Alumni of a deaf college fraternity are coming under fire after resurfaced photos from the 1980s showed members doing what looks like an anti-Semitic salute.
Gallaudet University, a college serving the deaf community in Washington, D.C. announced last month that it was suspending the Kappa Gamma fraternity that has become “the face of racism” on campus.
Kappa Gamma is the school’s oldest fraternity and has a long history of controversy on campus, according to Deaf Vee, a news organization covering the deaf community. Over the years, students complained that fraternity members used the Nazi salute and wore ceremonial robes that resembled Ku Klux Klan robes.
The fraternity was suspended multiple times in the ’90s due to racism as well as hazing, something that former Gallaudet student Ricky Taylor experienced. He was a freshman when Kappa Gamma brothers poured hot candle wax over the shoulders of his new suit while screaming at him. After that, he knew he wanted nothing to do with the fraternity.
Taylor said following the death of George Floyd and nationwide calls for racial justice, he felt the need to hold Gallaudet accountable for ignoring complaints about Kappa Gamma for decades.
He started circulating a 1988 photo of the fraternity members using the salute, including current university board member Greg Hlibock. Taylor said Kappa Gamma brothers were often given preference when it came to jobs in the deaf community, allowing them to rise to leadership positions across the country.
Pictured in the photo are Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind staff members David Snow, a media specialist, and William Lange, an athletic director. The photos also show University of North Florida associate instructor Michael Stultz. A second photo shows Snow wearing blackface at a Gallaudet party, according to Taylor, but this photo is not captioned.
Snow issued a public apology video on his Facebook page in ASL, but did not address the blackface photo.
“I recognize my failure to truly understand how loaded the symbolism was behind the salute I used in the fraternity during my college years. I disassociated the fraternal gesture from the ideology of the salute used by Nazis who took away the lives of so many innocent victims,” Snow said. “I am ashamed of my insensitivity and for being so blatantly wrong in thinking that it was different.”
FSDB is not investigating Lange or Snow, whose son is the current president of Kappa Gamma and whose wife is currently applying to be the next president. A spokeswoman said the school renounces the actions and has a zero tolerance policy for discrimination.
“We recently became aware of this matter, which occurred many decades ago before any of the participating individuals were employed by FSDB. Throughout the course of their employment, the school’s administration has never received any complaints of racism, bigotry or hate concerning the individuals in question. Accordingly, we do not believe there is anything to investigate.”
Soon after the salute photo gained traction, Gallaudet President Roberta Cordana posted a YouTube video in ASL stating that the school was suspending Kappa Gamma as part of an overhaul of systemic racism on campus.
“We became aware of new information that led to renewed demands for change with Kappa Gamma, a fraternity with a long history at Gallaudet,” Cordana said, explaining that her father was a member of Kappa Gamma. “They have become the face of systemic racism in our community, with photographs of the salute and use of robes being shared on social media. This behavior is unacceptable.”
Current and former members told Deaf Vee that the salute goes all the way back to 1900, when the fraternity was formed, and is meant to symbolize the group’s slogan of “upwards and onwards,” aimed at supporting and uplifting fellow brothers and deaf community members. The robes were also adopted back in the 1900s but have changed design and color over the years.
Still, many former students say the fraternity and the school ignored calls to stop using the robes and the salute after they became associated with racism and anti-semitism.
Many of Kappa Gamma’s former members have issued apology videos following the suspension of the fraternity, and some are even under investigation. Massachusetts Commissioner for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Steven Florio, was placed on paid leave after admitting his ties to the fraternity, CBS Boston reported. Florio was not included in the photos.
In California, a high school assistant principal and former Kappa Gamma member Tim Hile is under investigation following a 2006 photo of him doing the same salute, the San Bernandino Sun reports.