Woman at center of Univ. of Iowa frat house rape allegations speaks out

University of Iowa student Makena Solberg filed a lawsuit claiming she was the victim of a "coordinated and planned" rape at the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity.
Published: Oct. 26, 2021 at 6:03 PM CDT
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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG) - The woman who said she was raped at a University of Iowa fraternity house more than a year ago – prompting protests and an online petition demanding criminal charges in the case – is sharing her story.

On Tuesday, Makéna Solberg filed that civil lawsuit naming the Phi Gamma Delta House - or Fiji - and two members she said raped her in September of last year. No one has faced criminal prosecution in the case but Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness said she is still pursuing charges. It wasn’t until earlier this year that an online petition went viral that the case garnered widespread support and triggered protests at the Fiji house at the University of Iowa.

At the time, Fiji said it had immediately kicked out the two members when it learned of the allegations. The two men have since left the University of Iowa.

Solberg said that not nearly enough has been done in the case and she is no longer waiting for justice. For five days Solberg said she tried to fill the gap in her memory. According to her civil lawsuit, she went to a party at the Fiji fraternity house at the University of Iowa on September 4th, 2020. The next morning she couldn’t remember a huge piece of the night.

“[I] started feeling very dizzy, sick to my stomach, confused. So I asked my roommate, if she had any water if she could find water, I guess one of the other guys offered that there was some in his room. And that is when I didn’t even question it because I felt ill,” said Solberg. “So I went and followed him to get the water. And then after that, I don’t remember.”

She added, “When I woke up, I was very sick. I was very queasy. I was throwing up and it felt like I was beat up from the night before.”

What transpired overnight might have stayed a mystery had there not been pictures. According to a search warrant application, Iowa City police officers have a photo showing the sexual encounter that a witness says “didn’t look ok”.

According to a civil lawsuit, Makéna Solberg filed Tuesday [1], two fraternity members lured her into a bedroom after she was “physically ill” and closed the door. What happened next they reportedly captured with their phones.

Solberg’s attorney, Eashaan Vajpeyi of Ball, Kirk & Holm P.C., said he’s seen one such image.

“Shock. I was shocked. You know I’ve seen a lot of bad behavior from a lot of people in cases. And I was shocked at the hubris and the sort of audacity that I saw on the face of one of the perpetrators, as he posed for the photo,” said Vajpeyi.

For days Makéna said she didn’t know why she had so many new bruises until friends and acquaintances linked the pictures and alleged video to her.

“Immediately when I found out that night,” Solberg said she went to the police to report what happened.

The two men Makéna said raped her have not been charged and have not commented on the allegations.

A year after the party, an online petition went viral and one thousand students protested Fiji on behalf of the woman described in the change.org petition. “That’s when everything blew up and that’s when I decided I need to come out with this because I’m not giving up on it,” said Mékena.

Not giving up meant going public. That’s something people who say they’ve been sexually assaulted rarely do.

“I’m coming forward with my case not just for myself but for others who have gone through the same thing and need support,” said Solberg.

Her lawsuit alludes to “prior bad acts” by the two fraternity members. It argues the fraternity itself is culpable, as well as the national organization. It wants them held accountable not just for failing to prevent sexual abuse but because this incident was a “coordinated and planned effort by fraternity members” beyond the two specifically accused.

When asked if what happened to Solberg is the fault of two men alone, she responded, “Just them alone? No.”

Solberg’s attorneys don’t think this was an isolated incident.

“That is a suspicion of ours. Yeah, and we need to go through that discovery process to learn. Because currently, the evidence is being held in sort of different silos that we don’t have ready access to,” said attorney Eashaan Vajpeyi.

Makéna Solberg knows she can’t undo what happened that September night in 2020, but if she could she’d give her younger self some advice. “You’re gonna be OK, even though I’m not gonna feel like it’ll be Ok . . . I don’t know just look at the positives try not to lash out as much and worry so much,” she said.

If given the opportunity to address the two men she’s accused of raping her in the lawsuit, through tears Makéna said, “I wish you never did that. Very disappointed.”

KCRG-TV9 has made several attempts to contact the two men named in the civil lawsuit without success.

The national Fiji office sent KCRG-TV9 a statement saying it had not seen the lawsuit so could not comment on it.

A spokesperson said: “Phi Gamma Delta (Fiji) does not tolerate or condone sexual violence. The University of Iowa chapter took quick and decisive action in September 2020 to remove two members of the chapter who were alleged to have engaged in sexual misconduct, though no criminal charges were filed by local authorities. The chapter fully cooperated with the University and local police investigations in 2020, and continue to cooperate with local authorities as requested.”

The University of Iowa released a statement Tuesday afternoon after the lawsuit was filed:

“The University of Iowa’s Fraternity and Sorority Life (FSL) programs have been evaluating and assessing processes and policies, including potential changes to recruitment and expansion. Additionally, in collaboration with FSL and Phi Gamma Delta headquarters, the Phi Gamma Delta (FIJI) chapter at Iowa will be undergoing a membership and chapter review.

We hear directly from the woman who says she was raped at a University of Iowa fraternity house more than a year ago.

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