Two arrested in large protest outside UMass fraternity amid allegations of sexual assault 

  • Theta Chi fraternity at 496 North Pleasant St. in Amherst STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Theta Chi, a fraternity at UMass, had extensive damage including broken building and car windows, after a riot Sunday night over anonymous allegations of sexual assault at the fraternity . —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Theta Chi, a fraternity at UMass, had extensive damage including broken building and car windows, after a riot Sunday night over anonymous allegations of sexual assault at the fraternity . —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Nicholas Corrado, a UMass student who was at the event Sunday evening at Theta Chi talks about what he saw Monday afternoon. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • UMass students walk by Theta Chi, a fraternity at UMass that had extensive damage to property including broken building and car windows after a riot Sunday night over anonymous allegations of sexual assault at the fraternity . —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Boarded up windows are some of the results of the extensive damage to property at Theta Chi including broken building and car windows after a riot Sunday night at UMass over anonymous allegations of sexual assault at the fraternity . —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Windows are boarded up at the Theta Chi fraternity house in Amherst, Monday, after protesting students smashed building and car windows Sunday night. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • People vacuum up broken glass around cars parked in the lot by Theta Chi that were damaged after a large protest Sunday night over an allegation of a sexual assault at the UMass fraternity. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Samantha Curnyn, Brook Masse and Erica Marschke, students at UMass, talk about the event at Theta Chi Sunday evening which resulted in about 300 students rioting the fraternity over anonymous allegations of sexual assault at the fraternity . —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • University of Massachusetts students Samantha Curnyn, Brook Masse and Erica Marschke talk Monday about the protests at the Theta Chi fraternity house Sunday over anonymous allegations of a sexual assault at the fraternity. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Samantha Curnyn, Brook Masse and Erica Marschke, students at UMass, talk about the event at Theta Chi Sunday evening which resulted in about 300 students rioting the fraternity over anonymous allegations of sexual assault at the fraternity . —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer 
Published: 9/20/2021 1:12:00 PM

AMHERST — Multiple protests in which at least 300 people gathered outside a University of Massachusetts fraternity, alleging that a sexual assault occurred there over the weekend, culminated in the arrests of two people who were allegedly rioting Sunday night.

Police responding to Theta Chi at 496 North Pleasant St. at 7:20 p.m. found a crowd in the parking lot, throwing bottles and rocks through windows of the home, damaging a fence with graffiti and eventually kicking cars and shattering their windows.

As the protest grew more violent over the course of several hours, Maya Madison Meck-Borden, 20, of West Hartford, Connecticut, and Dale Andrew Levelle, 19, of Newton, were both arrested on charges of disorderly conduct, inciting a riot and failure to disperse from a riot, police said.

The arrests came about nine hours after police first took calls at noon about protesters holding up signs critical of the fraternity and tearing down an American flag. One resident was hit in the head with a bottle, suffering injuries that were not life-threatening according to Amherst police.

At the afternoon protest, Amherst police called in officers from Hadley, UMass and Massachusetts State Police, with 10 officers at the scene to disperse the crowd and keep the peace at 2:15 p.m.

The protests were apparently spurred by allegations made on the social media app YikYak by a first-year UMass student who wrote that she had been sexually assaulted after being drugged by a fraternity member, according to students interviewed.

Though she wasn’t at the protest, Erica Marschke, a UMass junior, said the anonymous student’s claims inspired many fellow students to take action because there is increasing frustration that the administration is not taking seriously accusations by victims, including when incidents happen at fraternities.

“It raised a lot of awareness because it’s happened to a lot of girls,” Marschke said of the allegations. “I don’t think this protest would have happened if not for YikYak.”

“We know people who have previously experienced this at UMass fraternity parties,” said Brook Masse, also a UMass junior. Masse explained that she knows a student who was drugged by a fraternity member but was denied a toxicology report to prove her assertion.

Masse said unless the administration takes some action against Theta Chi or reins in fraternities, more demonstrations are likely.

Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy late Monday afternoon issued a letter to the campus community stating that the allegations and “the impassioned response” illustrate that more work needs to be done to change campus and societal culture.

“Let me be unequivocally clear, we condemn sexual violence of any kind and are committed to providing robust support services to survivors and to vigorously investigating all allegations of sexual assault,” Subbaswamy wrote.

But he noted that no one has come forward to file a complaint or a report substantiating the online claims.

“While we respect and support a survivor’s decision whether or not to report an assault or pursue sanctions, we cannot take action against alleged perpetrators, whether they be individuals or organizations, without actionable evidence,” he wrote.

Samantha Curnyn, a junior at UMass, said she attempted to participate in the afternoon rally, but was blocked by the police presence and only got to Theta Chi after the protest broke up.

“I wish they would believe all these people who come out and say these things,” Curnyn said.

“This is about something bigger that’s been happening at UMass,” Curnyn added.

Nicholas Corrado, a sophomore who was present for the early part of the evening protest, said it was important for male students to join what had been a majority female protest in the afternoon.

“We wanted to support the females who were there to stand up for female rights,” Corrado said.

But the protest was also specific to the fraternity that has been the subject of previous allegations, including last winter when it was alleged to have thrown an unsanctioned party that contributed to a steep rise in COVID-19 cases.

“A lot of people are upset that Theta Chi gets away with things,” Corrado said, adding that what he saw was a mostly peaceful protest.

The evening protest started near Subbaswamy’s home a short distance from the fraternity.

A change.org petition was also initiated to have the fraternity shut down or suspended, with more than 12,000 signatures by midday Monday.

During the evening, police took several 911 calls, including from a woman and three female friends in the fraternity who worried about their safety and declined a police escort from the building.

“Ultimately (she) decided her and the other three women would stay put,” the dispatch narrative reads.

Police also took emergency calls from Theta Chi members who don’t live at the fraternity house about being threatened online, as well as from members of a UMass sorority worried that they would also be targeted due to their affiliation with Greek Life.

Subbaswamy noted vandalism is not the answer. “Those who were responsible for the violence and damage to property will be charged per applicable laws and the Student Code of Conduct.”

UMass spokesman Edward Blaguszewski said allegations will be investigated. “UMass is committed to responding promptly and effectively to all allegations of sexual assault and misconduct.”

Amherst Police Chief Scott Livingstone said his department has received no reports of sexual assaults at Theta Chi, but he noted that people have avenues for getting help if an incident has occurred.

“Additionally, if an individual needs to report any allegation of sexual assault or any unlawful behavior, they have many options, including my agency, the UMass police, The Center for Women and Children at UMass and the Northwestern district attorney’s office, and I would encourage the individual to use these resources,” Livingstone said.

Ben Hill, a spokesman at Theta Chi’s international headquarters in Carmel, Indiana, issued a statement expressing shock at the riot targeting the UMass fraternity house.

“Fraternity staff members continue to gather facts and are not currently aware of any formal complaints filed against the chapter or members with the University of Massachusetts or the Amherst or UMass police departments,” Hill wrote.

“Theta Chi requests that any agency that has received formal reports of misconduct, including law enforcement and the university, to thoroughly and comprehensively review these allegations immediately. These allegations have caused an uproar of violence on campus and Theta Chi asks local law enforcement to continue to provide safety for all students.”

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


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