youngstown state fraternity

Around 3 a.m. on Sunday morning at Youngstown State University, a shooting occurred off campus at a private residence where members of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity lived. Jamail E. Johnson, a senior at YSU and a member of the fraternity, died after being shot in the back of the head and legs. Police did not release the names of suspects, but two men were arrested and charged with one count of aggravated murder and 11 counts of felonious assault.

The party developed late Saturday evening into the morning, and an altercation took place. Johnson played a peacekeeping role, and he asked those involved to leave. Nearly 50 partiers were at the residence when two men from the altercation returned with semi-automatic handguns and fired into the home from the open front door. Johnson died as a result, and 11 others were injured.

Police Chief Jimmy Hughes said, “We seldom have any problems at the university.” The campus is ranked one of Ohio’s safest universities.

Youngstown State University was established in 1908 in Youngstown, Ohio. There are over 15,000 students. The university has five IFC fraternities, four Panhellenic sororities, and six National Pan-Hellenic Council chapters.

Omega Psi Phi was founded at Howard University in 1911 and has 750 undergraduate chapters, according to the organization’s website. The fraternity is also known by its nicknames Ques or Q Dogs. Their colors are royal purple and old gold, and their motto is “Friendship is Essential to the Soul.” Omega Psi Phi was founded at Youngstown State as the Zeta Gamma Chapter on March 11, 1951.

Our Take

This is a tragic story of a promising life lost to senseless violence. I wish the family, the chapter, and campus comfort and unity during this time. This is a time to mourn, but it is also a time to provide insightful reflection to ensure other fraternities can learn from this tragedy.

First, fraternity men need to be aware of the company they keep. Fraternity men strive to be the elite leaders, scholars and role models on campus. This isn’t possible if they keep company with unsavory characters. In fairness, I do not know if that played a part in this instance, but it is a good time to reiterate this point.

Second, perception becomes reality. It only takes one unfortunate circumstance to get a label that you cannot get rid of. A fraternity on my campus had a shooting occur while I was in school. Students stayed away from that fraternity’s social functions for a long time because of that instance. The perception was that going to that house wasn’t safe, and that became the reality for a lot of students.

Finally, fraternities need to draft emergency response plans. When major crises occur, it is best to have a procedure on how to handle it appropriately. There needs to be a list of critical phone numbers (chapter advisor, Greek advisor, key alumni, national headquarters) of people to call to ensure that the situation is handled properly. When tragedy strikes, no one is going to be in the right frame of mind to react properly. It is imperative that your fraternity develops a plan beforehand.

My last thought is I don’t think it is fair to label this incident as a ‘fraternity shooting’ even though that is what the media is calling it. Johnson’s membership in Omega Psi Phi doesn’t seem really related to the shooting itself. There is no evidence that this was a fraternity function, and labeling it such is unfair to Omega Psi Phi and all fraternity men on Youngstown’s campus.

2 thoughts on “In the News: One dead in ‘fraternity shooting’ at Youngstown State

  1. Tom, I’ve thought a lot about crisis management as far as fraternities go. As a side note, I think most media are not going to report a party if they cannot confirm it from more than one source. If they can’t get more than one source, they may choose to quote someone or reference a source who says “it was a party.” Otherwise, that’s just bad journalism.

    That’s not very helpful, though. The most important thing is to be prepared for a crisis beforehand. Every house should have a detailed, step-by-step crisis management plan posted, and it should be followed. The president should know which brothers, advisors, and alumni will be most helpful for any crisis, and contact them if necessary.

    I think the proper thing to do in that circumstance is to close the house, gather information, and issue a simple statement as soon as possible—within a half hour. “At 2 am, shots were fired from outside into a residence at 100 Baker Street. The residents are not injured. The residents, members of a fraternity, and the organization’s advisors are fully cooperating with police, who will issue a full statement when it is available. The organization states that no function was being held at the residence at the time the shots were fired.”

    When the organization chooses to communicate first, it controls the communication. When the organization is slow to say anything, journalists will find any other source.

    As always, don’t lie, don’t exaggerate, (and I would advise) don’t say too much until multiple people (like HQ) are involved in handling communication for the crisis. Crisis management is extremely difficult, but I believe that if the chapter had had a good plan and used it, they wouldn’t have faced the issues they did. That being said, Tom, you are exactly right… the facts come out later after the damage is done and fewer people hear the clarification.

  2. Just a quick insight on your final comments. From my personal experience due to risk management policies, any time that more than 1 person from a fraternity/soroity is gathered and can be identified by a reasonable observer as such it constitutes a group event. Pretty much any time that a fraternity is involved in a news story, the worst is automatically assumed and the facts come out later. By that time, the damage is done and people will not follow the story unless they have personal investment in those involved. Dealt with the same issue due to a drive-by shooting that occured at my chapter house and resulted in 4 gunshots going through our house. It was automatically assumed and reported that there was a party when there in fact was not.

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