No one was safe from mockery when LSU’s Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity members sat down to craft their gameday banners.

Shot during the 1970 Kent State massacre?

Of Asian descent?

Diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease?

All fair game, according to DKE. Each of those groups — and many others — became the butt of the now-disbanded fraternity’s infamous public messages at one point or another on autumn Saturdays. Until nine fraternity members were arrested last month on hazing counts, the gameday barbs were how many of the LSU community best knew DKE.

The banners were also a constant source of consternation for those charged with keeping the fraternity in check, according to records The Advocate received in response to a public-records request. While arrest reports allege that DKE pledges were doused in gasoline, burned with cigarettes and urinated on during the fall 2018 semester, the banners were a more contentious issue between LSU administrators and DKE alumni at the time, emails show.

dkebanner2

This is a photo of Delta Kappa Epsilon's sign that was posted over the weekend during the 2013 Kent State vs. LSU football game. 

The last flare-up came on Oct. 13 when LSU hosted Georgia. DKE members told local alumni — who must approve all banners — that their sign would say “LSU JFK’d tailgating.” But on gameday, fraternity members instead posed with a banner that referenced the two teams’ mascots and read, “What do Mike and Asia have in common? Dawg for dinner.”

Banner guidelines that LSU administrators shared with one another in emails a few months ago specify that the signs should not refer to death, sexual assault, race or male or female body parts using “slang terms.” Because of DKE’s history of posting controversial banners, the LSU chapter’s alumni association created an “alumni sign approval committee” to review proposed signs before gameday. Their guidelines specify that the fraternity members were not allowed to alter spellings, acronyms or even positioning of words once they had been approved.

dkebanner1

The banner hanging in front of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity house before LSU's football homecoming game against Troy State on Saturday Sept. 30, 2017, in Baton Rouge, La.. Note the content which concerns the passing of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner.

Two days after the Georgia game, LSU Greek Life Director Angela Guillory emailed a photo of the “dawg for dinner” banner to DKE alumni representatives, DKE national representatives and others.

“The University has now received several complaints about this banner,” Guillory wrote. “Please let us know how the DKE alumni and National Organization choose to move forward. I’d like to suggest that the chapter not be allowed to hang a banner for the rest of the semester.”

DKE alumni agreed, meaning no more banners would be allowed in 2018. LSU administrators breathed a sigh of relief.

“Here’s some good news!!” wrote Dean of Students Mari Fuentes-Martin, as she routed the news up the flagpole.

“That’s good,” wrote Kurt Keppler, LSU’s former vice president for student affairs. “I hope they will comply with their leadership.”

dkebanner3

This is a 2013 photo of Delta Kappa Epsilon's sign that was posted as an apology to the first sign put up over the weekend about the massacre at Kent State.

The emails show that DKE members and alumni agreed to the “banner guidelines” in 2013, a year that saw at least two signs set off criticisms. LSU spokesman Ernie Ballard told The Advocate that DKE banners must be approved by alumni, but the LSU Office of Greek Life has also been notified about them as a courtesy. The preapproval of banners is one of many ways in which LSU entrusted local alumni with the job of policing the DKE chapter.

The year the banner guidelines were adopted, fraternity members hung a sign before the Tigers kicked off an early-season game against Kent State that said, “getting massacred is nothing new to Kent State” — a reference to the National Guard’s fatal shooting of four students there during a 1970 protest. The DKE chapter later apologized for the Kent State sign, with a second banner that called the original one “inappropriate.”

Another weekend in 2013, DKE members made light of a chemical attack in Syria estimated to have killed more than 1,400 civilians. When the University of Alabama at Birmingham played LSU in football that year, DKE’s sign said, “LSU vs. UAB, it’s gonna be a gas, SYRIASLY.”

The next year, DKE again raised eyebrows when LSU played Sam Houston State. The DKE sign referenced Michael Sam, the first openly gay football player drafted by the NFL, and said, “Michael isn’t the only Sam getting the D tonight.”

The banner guidelines were updated again in 2015. The document that spells them out says the rules are not meant to prevent the fraternity from hanging funny or thought-provoking banners, but it also says they are meant “to minimize the risk that visitors to the LSU campus will be offended by content of the sign or banner and any potential negative publicity or reflection on LSU or Delta Kappa Epsilon.”

dkebanner4

A sign painted on a sheet at the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity pokes fun during election season during tailgating before the LSU Southern Miss football game Saturday Oct. 15, 2016, in Tiger Stadium.

“This was done in partnership with the DKE alumni group, but LSU did not have oversight of what banner the fraternity was choosing to display,” Ballard said. “Remember, the group has a right to free speech, and LSU would not impede on that right.”

In 2016, the fraternity mocked NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protests with a sign that read “Oh say can you see Kaepernick sits when he pees.” Nine LSU student organizations, including the Black Student Union, Spectrum and Woman and Gender Studies graduate organization, asked LSU to disavow the banner and requested that LSU’s Office of Campus life preapprove future banners.

DKE seemed unfazed by the blowback. In the run-up to the 2016 presidential election, the chapter hung a banner that said, “Hillary doesn’t get much applause but she still has Bill’s clap.”

LSU vetoed some proposed banners after DKE’s alumni had approved them. Last September, after Ohio State suspended football coach Urban Meyer for his handling of domestic abuse allegations against an assistant coach, LSU’s DKE chapter sought to lampoon the episode in a sign.

On Sept. 7, a member of DKE emailed Guillory to inform her that the alumni committee had signed off on the phrase: “domestic violence is an urban matter.” Guillory shot it down, saying that she trusted the DKE members and alumni, but that they were also “new to this scene.”

“I’ve included those who have experienced bad PR for DKE and LSU regarding poorly presented messages,” Guillory wrote. “This message will get negative publicity because of the sensitivity surrounding domestic violence. Domestic violence will never be comical or clever. It falls in the same category as the topics listed in the protocol.”


Follow Andrea Gallo on Twitter, @aegallo.​