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University of Chicago Frat Threatened After Racist Prank, Members Say

By Sam Cholke | June 18, 2013 6:49pm | Updated on June 19, 2013 9:41am
 Piotr Wilk holds up the last of 84 boxes that were delivered to the Phi Delta Theta fraternity with a racial, homophobic slur on it.
Piotr Wilk holds up the last of 84 boxes that were delivered to the Phi Delta Theta fraternity with a racial, homophobic slur on it.
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DNAinfo/Sam Cholke

HYDE PARK — Members of the University of Chicago chapter of Phi Delta Theta have been subjected to a steady stream of hateful remarks and even a bomb threat after the fraternity was blamed for a racist, homophobic prank last week, the fraternity's president said.

“Literally, it was getting shared all over Facebook and people were writing very negative comments about us, like, ‘Kick them out,’” said Piotr Wilk, president of the fraternity, which received 79 packages on May 29 addressed to an insulting pseudonym — from an anonymous sender.

Wilk said by Thursday the criticism had escalated to threats of possible violence against the fraternity. Members reported a bomb threat to campus police, who determined the threat was not credible, and the fraternity house at 5625 S. University Ave. was not evacuated.

Wilk said the abuse has been nonstop since the fraternity’s mail carrier, Iran Becton, told the Chicago Sun-Times he was the butt of a practical joke when he delivered boxes to “Reggin Toggaf,” a racist and homophobic slur if read backward, to the frat house.

“After the last trip, one of the frat guys came out and said it was a practical joke,” Becton told columnist Mary Mitchell. “Another guy said that I should read the name backwards and I’ll get the joke.”

Wilk said he wasn’t at the frat house when the packages arrived, but had seen a smaller shipment of five boxes delivered May 24 with the same slur on them. He said members assumed a joke was being played on them and tried to stop the delivery.

“Someone stepped out and said, ‘No, we don’t want these here, we didn’t order these,’” Wilk said of the shipment of empty boxes that can be ordered online anonymously for free.

Wilk said many members helped Becton unload the 79 boxes, which they later threw out. Wilk said he and others were surprised when Mack Julion, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, Branch 11, showed up on June 9 demanding an apology.

“When [Becton] was here, we didn’t see any offense taken by him,” Wilk said.

The third-year economics major said he sat down after finals on June 11 to write an apology, but struggled over what to write because the frat, which he said has many black members, also was offended by the prank.

“The only thing I apologized for was maybe we should have reacted faster when the first boxes arrived,” Wilk said.

Wilk said he and other members have been cooperating with U.S. Postal inspectors, but still don’t know who sent the packages.

“Our first hunch was if someone wanted to pull a prank on us, it would likely be another fraternity,” he said.

The U.S. Postage Inspection Service did not respond to requests for comment, but the University of Chicago said that it was told there were no suspects.

“As of our last contact this week with the USPIS, they said they have no suspects and have determined the matter to be noncriminal in nature,” said Eleanor Daugherty, associate dean of the College.

Daugherty said there was no evidence pointing to the prank originating from a U. of C. student or staff.

“The University of Chicago considers this a grave and deplorable incident that offends our community’s core values,” Daugherty said. “Our institution has responded on many levels, including full cooperation with federal authorities in their investigation. We will continue to engage our students in education on diversity issues more broadly, and on why incidents such as this one are unacceptable.”

The fraternity's headquarters in Ohio also is investigating.

"During the course of this initial investigation, it was determined that the Illinois Beta Chapter of Phi Delta Theta received these shipments from an anonymous source, not associated with the chapter, unprovoked," Bob Biggs, executive vice president of the fraternity said.