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U. of C., fraternity try to get to bottom of racist, homophobic prank

Iran Bectmail carrier whose route is University Chicago campus recently delivered 79 packages 5625 S. University Phi DeltThetfraternity house. The

Iran Becton, a mail carrier whose route is on the University of Chicago campus, recently delivered 79 packages to 5625 S. University, a Phi Delta Theta fraternity house. The 79 packages were to be delivered to "Reggin Toggaf". Spelled backwards they reveal a racist and gay slur. Becton, who is black believes the post office should track down the culprits and hold them accountable. | Michael R. Schmidt~ For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 16, 2013 6:16AM

The University of Chicago and spokesmen for a fraternity that received boxes scrawled with a racist and homophobic slur say they are trying to find out who sent the boxes so that person can be held accountable.

The prank, revealed exclusively Thursday by Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mary Mitchell, involved two mailings of empty boxes addressed to “Reggin Toggaf” at the Phi Delta Theta fraternity house at 56th Street and University Avenue. Spelled backwards, the fictitious name reveals a slur on gays and a slur on African Americans.

“We are obviously disappointed and offended by this apparent prank that has been pulled on our [fraternity] chapter,” said Garrett Taliaferro, the Phi Delta Theta fraternity’s regional liaison to the national headquarters.

“Whoever is responsible, I want them to be held accountable — whether that’s some sort of punishment or whatever,” Taliaferro said Thursday. “I find it disgusting, personally, and I’m demanding that we get an answer as to who did this.”

Taliaferro, 37, of Rogers Park, became the first African-American member of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity chapter at his alma mater, the University of Pittsburgh, when he was a sophomore 16 years ago.

He became a member after his rugby teammates introduced him to the group.

Taliaferro said the Chicago chapter notified postal authorities of the prank on May 29 — the date of the second postal delivery. The first delivery occurred on May 24, when the fraternity destroyed the boxes after members thought it was a nuisance.

Sources differ on the number of boxes sent in the two mailings, with the total ranging from 80 to 99.

Postal inspectors are still investigating the prank, a spokeswoman said Thursday.

Both Taliaferro and Bob Biggs, executive vice president of the Phi Delta Theta international fraternity, said in separate interviews that chapter members at the U. of C. are a diverse and intelligent group, and have no idea who sent them the boxes or why.

The chapter at the U. of C. has 57 members and pledges, of whom 33 are white, two African-American, 12 Asian, five Latino and five Middle Eastern, Taliaferro said.

He said the investigation so far reveals that someone ordered the boxes online at no cost.

Biggs said the international fraternity takes the matter “very seriously” since the mailings are “very inappropriate.”

“As soon as we learned of this, we advised [the Chicago chapter] to report the prank to authorities and to cooperate with the investigation to see if they can get to the bottom of this,” Biggs said.

Biggs said the fraternity, which traces its history at the U. of C. to 1865, is known for its core principles of “friendship, sound learning and rectitude,” as exemplified by famous members such as astronaut Neil Armstrong, architect Frank Lloyd Wright and former President Benjamin Harrison.

“The local members are baffled,” Biggs said. “They don’t know who is doing this.”

A U. of C. official said the school first learned of the prank on May 31, when the U.S. Postal Inspection Service contacted the school, and that the university police department cooperated with the federal investigation.

“The University of Chicago considers this a grave and deplorable incident that offends our community’s core values,” said Eleanor Daugherty, assistant vice president for student life and associate dean of the undergraduate college, in a statement.

If students were responsible, the university will start disciplinary processes, Daugherty said.

The university this spring launched a diversity awareness campaign that will focus on how the students’ privileges in life give them an added responsibility to approach others with respect and dignity, Daugherty said.

“We will also continue to hold conversations with fraternity members about this specific incident when students return in the fall,” she said.

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