“Do away with all proof…”

By by Chris Shattuck

Published: Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, March 13, 2012

 



       After seven hazing allegations in four years across the country, the national office of Sigma Sigma Rho, Inc. was concerned – not with how to eliminate hazing but with how to cover it up. In a nationwide email sent to every chapter in February last year, the nation board issued a memo instructing how chapters should seek to do away with all proof of hazing – under threat of penalization.

       Rather than condemning hazing, a practice officially shunned by the organization, the email detailed how chapter members should eliminate a paper trails that could be linked back to the organization – belying a contradiction some Greek organizations appear to have with what they say on paper and what they do in practice.

        Further, the memo advises “pledge mistresses,” or those charged with membership recruitment, to avoid electronic messaging, as that might leave incriminating evidence  former pledges or other witnesses could use to present to their respective universities. “Even you should not email/text pledges with things that could be considered hazing,” it reads. “Either call or do it in person.”

        If caught in the act, the memo suggests that sisters use a pre-prepared, made-up excuse to justify their actions to throw off suspicious university officials or police officers and limit what they could be charged with. “If ever faced with a scenario where a cop begins questioning your activities, always follow what they say, give IDs if they ask and NEVER (sic) discuss the organization you belong to,” the email reads. “Think quick, and always have a local chapter/colony plan of the story you can tell anyone of authority in the case something like this happens.”

         The email goes further to solicit help from the national office if facing problems with “preparation,” even saying that the national executive board will penalize sisters and/or chapters for breaking the rules laid out to suppress evidence. “It is better to be safe and prepare yourself with STORIES (sic) for quick thinking purposes, than to be sorry with a scenario that turns for the worse because you were not prepared,” according to the email.

        The local chapter of Sigma Sigma Rho was placed on a new member recruitment suspension as of Jan. 13 – when the assistant dean of students, Pamela Anthony, said the organization’s “new member policies condone practices that are in direct conflict with Georgia State University’s Hazing Policy and constitute violations of criminal law as hazing is a crime in the state of Georgia.”

       Evidence sent to the university include photos of non-GSU sorority members committing hazing rituals, specifically where recruits were forced to kneel and have pounds of flour and other materials poured on them. Other examples of hazing activity include a structured merit/demerit system, forced entries into pledge books and mandatory physical exercises as punishment measures.

        As of press time, the national office was not prepared to comment. Attempts to conceal or prevent certain information from being leaked are not confined to Sigma Sigma Rho, however. In regards to one of The Signal’s recent Open Records requests, the national president of Zeta Tau Alpha, Keeley Riddle, sent a letter to the Dean of Students and University Legal on Feb. 3 requesting prior review of all relevant documents requested.

       However, boththe university Office of Legal Affairs and the Office of the Dean of Students refused to comply with her request, according to emails they have released. Riddle did not respond with a statement despite repeated attempts for comment.

 

Secrecy, anonymous letters and lack of evidence

       Due to the secretive nature of many Greek organizations, verification of events and activities not formally sanctioned by the university can be daunting. Pledges often must sign confidentiality agreements as a precondition of joining Greek organizations and are frequently sworn to secrecy – putting tremendous pressure on them to not speak out.

     Therefore, fraternities and sororities are not investigated until someone gets hurt or a member or former member comes forward – typically on an anonymous basis. However, unless that anonymous individual is willing to speak on the record, it is extremely difficult to investigate anonymous complaints, as the university cannot ascertain specific details to move forward, according to Pamela Anthony, the assistant dean of students.

       For example, the Eta Mu Georgia State chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha was investigated last November but was never formally charged due to a lack of evidence. In that case, the student that reported the organization refused to come forward and provide the university with details involving dates, locations or times of alleged hazing incidents nor the names of those involved for fear that she would be revealed, the student said.

         Her letter alleges that interests were forced to undergo a variety of pre-hazing activities to even be considered. She said interests were required to perform acts of servitude, subjected to public ridicule and physically assaulted to the point of bruising – mostly at off-campus locations over the summer or during rush periods.

      "Throughout the summer several girls were forced to run errands for the members, buy their lunches, act as their chauffeurs by driving them anywhere they wanted to go including the airport, packed their luggage, painted their apartments, come to their apartments to be cursed out by members in a line-up, write poems about certain members, and some girls have even been hit and bruised,” the letter reads.

        Despite the serious allegations, the investigation was dropped due to a lack of evidence. Angel White, then AKA chapter president and former Signal section editor, said that the allegations against her sorority caught her completely off guard and denied that any hazing occurred while she presided over the chapter. “I felt like I was blindsided. Nothing like this happened while I was president,” White said. She said it’s not uncommon for allegations to be made by former pledges or those with an axe to grind. “This sort of thing happens every year during rush,” White said.

          Indeed, as national offices are quick to point out, the anonymous nature of complaints received against organizations make verification of allegations problematic. Also, by their nature, it’s often impossible to verify the identity of the sender and verification of a person’s motive may be difficult as well.

        In an official statement to the university, the national office of Sigma Sigma Rho accused the anonymous informant involved in the leak of documents and behind the hazing allegations of conjuring false claims about the organization as part of a personal vendetta to slander the organization. However, anonymous victims claim that offering up their identity would expose them to an undue amount of pressure and criticism from their fellow Greek life members.

      In each of the anonymous letters sent to the Dean of Students office in the last year, individuals expressed universal concern for the consequences of reporting suspicious behavior against a Greek organization. Reporting suspicious or hazing activity carries some risk to the person responsible for “snitching” or “ratting” out an organization. That risk often prevents complainants from further testifying on the record in an official capacity, records show..

          In the case of the AKA investigation, the student that reported the organization decided to “lay low” once she determined that other members had become suspicious about girls reporting them, according to emails. “I fear that losing my anonymity will cause unnecessary backlash for me on campus from the chapter, young women currently on line and interests still adamant about pursuing membership next fall,” she said.

        In the case of Zeta Tau Alpha, the anonymous informant claimed she could not give her name “for fear of what some of he sisters might do to me if they found out that I was the one that reported them.” Earlier in the letter, she cited the example of a sister that wrote up the sorority for “dirty rushing,” or banned forms of recruiting, that has been shunned publically by the sorority.

           Following the reporting of the violations, records show ZTA sisters cursed at mediators assigned to the case during an informal discussion due to frustration stemming from the fact that fellow sister turned them in.

           In the past, organizations convicted of hazing or other university-banned activities have had their school charters revoked and social activities banned for a specified time depending on the seriousness of the charges. In rare cases, some Greek organizations at Georgia State, such as the Kappa Theta chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi, have been permanently suspended.

       An anonymous letter prompted the investigation that led to the Student Judicial Board’s decision in June 2010 to hold the organization responsible for maintaining an environment where interests were slapped, punched and beaten with canes, among other hazing rituals. The chapter’s president and advisor were also found guilty of lying to the university. At present, seven Greek organizations have been investigated in the last year for a variety of code of conduct violations ranging in severity from unfiled paperwork to hazing allegations.

 Two of those organizations, Sigma Gamma Rho and Delta Phi Lambda, have lost their charters.

 

Actions and situations that may constitute hazing may include, but are not limited to, the following:

 ·      -forcing or requiring the drinking of alcohol or any other substance;

·      -forcing or requiring the consumption of food or any other substance;

·      -calisthenics (e.g., push-ups, sit-ups, jogging, runs);

·      -treeings (e.g., tying someone up and throwing food or other substances on them);

·      -paddle swats;

·      -line-ups (e.g., yelling at or harassing people in a formation);

·      -theft of any property;

·      -road trips (e.g., dropping someone off and leaving him/her to find his/her own way back);

·      -scavenger hunts;

·      -causing an individual to have fewer than six (6) continuous hours of sleep per night;

·      -conducting activities that do not allow adequate time for study (e.g., not allowing an individual to attend class, causing one to miss group projects);

·      -forcing or requiring partial or complete nudity at any time;

·      -performing acts of personal servitude for members (e.g., driving them to class, cleaning their individual rooms, serving meals, washing cars, shopping, laundry);

·      forcing or requiring the violation of University policies, federal, state or local law.


 

Comments

4 comments
Anonymous
Thu Feb 7 2013 23:37
I can personally attest to SSR's hazing at another chapter/colony. The pillow ceremony is a few weeks into it, and you're taken one by one into a room, where, eyes closed you're yelled at and mocked. They treat you like your worthless. Most, if not all the girls were crying badly when this happened. They instil a sense of fear and uncertainty into everything they do. You're made to know hundreds of things, which does cut into your time for school. I regret ever trusting these people.
Anonymous
Sat Jun 9 2012 19:37
Your first and second paragraph contradict each other. The definition of murder is very simple (for the most part); if you harm someone to the point that he/she dies, it's murder on some level. The definition of hazing is almost all grey. Activities such as entries in a book, and a point system get grouped with binge drinking and physical assault.
This is all advice that more well established organizations have followed for years. This generation needs to learn the proper use of technology. While trying to do away with the proof, they left the biggest digital proof of "hazing" in hundreds of email accounts. Taking pictures of rituals is another sure way of dealing with negative attention. Sounds absurd, but treat secretive rituals the same as sex. If you're stupid enough to take pictures of it, be ready to face the consequences WHEN (not if) it goes public.
Anonymous
Wed Mar 14 2012 16:45
How is this different from a lawyer's advice? Well, the person in question isn't a lawyer, for starters. You would think the person in question would be concerned about conduct. If someone came to me and said "hey I murdered someone," my first reaction wouldn't be "well...here's the evidence you need to get rid of," I'd say "well, you really shouldn't be murdering people!"

But your point on the definition of hazing is well-taken. It's pretty sad that something that people willingly would do at a party like get sprayed with silly string suddenly constitutes a federal offense. Heck, next thing you know, all pranks will be deemed illegal.

Guest
Tue Mar 13 2012 23:16
Misleading. How is this different from a lawyer's advice to client, or a general counsel's advice to employees. They're talking about not retaining old records that could increase liability in future cases. They say cooperate with law enforcement but don't volunteer info that will expose the org to legal trouble until you've consulted with the head office and our lawyers. That's completely standard in all industries. And at the end of the day, they're talking about defense from overzealous school employees who often overreach and interfere what are private companies rather than subordinate departments of the school. They're not talking about destroying evidence in a criminal case. Sounds like they certainly could have worded their internal policy better to avoid it being so badly mischaracterized like this.

The biggest problem with hazing is the definition. There really is very little serious hazing that would endanger anyone physically or psychologically. When the definition is stretched from beating people to also include team building scavenger hunts, it makes it seem like violent dangerous hazing is rampant when that is just simply not the case. It's morally wrong to move the bar. We've achieved as a society the things we needed to in combating real hazing. We need to remain vigilant on that. When we bring in these distractions of stuff that really is not hazing at all then it corrupts our ethics and takes away from our student safety priorities. It's just wrong.

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