A timeline of what unfolded
On March 14, The DePaulia published an article that identified a large party that took place off DePaul’s campus the weekend before St. Patrick’s Day on March 13. The pictures and videos of the party, which were posted by attendees to social media, showed throngs of people, all maskless, and some of whom were identified as members of DePaul chapters of fraternities and sororities. The party not only violated DePaul, Chicago and Illinois COVID-19 guidelines, but also those of the fraternities and sororities present.
As the story developed, so did the backlash and harassment of The DePaulia, especially the story’s writer, Assistant News Editor Sonal Soni, who has been the target of racist, transphobic and homophobic attacks, the vast majority of which have transpired on social media. One anonymously run Instagram account in particular, @nocapdepaul, which is the former “DePaul for Trump” page, has been the main perpetrator of the online violence aimed at Soni.
Over the past week, the account has posted over a dozen posts about Soni. While some of the posts have been removed by Instagram after numerous reports of hate speech, the individuals behind the account continue to post, incessantly targeting Soni.
In a statement to 14 East, The DePaulia spoke against all harassment that has followed the stories.
“The DePaulia is appalled by the online bullying and harassment that has resulted from its publication of a story exposing a Covid-19 guideline-breaking party held over the weekend. Our reporter simply did their job and because of that, has been subjected to blatant racism, transphobia, xenophobia and harassment. We condemn such behavior leveled at the reporter behind said coverage.
We will not allow any threats or hateful words directed toward our reporter or the publication to deter us in our pursuit to inform the DePaul community. Our stories will not go away just because they rocked the boat. We will continue to provide updates on this situation as they arise — as well as our regularly scheduled content — regardless of backlash.”
While local reporters, as well as DePaul’s journalism department and College of Communication, have spoken out against the harassment of both The DePaulia and Soni and well as students who attended the party, the student body still awaited responses from members of DePaul’s Panhellenic and Interfraternity Councils, as well as the university.
On Wednesday night, DePaul Panhellenic Council held an emergency body meeting in which its members addressed both the party and the harassment that followed it.
Meeting 1: emergency general body meeting held by DePaul Panhellenic Council is taking place tonight at 7:15. I’ll be live-tweeting, follow along on this thread. https://t.co/MGNTeefHPw
— Grace Del Vecchio (she/her) (@delvecchiograce) March 17, 2021
While non-members were not permitted to join, a member who was in the meeting consented to give 14 East access to listen in.
The council’s president, Molly Adams, said that while she and others seek to hold their fellow members accountable, she does not encourage that the accountability is done on social media and rather, urged members to file an incident report with the Dean’s office to report members who attended the party.
Adams said that this moment called for change within DePaul’s Panhellenic scene and said that the executive board plans to produce an action plan by April 7.
“We know it’s not ideal that we don’t have an action plan yet,” said Adams. “This is a long-term thing that we are going to have to face.”
The meeting was followed by a statement posted to the council’s Instagram story on Thursday which issued a formal apology to Soni and other staff members at The DePaulia who have received harassment online as well as harassment aimed at members of the Panhellenic community.
“We want to apologize on behalf of the Panhellenic board for anyone within our community who has enabled or participated in these actions.”
On March 17, DePaul’s Interfraternity Council announced that it, too, would be holding a general body meeting, on March 22. In the statement posted to the council’s Instagram account, the group stated that it is “dedicated to the health and wellbeing of our member fraternities, and do not condone any gatherings that break COVID-19 protocol as set by the CDC, Illinois Department of Health, the City of Chicago, and DePaul.”
Also on Wednesday night, The DePaulia published an article claiming to reveal the host of the party. However, the following day, they issued a correction stating that the alleged host of the party had proven via time-stamped video that he was not even in the state with the party took place. The article has since been updated to reflect these findings.
— The DePaulia (@TheDePaulia) March 19, 2021
After a week of race- and gender-based violent online attacks targeted at a DePaul student journalist, we at 14 East wondered, what could be done? In what capacity can DePaul as an institution mitigate the situation?
At a university faculty and staff town hall on Thursday, 14 East asked DePaul President A. Gabriel Esteban this question.
Esteban said that while disappointed by the partying and did not condone any harassment, the university cannot provide any assistance to students unless they know who the perpetrator of the harassment is.
“We can help if we know it’s a DePaul student,” said Esteban.
Discussion continues online about whether the university should and can be doing more to address online harassment within the DePaul community.
Header image is from the DePaulia’s original article on the St. Patricks Day party, taken by Cristan Perez.