University of Florida fraternity, Zeta Beta Tau (ZBT), was suspended after it was reported that members were abusing veterans of the military who were on vacation. The incident, as reported by Gainesville Sun, took place at the Warrior Beach Retreat, which is located in Laketown Wharf Resort in Panama City Beach, FL. Attending the retreat were about 60 veterans who served in Afghanistan and Iraq. This event, which has taken place twice a year over the past six years, was hosted by Linda Cope, the group’s founder who was honoring her son, Joshua. He was serving in Baghdad when a roadside bomb, which exploded under his Humvee, caused him to lose both of his legs.
At the same time the retreat was going on, members of the ZBT fraternity from both Emory University and the University of Florida were attending their spring formals. She stated that the college students, who were reportedly “extremely drunk,” wore hats and logos representing their chapter. They threw beer, as well as urinated and vomited off balconies. In addition, they attacked the veterans, spitting on them, screaming obscenities, and ripping U.S. flags off of their cars. Complaints were filed with the Panama City Police Department, however, no charges were filed against the fraternity members. While no evidence was found against the Emory students, University of Florida addressed the situation and suspended ZBT with charges of obscene behavior, theft, property damage, public intoxication, and causing physical or other types of harm.
University of Florida has in place certain policies of conduct for its organizations and individuals, and has stated that its officials are conducting an investigation as well as using appropriate channels to address the situation. This is not the first time this particular fraternity has been subjected to disciplinary action. During the fall semester, its members were put on probation for hazing, and if they are found to be in violation of its probationary status, additional and stricter penalties could be imposed.
While the investigation by University of Florida officials is still ongoing for the suspended fraternity, administrators, and faculty, members of the student body have addressed the public, stating their outrage over the frat’s abuse of the Warrior Retreat, and expressing support for the veteran community at large. Speakers included University of Florida President Kent Fuchs, the university’s dean of students, as well as the director of sorority and fraternity affairs. In their addresses, they extended their apologies to the veterans, as well as to Cope for the incident, and pledged that they will use this occurrence as a teaching opportunity. Also speaking was Dave Kratzer, vice president of student affairs, a retired veteran who also served in the military as major general. In his statement, he expressed his outrage and disappointment over the behavior displayed by the University of Florida fraternity members, and stated that such conduct was not representative of the university’s student body.
In addition, Kratzer contacted local groups of veterans and people from University of Florida, as well as ZBT. One such group, the Collegiate Veteran’s Society, has proposed a meeting between veterans and students for the restoration of justice. In addition to that group, another organization, the Collegiate Veteran’s Success Center, will get together with students and veterans to discuss the situation as well as outline steps to remedy it. In the meantime, the ZBT fraternity chapter, as well as its national organization, were placed on a temporary suspension for abusing the veterans, which will remain in place until the full investigation being conducted over the abuse of the veterans at the University of Florida is completed. Since the reporting of the Panama City Beach incident, three students have already been expelled from ZBT.
By Bill Ades