This article was co-written by both Piper and Mary Pat.
The combination of the George Floyd protests and the resurfaced old uncovered photos of Kappa Gamma activities (which Ricky Taylor revealed) on social media has ignited difficult conversations about racism that occurs within the fraternity and on campus. As mentioned in a recent article, President Roberta Cordano announced the suspension of Kappa Gamma. The authenticity of her announcement is questionable.
Deaf Vee Journal investigated to find out what has or has not changed over the past 30 years and to better understand the dynamics between Gallaudet University and the Kappa Gamma Fraternity. UPDATE, 06/29/2020: The Daily Moth asked us to do an extended independent investigation into the Kappa Gamma Fraternity. Check out our final report here!
The 1994 Lawsuit
Before we dive into this, we want to acknowledge that a scanned PDF file of the lawsuit against Gallaudet University has been circulating around social media channels (read here for the original documents). For Deaf Vee Journal readers who want a short summary, one is provided below.
Several Kappa Gamma members, including a few who were employed as Gallaudet University faculty at the time, participated in or witnessed the February 14, 1993 hazing incident. Pledges were subjected to verbal abuse, such as Nazi slogans and excessive admiration of Adolf Hitler, and physical abuse. For over 3 hours, Kevin Clark had to stand in place inside an extremely hot room without air circulation and somehow retain his balance as the members repeatedly put on and took off the blindfold and waved their hands in front of his eyes. Clark was disoriented to the point where he fell three times, and his third fall resulted in unconsciousness because his head landed on an object.
None of the faculty or undergraduate Kappa Gamma active members called 9-1-1–they simply left him there on the floor and only after a few hours had passed did they carry or drag him to one of the members’ cars for a drive to the hospital. A police officer pulled the members over and subsequently asked what was under the blanket. The members had the opportunity to get assistance and yet they chose to lie to the officer.
Mike McConnell wrote on his website, Kokonut, that Clark was “hastily dropped off at the emergency entrance like a wet rag doll” at the wrong hospital. Clark was in extreme pain when he woke up after being out for six hours. The doctors told Clark he was at risk for death, so a spinal tap would be necessary although it would be painful. Clark had to return the next day for the spinal tap, and the Kappa Gamma officers refused to allow any of the members to accompany him for the procedure.
As a result, Kevin Clark has a permanent physical injury that causes frequent and severe headaches and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Gallaudet University settled with Clark out of court for an alleged amount of $16 million and the Kappa Gamma Fraternity was suspended for the third time in three years, with the suspension lasting for four years this time. The first suspension occurred in 1990 for “padding the 90th Congregation,” followed by a second suspension in 1992 for accusations of racism.
Not so Different Now
Active Kappa Gamma members have often stated the resurfaced photos and the 1994 lawsuit were “decades ago” and should not be considered an accurate reflection of their current values, that there are “(insert race here, i.e., Black, Mexican, Jewish) members” in the fraternity, the salute is no longer in use, active involvement and partnerships with minority student organizations have occurred, and other improvements have been made.
Is it true or just a publicity stunt?
President Cordano attributed the decision of suspending Kappa Gamma to the revelation of “new information” during the Student Body Government/Black Student Union Town Hall last week on Friday. Black Deaf student participants in the SBG/BSU Town Hall shared that they do not feel safe or comfortable around the Kappa Gamma Fraternity, and this was a direct call-out.
Just yesterday, the fraternity worked to remove the photos and names of notable and active members on their website before taking it down altogether for “damage control.” The website is back up but with a new addition, which would be their public statement.
Several of the brothers whose names are shown in the above photograph have come forward and apologized. A common theme across the apology videos is the implication that the use of the salute was discontinued. New evidence has emerged on Facebook that suggests otherwise.
Charles Hammack tagged David Michalowski in an article and stated: “…we use Kappa Gamma salute” (the Bellamy or Nazi salute) but because it was offensive to so many others, they will no longer use it. Note the word “will” here, which indicates that the fraternity continued to use the salute long after 2000, contrary to what a source told us in our recent article (Kappa Gamma: A Breeding Ground for Racism?).
A video clip of a graduation ceremony at Gallaudet University features David Letkiewicz, a White man who is walking across the stage towards then-President King Jordan. Just as Letkiewicz approaches the President, Letkiewicz gets into position where he clicks his shoes together and salutes him in such a manner that it echoes the way Schutzstaffel officers would salute towards their superiors in the 1920s-1940s. The clip proves that not only was the salute used in private events, but also during public events, such as graduation ceremonies. This is important because Letkiewicz would not have used the salute if he knew there were going to be severe repercussions for doing so.
Kappa Gamma members have also worn ceremonial robes with elements that echo the KKK robes, another visual symbol reminiscent of White supremacy. A video as early as 1964 shows the brothers in their pledge announcement march where they wear robes. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 had just been passed that year, so racism was still very much prevalent in the United States. (Watch the video here.)
But what about recent times? A second video shows the Kappa Gamma brothers using robes similar, if not identical to, the KKK robes in 2011. (View the video here.) The robes had pointed hoods with insignia on the sides of their arms. The brothers were wearing their robes as late as 2014, in which case other Gallaudet students submitted a formal complaint that detailed how traumatizing it was for them to see the robes. One participant in the SBG/BSU Town Hall shared that the robes were banned for public use on and off campus and to this day, several brothers are still angry about the ban and want to bring the robes back. A Buff and Blue article from December 19, 2015 implies that fraternities and sororities can wear their regalia inside their chapter rooms–in other words, it is rather likely that the Kappa Gamma fraternity is still donning their ceremonial robes in private.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center praised President Cordano for the suspension of the Kappa Gamma fraternity, stating the fraternity “disgraced itself by donning KKK style hoods and giving Nazi salutes.” The possibility, however, that Gallaudet University would only have minimal requirements for the suspension to be lifted is a concern.
Kappa Gamma and Gallaudet University
People wonder why Kappa Gamma is so “untouchable” and the answer lies within Gallaudet University itself. Kappa Gamma was formally founded in 1901; however, its true origins trace back to 1864, when the Honorary Order of the Secret Society (H.O.S.S.) was established. Thirty years later in 1894, H.O.S.S. was disbanded but the same group re-emerged as the Xi Phi Fraternity. The Xi Phi Fraternity was shut down in 1900, and again the same group went on to establish Kappa Gamma on January 4, 1901.
Gallaudet University was founded in 1864 as well. Edward Miner Gallaudet was an active H.O.S.S. brother, and he was the first President of Gallaudet University. Percival Hall is the founding brother of Kappa Gamma, and he was the second President of Gallaudet University. Although Deaf Vee Journal was not able to find records on whether Leonard Elstad, the third President, was also a Kappa Gamma brother, it is confirmed that his wife was an honorary sister of O.W.L.S. (also known as Phi Kappa Zeta). Out of Gallaudet University’s 11 presidents including two females, six Presidents have been confirmed as either members or honorary members of Kappa Gamma. Out of all six, one had a public paddling ceremony (I King Jordan) in 1988 and it is said that he even posed for a snapshot of it. The current President’s father (now deceased) was a Kappa Gamma member.
Gallaudet University had suspended Kappa Gamma for two separate incidents involving racism in the 1990s, the second of which could have caused a death. So far, no records indicate that any of the involved Kappa Gamma undergraduate student members were expelled or that any of the Gallaudet University Kappa Gamma alumni staff were terminated or stepped down. The actions required to lift the suspensions seem to have been superficial. One might argue that the incidents are far and few in between, which could account for the low number of suspensions across the span of 30 years. An alternative explanation would be the clear conflict of interest between Gallaudet University and Kappa Gamma, where several faculty and administrators, along with members of the Board of Trustees, are Kappa Gamma alumni. How could they be impartial in determining the consequences for their own fraternity when incidents are reported?
Kappa Gamma is so inextricably intertwined with Gallaudet University that the fraternity has described itself as “the glue that holds Gallaudet University together.” The initials of Kappa Gamma also represents Kendall Green, the estate where Gallaudet University, the Model Secondary School for the Deaf, and the Kendall Demonstration Elementary School sits on. To hold Kappa Gamma accountable is to hold Gallaudet University itself accountable. Unlike the other two fraternities on campus, shutting down Kappa Gamma would mean shutting down Gallaudet University itself. As Brother Carl Schoreder put it plainly in his blog: “…the Kappa Gamma Fraternity is an integral part of a satisfying intellectual life. Professors know it. Administrators know it. We the Kappa Gamma Brothers know it” (Carl Schroeder – ASL Storytelling Theatre).