Palm Beach News

FAU Newspapers Trashed for Daring to Criticize Frat Party Where Woman Was Raped

I’ve been editor of the student newspaper at Florida Atlantic University for a year, but until this week, I’d never been threatened to be struck down by a “higher authority” or had tweets written about me telling people to pray for me. And our beardy mountain man of a photographer had never been threatened with a beatdown by a bunch of sorority sisters.

But that’s what happened this week after we printed an exposé on an annual underground, fraternity-tied drinking party that last year resulted in a police investigation into an alleged gang rape.

The past four years, after a big annual step-dancing show on campus, the South Florida Spill, a private event, has taken place at the Wayne Barton Study Center — a private facility two miles from campus that is run by former Boca Raton Police Officer Wayne Barton. Last year, the event drew about 25,000 people.

The event name sounds a lot like so-called "oil spills" — all-you-can-drink parties that run until the liquor runs out. Witnessses we spoke to remembered that at last year's event, tickets were sold by Greek organizations and that there was alcohol at the event. After the event, an FAU student told police she was pulled behind a curtain and gang-raped. The case is still under investigation. 

Tweets about the event hint at its character. Bobby Mitchell reported, "I mean literally got it in at #SFLSpill. Dude pulled her pants down and put the condom they give you on and she sat on him." User @iamyaokhari tweeted a picture with the caption, "After I ate the pwussy last night at #SFLSpill," then was saluted as "sir" for it. A woman, Neisha Clark, wrote that "everybody kept touching my ass." 

The party happens again next weekend, though the venue has been changed to Club Cinema — a nightclub that’s been subject to police raids and been called a “nuisance” by the City of Pompano Beach, resulting in the club eventually giving up its liquor license. After we wrote about it — we examined how the company that hosted the party, Sadiddy Entertainment, is tied to FAU’s Omega Psi Phi fraternity, and a seeming lack of concern about the woman raped — our papers were stolen out of their racks on campus multiple times in two days.

I’ve worked at the University Press for four years, and I’ve never seen such a strong reaction to a story. We’ve covered crimes and schemes before: conspiracist professors, a stadium almost being named after a for-profit prison company, and everything in between. But this one party, where condoms are offered upon walking in and women felt men nibbling on their ears in the dark, has elicited the most powerful number of threats, emails, phone calls, and even personal visits to the newsroom.

Why? I think it’s because nothing is more sacred to college students than their parties. Not their political party. Their parties. You can attack their sports, their parents, their entertainment. But don’t you dare touch their liquor.

On Tuesday, March 29, the latest issue of the University Press hit bins at FAU. But they didn’t last long.

This issue featured my story about the South Florida Spill on the cover. We also released the story online earlier that day.

Within four hours of the student newspaper being distributed that evening, 300 issues were stolen, dumped into trash cans, and finally recovered.

By the following afternoon, 700 issues and counting were dumped. Many have been recovered by our staff by looking in the trash cans closest to the bins they came from — so another takeaway here is that college thieves are lazy. A stack of 50 issues weighs about 15 pounds. Guess they didn't want to carry them very far. 

It’s bittersweet pulling your story out of a trash can lined with empty soda bottles and smoothie cups. It's gross — but far more concerning is that people are more upset over the livelihood of a party than the fact that a girl said she was gang-raped there. 

On the other hand, for a paper that students sometimes dismiss as one that “nobody reads,” it sure looks like people were concerned about this issue’s reach.

Our staff photographer, who asked that he not be named because he has been getting followed by angry students, saw two women dump issues in the trash right in front of him. Being a photographer, he took their picture. “I ran in front of them and turned around and snapped them walking toward me. They proceeded to yell at me, saying I can’t take pictures and I need to delete them.” Then one of the women got in his face.

“One grabbed my arm with both hands trying to get my phone, saying she’d delete the photos.” The women told our photographer if he didn’t delete the photos, their sorority sisters would beat him up. He kept walking.

“They came back, and one said, ‘Now that you did that, I’m going to throw out the rest,’” he said. Two bins where the altercation happened were emptied, and we found the issues later on in the trash.

Now, we’re fighting back. We filed a police report for the theft, and our staff is refilling bins left and right. Even FAU’s Student Government is supporting us, which is surprising coming from a group that wants to cut almost a third of our operating budget. Yesterday, they posted a statement on Facebook and a link to the digital version of the paper:

STUDENTS: We are currently working with the FAU University Press on a problem they are having with their current issue. Their current issue is being removed from bins and thrown in the trash. This may very possibly be backlash from the student group mentioned in the UP’s cover story.

This is important because this is an issue with a cover story that affects everyone on campus. Sexual Assault is a serious topic and one that we will be discussing heavily with the FAU Its On Us: Sexual Assault Awareness Week.

The UP is promoting that event in their current issue, not just in the free full page ad they provided us, but in the story itself with quotes from Peer Education Team Director Allison Vo.

Please check out the latest issue below, read the article and share it for yourself. This is an important topic and Student Government stands united with the UP in resolving this matter.

The UP releases 3,000 issues every other Tuesday during the fall and spring semesters. We pay about $1,200 to print and are funded by a combination of student fees and advertising.

When stacks of issues are taken and dumped, it doesn’t just affect us, but also our readers and advertisers. It’s also theft, which you know, is frowned upon to say the least.

In the meantime, we’ll continue to restock our bins until this is over. You can also read the article that started all of this, or read the entire issue online. 

Emily Bloch is the editor in chief of the University Press and a contributor to  New Times
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Emily Bloch