This is the first of a three-part series on sexual assault and greek life at the University of Minnesota.
Editor’s Note: The Minnesota Daily typically refrains from naming alleged perpetrators of sexual assault if they have not been charged with a crime. In this case, one perpetrator is being identified because his name and offense are deemed public under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, and because he held a position of leadership at the University of Minnesota.
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Kayla Pederson promised herself she wouldn’t drink too much at Delta Upsilon’s spring formal in late March 2015.
At a cabin tucked away in northwest Minnesota, the University of Minnesota graduate — then a junior — stayed mostly sober Friday night. She fell asleep on a couch and woke up the next day feeling at ease.
So when the sun set Saturday, Pederson downed a little more.
Before she knew it, she was drunk. She retreated to a quiet room to sober up.
“And that’s when Cisco and his group came in,” she said.
He offered her a shot of peach Ciroc. She declined. After the second offer, Pederson took a drink.
“I just thought it would be nice to accept his offer,”she said.
Pederson knew she was in trouble when the fraternity member blocked her from leaving a laundry room he led her to, in pursuit of his phone.
Before she could fully comprehend the situation, the brother — Cisco Labayki — forced Pederson onto an air mattress, sunk his face into her chest, pulled off her underwear and penetrated her with his finger.
Later that night, another DU member sexually assaulted Pederson.
Two weeks later, Maria — a University math junior who asked to be identified by first name only due to privacy concerns — was sexually assaulted by Labayki, too.
No criminal charges have been filed against Labayki and Pederson’s second assailant.
The University eventually disciplined both men for the assaults, but former DU members say they witnessed a culture that was dismissive of sexual assault and disrespectful toward women.
And despite knowing of at least one allegation against him, past chapter leaders endorsed Labayki as DU president in 2015.
The chapter’s culture of apathy led one member to resign on Monday, and at least two others to cut ties with the fraternity in the months after Labayki assumed his presidency.
Ten months after learning of sexual assault allegations in the chapter, the fraternity’s international headquarters temporarily suspended the University’s 31-member chapter, after a former member warned DU representatives of impending local media coverage.
The chapter was suspended over allegations of misuse of alcohol, controlled substances and sexual assault, according to a DU spokeswoman.
While a chapter advisor argued that current DU members are far removed from the reported 2015 sexual assaults, the chapter’s current president — Ryan Herzog — testified in defense of one of Pederson’s assailants, a recording of the University misconduct hearing shows. And police records show an alleged assault involving the chapter as recent as April 2016.
Herzog and Labayki did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
There are 30 Interfraternity Council fraternities at the University of Minnesota. Since 2015, there have been at least 12 alleged sexual assaults reported to the University involving six campus fraternities. Of those 12, four involved DU.
Elected amid allegations
When former IFC president Mitch Kelley was elected in the fall of 2015, Delta Upsilon held a meeting to pick its next leader. Kelley told members Cisco Labayki was the best fit to take over his job, according to three former members.
At the time, former members say they knew of sexual assault allegations made by Maria against Labayki.
“It was when I found out about that — that it wasn’t that people were completely oblivious [to the assault] — that was deeply upsetting to me. It was like this happened to me and they didn’t care,” Maria said.
A former member — who asked to remain anonymous — remembers Labayki sending lewd messages about women they’d invited to DU. “People dumped their dates because [Labayki] said they were ugly,” he said.
The former member was bothered that Kelley — apparently aware of allegations made by Maria against Labayki — would back Labayki’s bid for presidency.
Kelley did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
“[Kelley] knew what was going on, and he basically gave his vote of confidence,” the former member said. “Being the leaving president, people took his word.”
The chapter voted. Labayki would be their next president.
At that point, the former member gave up his efforts to stand up to his brothers.
“I had been pretty vocal to everybody that I think that this was wrong, and nobody responded,” the former member said. “So you're yelling at people that aren’t listening. I’m just wasting my words.”
Dawson Kimyon, a former DU member who resigned Monday, said at the start of his term, Labayki assured the chapter that even though the school had completed a Title IX investigation that found him responsible for Maria’s assault, those findings were baseless.
DU members generally thought the school’s Office for Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action — which investigated Labayki’s assault — existed to advocate only for victims, the anonymous former member said.
The EOAA investigates sexual assault reports by interviewing involved parties. It then releases a “responsible” or “not responsible” ruling based on “a preponderance of evidence,” according to the policy.
If any parties are unsatisfied with the findings, they can ask for a panel hearing to determine the case’s outcome.
Despite accusations, Labayki was calm, Kimyon said, and he felt confident the hearing would turn panelists in his favor — so Kimyon gave him the benefit of the doubt at first.
The panel ruled that Labayki was responsible for sexual assault, and disciplined him with community service and academic probation, according to University case records. He was also required to complete a workshop on masculinity and consent and pass a chemical health assessment.
Hillary Parsons, the attorney who represented Labayki in both hearings, said she thinks the University’s student conduct process unfairly disciplined him.
Labayki stayed in his role as president until Kelley asked him to step down, Kimyon said.
A second hearing found Labayki responsible for another sexual assault. He now faced expulsion from the University.
Labayki resigned as president on the weekend that marked the one-year anniversary of Kayla Pederson’s two assaults at a 2015 DU spring formal. Shortly after resigning, he attended the spring 2016 formal, Kimyon said.
“He was so obviously [responsible] at some point, but I don’t feel like we had ever, as a group, taken any steps to address that we were wrong about that,” Kimyon said.
A ‘convenient environment’
Across the country, studies show that some fraternities harbor a culture of masculinity, sexual coercion and rape tolerance.
Fraternities like Delta Upsilon just happen to be a “very, very convenient environment for someone” like Labayki, Kimyon said. “It’d be the perfect space in which to operate. My theory is that we let that happen.”
At fraternity formals like the one where two DU members assaulted Pederson, groups of men and women get together to dress up and drink, Kimyon said.
“Some elements of the culture are … getting drunk and getting laid. All of that is totally, totally conducive to incidents happening,” he said.
The chapter’s spring 2015 formal took place in a packed cabin where there weren’t enough beds for everyone to sleep. That’s how Pederson ended up on a couch.
She searched the house for an empty bed and crawled into the first one she could find. Her second assailant showed up, wasted, claiming the bed was his.
Pederson asked him to leave. Instead, he crawled under the covers and wrapped his arms around her. He proceeded to kiss and grope her, Pederson said.
The next year, Kimyon planned DU’s spring formal.
He asked the executive board to consider renting four cabins instead of one, enough to sleep one attendee per bed — but Kimyon was outnumbered by men who preferred a close-quarters feel, he said.
Taking a hit for standing up
Maria’s perpetrator introduced himself: “Do you know my name? It rhymes with Crisco.”
At the Delta Upsilon formal where Kayla Pederson was assaulted, Cisco Labayki was still just a friend-of-a-friend to Maria.
Two weeks later, they’d meet again.
At an after-party, post-formal, Maria sipped on spiked Hawaiian Punch. She hazily remembers dancing with Labayki.
She said she felt surrounded by other fraternity members and friends, but the room, it turned out, was nearly empty.
Labayki pushed his tongue in her mouth and rubbed her genitals. At the time, Maria’s sexual experiences were limited.
Maria threw her head to the left. She didn’t know what to do, other than wait for the night to end, she said.
Mitch Kelley would later apologize to Maria, she said, though he never specified why.
When she reported her assault to the University eight months after it occurred, outspoken DU members accused Maria of vengefulness.
“I think every young male who engages with girls has experiences where they feel insecure — they get rejected or whatever that may be — so when the narrative or the dialogue is, ‘It’s a witch hunt, they’re going after anybody. It could be you next,’ people buy into that,” Kimyon said.
The chapter-wide culture toward women was derogatory, former members and their friends say.
While lounging around the house, men would joke about raping women, said Alex Nierlich, one of Pederson’s close friends who visited DU while enrolled at the University.
Russell, a former member who asked to be identified by first name only, said he left the chapter because of rampant sexism.
While administering a test for new pledge members, Russell noticed that one of the questions asked which members had previously hooked up with a specific woman.
“I was like, ‘This is a little fucked up, isn’t it?’ to my friend,” Russell said. “And he was like ‘Yeah, I guess.’”
As new recruits joined the chapter, older members buried their history of concealing sexual misbehavior, calling it a poor representation of DU, Russell said.
But when Russell and the anonymous former member stood up to their brothers, they were harassed, they said. Russell was called a “faggot,” his girlfriend a “cunt,” and his mattress was dragged from his third-floor room to the basement boiler room, he said.
“They got mad at me for telling the truth about sexual assault,” Russell said.
Kimyon brought his anxieties about chapter behavior and culture to international representatives last week. So far, he said he hasn’t received backlash.
While the University chapter is suspended, an investigation is currently underway by the international office, DU communications director Ashley Martin said in a written response Wednesday.
Headquarters can uphold the suspension for up to 60 days, she said in the statement.
In an email obtained by the Minnesota Daily that was sent to the fraternity’s headquarters, Don Powell, the chapter advisor, said he considered the suspension “a first-class lynching of a group of guys,” adding “compared to some of the other fraternities at the U., our guys are choirboys!”
Following Kayla Pederson’s assault, international representatives told her in an Aug. 2 email that Labayki and her second perpetrator were undergoing expulsion from the fraternity. Labayki still lived in the chapter house at the time, former members say.
As of Wednesday, both men have only been suspended from the chapter, Martin confirmed.
The Delta Upsilon way
The Delta Upsilon motto reads “Dikaia Upotheke” — “Justice, our foundation.”
“It’s wonderfully ironic, because as a chapter, we were nothing but an obstacle to justice in Maria's case and in dealing with Cisco,” Kimyon said.
Powell, who represented Pederson’s second assailant in his hearing, blamed her assault on a “massive misreading of signals here on her part,” according to a recording of a panel hearing obtained by the Minnesota Daily.
One of the draws of greek life, Powell told the panel at the time, is the opportunity to meet members of the opposite sex.
The three former DU members agree — sex, partying, brotherhood and the promise of popularity attract young men to join fraternities in college.
But they decided to publicize their experiences in hopes of raising awareness about campus sexual assault and greek life culture.
“It’d be one thing if fraternities were 80 percent philanthropy and service, and 20 percent partying, but it’s clearly not,” Kimyon said.
Powell — a 1966 DU alum — addressed Pederson’s friend, Nierlich, at another point in the hearing. He asked if she thought sexist comments toward women were “boys being boys.”
Nierlich said that wasn’t an excuse.
“Do you think it was any different at DU than any other fraternity?” Powell asked her.
“Probably not,” Nierlich responded.