Journal-Sentinel Gets It Wrong on the TKE Fraternity Story

Scandalous accusations dominated the headlines this fall — headlines that, as it turns out, were based on innuendo instead of fact. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel insinuated that the Tau Kappa Epsilon (TKE) fraternity at the UW-Milwaukee campus was spiking the drinks of female party guests with a date rape drug. In the end, the accusations proved false, but the Journal-Sentinel had their story.

The media exploded when an unnamed person used their Facebook page to suggest that the Teke’s (as TKE members are known) may have included a date rape drug in drinks some of these girls had.

Media Innuendo Drives Story
So why did the Journal-Sentinel decide to run with this story? It’s because, “College Students Get Drunk at Fraternity House” wouldn’t have shocked anyone and probably wouldn’t have sold any more papers. On the other hand, Police probe whether UWM fraternity members put drugs in party drinks (published September 18, 2014) brought national attention.

Amateur Drinkers Don’t Know Their Own Limits
The real story is much simpler. In their first month of college and in the first year that most of these young people become legal adults, they had access to parties where other adults drink alcoholic beverages. In all likelihood, September was their first month of freedom away from their parents vigilant eyes. As amateurs, these young adults drank more than they should have. One of the students stated they had “weird feeling and sensation prior to blacking out.”

And what happens when you drink two, or in a few cases almost three times the legal limit of alcohol? Well you get sick and sometimes black out, or at least many people do. If you’re smart, you don’t do it again to the same degree. But again, many of these young people were in their first month of college.

Is it menacing? Well it can certainly be messy, and it is illegal to provide alcohol to these adults who have not yet reached the age of 21 ever since the law was changed in 1984 in a law passed by Congress and signed by the most famous Teke of all time, the late-President Ronald Reagan.

So how would an amateur at drinking explain their first night of excess? It’s reasonable to say that they would have had a “weird feeling and sensation prior to blacking out.”

Over-reaching Prosecution and Immaturity
Now the story would have been interesting enough, but since the police had already busted the fraternity for providing alcohol to minors, they had reasonable cause to search the house. The story was made to look even more sinister when it turned out that the fraternity President had two different strains of marijuana, in separate baggies, in his locked room. (Having a locked bedroom is common for college students whether they live with other students off campus or in the dorms.) Different strains of marijuana have different effects but since they were in separate bags, the district attorney has since charged him with maintaining a drug house.

The Teke President was reported as being 28 years old by the Journal-Sentinel without context. What wasn’t reported is that he served several tours of duty and afterwards went onto college.

To make matters worse, two days after the party he turned 28 years old which is old for a college student unless, like many college students these days, they served in the military. The media insinuation was that this was a guy who was old for a college student, taking advantage of young students. For this story we were not able to confirm whether or not he was in the military but we asked the question and was told by several students that knew him that he was responsible for bringing up the average G.P.A. of the entire fraternity. And while his scholastic prowess did not make news reports, his age did.

This young man also had the prescription drug Adderall, commonly known on college campuses as the “study drug” due to the singular focus that it gives students extreme focus on the task at hand, was found in his room. He has since been charged with possessing an illegally obtained prescription, a misdemeanor offense.

Now it’s all well and good to point to a college student who clearly exceeded the boundaries of common sense, but it’s another thing to indict an entire fraternity. Unfortunately, that’s what has happened here.

In reaction to the media frenzy, UWM suspended their ties to TKE and the fraternity’s own national organization abandoned them by pulling their charter, making them just another group of students living near campus.

Rolling Stone Showed Journalistic Integrity, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Abandoned it
Last month, Rolling Stone Magazine published an article alleging rape by several University of Virginia’s Phi Kappa Psi fraternity members. The story enflamed public opinion against Phi Kappa Psi who despite extreme public pressure and condemnation, remained steadfast, insisting in their innocence. When questions arose and the source changed her story about facts surrounding the alleged event, Rolling Stone issued a post-publication statement indicating such. Yes, they admitted that they might have been wrong.

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel took another approach. Although someone on Facebook had claimed that the Teke’s had spiked drinks with a date rape drug, no trace of drugs were found in the system of the girls who were tested. The Journal-Sentinel stayed steadfast in their story by not issuing a correction, nor even a post-publication statement indicating that the accusations they had reported were, in fact, wrong.

Tau Kappa Epsilon’s Milwaukee chapter holds a fundraiser for a local food bank. This is in keeping with one of their key principles upon which their brotherhood is based upon — charity

Lives Changed, Dreams Realigned
Young men join a fraternity with dreams of being part of something larger and taking a leadership role in their own organization. The UWM Teke’s have been stripped of the traditional understanding of greek letter organizations. Although they joined an organization that has initiated over a quarter million students, they may never become a TKE alumni. Most fraternities operate under moral codes and principles. These young men should continue to live by whatever oaths they took at their membership ceremonies.

Although both the media and the district attorneys office have already symbolically convicted the members of TKE, we here at Watchdog Milwaukee hope that these young men continue to stay together and operate as a local fraternity even as their national has suspended activities with these young men. Although their university has abandoned them, they owe it to each other to continue to spend time together and build their bonds of brotherhood.

Links and Sources:
National Minimum Drinking Age Act – Source: Wikipedia
Police probe whether UWM fraternity members put drugs in party drinks
Wisconsin Court System – Circuit Court Access
TKE, Tau Kappa Epsilon National Fraternity
The Washington Post
Rolling Stone Magazine’s story noted above

Other articles of interest:
UWM Official Found a Key Allegation into TKE Fraternity Appeared False, Motion Says


Jim McGuigan is a UW-Milwaukee alumni who, during his college years was a member of a local fraternity which disbanded in approximately 2009. He continues to spend time with his old fraternity members, 30 years later.



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