone told me he was a ‘great guy,’” said the student who claims she was assaulted by him in the morning. “I didn’t have it in me to bring up what happened, especially to people who knew him.”

The woman who alleges that the former DKE brother had nonconsensual sex with her three to four times in one night said that, after the incident, she went to Yale’s SHARE center to discuss what had happened. But she later heard rumors that Yale does a poor job handling complaints. And friends told her that the former DKE member had assaulted other women without repercussions.

“That really amplified my feeling that even if I did come forward, nothing would happen,” she said. “Since freshman spring, I have definitely thought about it from time to time, but potentially having [a UWC case] drag out and reopen that whole period of time, if Yale was to even do anything, has kept me from formally reporting him.”

The woman whose first-year counsellor filed an informal complaint against the former DKE brother explained that she had already gone through the process of obtaining a no-contact order against a different Yale student who she says assaulted her that year. She did not want to go through the process again. Moreover, she said, her friends advised her against filing a formal Title IX complaint. They told her it would be the word of a “promiscuous freshman girl” against that of a confident older student.

No one would believe her.

“SOUTHERN GENTLEMEN”

DKE brothers live in two houses on Lake Place, one of which serves as a party venue. On weekend nights, students pile into the party house while brothers stand watch on the front porch. John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Road” sometimes plays as partygoers cram together on the crowded, beer-stained dance floor and brothers dressed in red, white and blue or denim congregate around kegs and beer pong tables.

DKE made negative headlines in 2011, when Yale banned the fraternity from campus for five years after pledges chanted, “No means yes! Yes means anal!” in front of the Women’s Center. When the ban ended in 2016, Persichetti, who at the time was the fraternity’s president, told the News that the sanctions “had a positive impact on the culture of our fraternity.”

In 2014, four Yale Law School students wrote a letter to the New Haven Board of Zoning Appeals, protesting the addition of a Chi Psi house on Lake Place, on the grounds that they had been sexually harassed by brothers in DKE and Alpha Delta Phi, which also has a house on the street. Members of both fraternities frequently made “lewd sexual comments and gestures” to neighbors and other women who walked by, the letter said. And on multiple occasions, it continued, fraternity members had shouted sexually explicit comments into the windows of their houses on Lake Place.

Yuni Chang ’18, who has lived on Lake Place for two years, said that when DKE threw parties last semester, brothers used to gather on the porch and shout at her and other female students to join their parties when they walked by. It was ultimately harmless, she said, but it still made her uncomfortable, given the fraternity’s reputation.

“There are definitely drawbacks living near DKE,” said another Yale student who lives on Lake Place but requested anonymity to avoid blowback from the DKE brothers who live near her. “They sometimes all crowd around on the front porch and just watch people as they walk by, and they sometimes yell out comments — ranging from asking us, me and my friends, to join them to drink to typical cat calling. That makes the street feel uncomfortable at times, especially knowing what we know about the sexual harassment and assault that goes on.”

Discomfort with DKE is not limited to the fraternity’s neighbors on Lake Place. In interviews with the News about DKE, nearly 30 FroCos, CCEs and sorority members said DKE has an institutional culture that condones sexual misconduct, noting that the problem goes beyond the “bad apples” who assault women.

Lexi Hopkins ’20, a member of Alpha Phi, said DKE was “clearly” condoning the sexual misconduct in the fraternity until the negative media coverage the fraternity faced in January. Because of how long DKE took to address its problems, Hopkins said, “what was originally the actions of a few members now reflect the organization as a whole.”

On Feb. 9, DKE finalized a set of recommendations designed to foster a safer environment at the chapter. The major reforms include sober monitors and coed bouncers and bartenders at parties, a new fraternity Facebook page with anonymous feedback forms, maximum house occupancy guidelines and improved drinking-water access.

The report — drafted by a working group consisting of six DKE members, including the president and vice president — came about three weeks after Business Insider contacted the Yale chapter about allegations of sexual misconduct by its members, prompting the fraternity to request that the national DKE organization investigate its sexual climate.

Not all students take issue with DKE. One Yale sorority member said that she has never felt unsafe at the fraternity and has close friends who are DKE members, even though she knows people who refuse to go to DKE because of concerns about its sexual climate. One of the women interviewed for this article even noted that she has great friends who are members of the fraternity, and she thinks of her alleged assailant’s actions as indicative of a campuswide problem, rather than a specific issue with DKE. Another of the women interviewed said she does not believe DKE is all to blame for the behavior of the former DKE brother she says coerced her into penetrative sex in December 2015. But, she added, the “fact that I never elect to go [to DKE] speaks for itself.”

Some of DKE’s neighbors on Lake Place said they have had only positive experiences with the fraternity. Chloe Yee ’18, who has lived next door to DKE for two years, said DKE brothers helped carry her and her neighbors’ furniture up their house’s stairs when they first moved in.

DKE is not the only fraternity at Yale whose members have faced accusations of sexual misconduct. Daniel Tenreiro-Braschi ’19 — a former member of LEO, the fraternity that used to be affiliated with Sigma Alpha Epsilon — sued the University in January after he was suspended for two semesters for groping. Last year, a student was suspended from Yale and expelled from Sigma Phi Epsilon after the UWC found him guilty of sexual assault, according to two students who were involved in the decision to expel him from the fraternity.

“The Business Insider article could honestly have been about any fraternity at Yale. All social spaces here have problems,” said Helen Price ’18, the co-founder of United against Sexual Assault at Yale. “Sexual assault at Yale is certainly not confined to DKE. It’s also certainly not confined to fraternities. We need to be thinking about how sexual disrespect is embedded and normalized in our campus culture rather than just having a two-week outcry about one frat or sports team every couple years.”

In the second of two letters sent to the News, a lawyer representing DKE accused the News of compromising an “expectation of integrity and fairness” because “allegations similar to those levied against the two former DKE members” discussed in the Business Insider article have also been leveled against members of other fraternities at Yale.

“To arbitrarily ‘pick and choose’ those facts the YDN desires to print, while ignoring similar actions by those unaffiliated with DKE is evidence, not of fair and unbiased reporting, but rather of a targeted attack, a ‘witch-hunt’ if you will, against one organization, and one alone: DKE,” the letter says. “Any article singularly intended to malign the character of that membership, and lacking a full, honest, open and fair presentation of ALL applicable and related facts and circumstances will not be taken lightly. It would be viewed as a premeditated and willful attempt by the YDN to attack and defame said membership as a whole.”

Still, multiple women interviewed said the fraternities on High Street — which include LEO, Sig Ep and Sigma Nu — are generally more respectful to women than DKE.

Maya Raiford Cohen ’21, a first year in Theta, said there was a “general consensus” when she arrived on campus that women should avoid the fraternity.

“From the couple of times I did go there early last semester, I remember aggressive verbal comments from guys but never anything super physical,” she explained. “As a girl in Theta who goes out a lot, the expectation is more like stick to High Street and you’re good, which honestly I’ve found to be true, although I lowkey hate to say it.”

Two years ago, Sig Nu expelled a brother after multiple concerns about his sexually aggressive behavior came to its attention, including a direct allegation of sexual assault. Price said other organizations should look to Sig Nu “as a model” for handling situations in which a member’s behavior has drawn multiple concerns in the absence of formal complaints.

The woman who says she has been groped each of the six times she has attended events at DKE said she still goes to other fraternities for parties. But she makes sure to steer clear of DKE.

“If you go to other frats, the men don’t grab you,” she said. “Of course they’ll flirt with you, but it’s not in an aggressive way.”

The student who alleges she was grabbed by a DKE brother last April said that during the day the brothers often act like “Southern gentleman.” They hold open doors, they swing dance with women at parties. But at night, she said, their behavior changes.

“I’ve found many of them to be very Southern gentlemanly, and they can be, in the light of day, really charming,” she said. “But when the lights go down, there’s something more sinister: ‘I’ve been polite, now I want things.’”

Britton O’Daly | britton.odaly@yale.edu

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