As Oklahoma Christian University’s social service clubs prepare for a month of rush festivities, the men of Chi Lambda Phi face the task of drawing in potential members while dealing with their yearlong probation sentence.
“They’re not on suspension, they’re on probation,” Liz McElroy said of Chi’s sentencing for the 2016-2017 school year. “So they are still operating as a club. They’re on probation, which means restricted activity. … They are allowed to have rush, they are not allowed to have competitions in the normal fashion.”
The club’s limitations in competitions affect intramurals, where Chi can only play on an independent team — the Upperclassmen or the Old Guys, for example — and can make up only 30 percent of that independent team. Club members are not allowed to participate in Homecoming or Spring Sing as individuals or as a club.
On Friday, March 4, 2016, the members of Chi prepared for the school’s annual Spring Sing competition in a hallway outside the Payne Athletic Center’s main gym. Around 9 p.m., Stephanie Findley, the head coach for the women’s basketball team, stepped into the hallway to retrieve her laptop from her office.
“Once I got in (the office), I closed the door and after I closed the door — by the time I got to my computer — they started using inappropriate language and I thought, ‘What are they doing?’” Findley said. “It progressed and I didn’t want to walk back out there with them in the hallway. The lights were off. It’s some kind of tradition they have, which speaks to the culture of their club.”
Findley, who is entering her 32nd season as head coach, said she went to her office to stream a basketball playoff game online and didn’t know which social service club she stumbled upon outside her office door. The “inappropriate language,” she said, was part of a chant.
“While they were singing their songs I sat down and started to watch the game, but then it progressed and another inappropriate episode started happening,” Findley said. “My name was used, so that made it a little more personal. And in my opinion, from what I was hearing — I couldn’t see anything — when my name was used I felt like I became a target of whatever I couldn’t see them doing.”
Findley said she stayed in her office for about 30 minutes, listening to the noise beyond her closed door.
“It made me mad and that’s one of the reasons why I never opened the door to leave, because I didn’t know what I would do if I walked out there — I might do something to get myself fired. So I did not want to walk out,” Findley said.
Findley said she compared the situation to an incident involving a racist bus chant at the University of Oklahoma in March 2015. Findley said that while Chi’s chant was not racist, “it was sexually inappropriate.”
Chi eventually moved into an adjacent hallway away from Findley’s office, and Findley exited the building and walked to her car. She said she began the Title IX process by contacting Tamie Willis, Oklahoma Christian’s Title IX Coordinator, the following Monday.
Under Title IX law, Oklahoma Christian’s sexual misconduct policy says responsible employees, including all coaches and athletic staff who interact directly with students, have a duty to report and respond to sexual misconduct.
“In all situations, a responsible employee must report to the Title IX Coordinator or a Deputy Title IX Coordinator. The responsible employee must report all relevant details of the alleged sexual misconduct that are known or reasonably known to them, or that have been shared with them, that the University will need to be aware of to determine what happened. This includes the names of the individual(s) affected and alleged perpetrator(s), any witnesses, and any other relevant facts, including the date, time and specific location of the alleged incident.”
A three-person panel investigated the situation and decided to place the social service club on probation for one school year. Dean of Students Neil Arter is working with the club in training exercises during the year to help change its emotional and mental environment.
“There’s something called bystander training,” Arter said. “Bystander training can go for the most negative of ways or the easiest of ways, it doesn’t have to be terrible news. But it does cause you to develop a culture in your club that says, ‘It’s OK for you to call me out, it’s OK for you to make a change here or redirect a club.’”
Arter said some of Chi’s funds will be used to hire people who will work with the club members to ensure the club’s culture changes in a positive way.
“They are trained and are professionals in the area of crisis management and crisis recovery,” Arter said of the people whom Oklahoma Christian plans to hire for Chi’s probationary period.
The Title IX panel also decided to strip Chi of its 2016 Spring Sing win, but the placements of the remaining clubs will stay the same.
The men of Chi issued a statement to the Oklahoma Christian community two weeks after the fall semester started. Findley said that Jonathan Juarez, Chi’s president, sent her a copy of the club’s statement to review and give feedback.
“That’s the first contact I’ve had since a couple days after the fact — the club sent me an apology,” Findley said. “That was appropriate. It would have been more appropriate for somebody to step up and stop the behavior at the time, but it was appropriate. I did not answer it because I was planning on reporting the incident and I wasn’t sure what I should do in that response, so I did not answer when they sent me an apology.”
After receiving approval for the statement from Findley, Juarez released it to The Talon.
“During the spring of 2016 the men of Chi Lambda Phi engaged in behavior that did not represent the values of our club or our university,” the statement said. “Because of our actions, we put someone in an extremely uncomfortable position where their power of choice was taken away.
“No one deserves what we put the victim through, and for that we are deeply sorry,” the statement said. “So that something like this will never happen again, our club has created new goals, typed out and signed by every member of club. These goals hold ourselves to a higher standard in how we handle ourselves on campus and in life as men of God.”
Chi’s full statement can be found here.