After an early March altercation between members of two fraternities, Tau Kappa Epsilon and Phi Kappa Tau, rumors began circulating about the suspensions of the groups and the students involved. By the time The Torch learned of the incident, it seemed like everyone else on campus knew about it, too.
Yet when reporters from The Torch went out to gather information for their story, no one knew anything. Phone calls were unreturned, comment was declined, and only one official source could be obtained. For a story that caused a buzz across the campus, people seemed rather mum.
Students, willing to gossip freely to their friends, were adamant that they knew nothing of the incident, and if they did, they claimed it was not their information to share. The administration, too, was rather vague in their response, and certainly knew more than they were willing to let on.
A full three weeks after the incident occurred, and still little was being released. Numerous fraternity and sorority suspensions have occurred in the past several years, and not once has gathering information been so difficult. As press time neared this week, members of The Torch had been regaled with countless retellings of the altercation, having overheard rumors, chatted with friends, and sought out any possible witness, yet there was little information available for publication. For a story that seemed, based on the various rumors, rather important, it was being passed off by the community as less than substantial.
Most unusual was the lack of information regarding the official suspension. While the University was willing to admit that they had in fact placed both groups on suspension, they could not confirm the duration of suspension or any other penalties placed on the groups. Further, no official information was released regarding the nature of the incident.
It may seem to all involved that refraining from public comment is the best move, the one least likely to lead to further problems, but that is not always the case. Often, a refusal to comment reads as an admission of guilt, or at the very least a confirmation of fact.
In 1998, as the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal swept over the media, the White House initially had a “no comment” policy; the public took this as an admission of Clinton’s guilt. When later information was released, the assumption was proven correct.
With such precedence set, it is likely that most will see such lack of comment as more than a refusal to publicize a matter or an unwillingness to release inaccurate information; it will read only as a confirmation of the worst possible scenario.
At least for the University, this attempt at preventing unwanted publicity sends the wrong message. If the rumors are even half true, the incident leading to the recent suspensions was serious enough to warrant official comment, and not of the vague, non-committal variety offered up already.
This ironic silence is more deafening than the clattering noise of rumors.