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TKE under investigation for hazing

University, The Eagle received evidence from five brothers

TKE under investigation for hazing
TKE brothers allegedly abandoned blindfolded pledges in Cabin John Regional Park in mid-February.

UPDATE: April 28, 5:28 p.m.

AU's chapter of Tau Kappa Epsilon is the subject of a University hazing investigation for the second time in the past year, according to members of the fraternity.

Five of its brothers accused the fraternity of physically and verbally abusing pledges. Alleged practices include forcing pledges to drink alcohol and smoke marijuana; do planks, wall sits, pushups and extensive walking; drink an entire gallon of milk in one hour or less (known as the "gallon challenge"); eat an entire jar of mayonnaise; and other tasks detailed by an active brother of TKE who asked to remain anonymous.

Hazing this extensive has been common practice since the Upsilon-Omicron chapter's inception at AU in 2008, according to the anonymous member.

"We decided to come forward to the school as a group because we realized that this hazing would continue unless we acted," five TKE brothers who asked for anonymity, including the brother mentioned above, said in a collective email to The Eagle. All five brothers separately confirmed their support of the statement. "We thought the hazing would be over last spring after being put on probation, but it only got more severe. We all went through the hazing ourselves, in the year that we pledged, and do not want to see others be hazed and insulted like that. We are the minority."

Tau Kappa Epsilon International Chief of Staff Pat Gleason confirmed an investigation was underway, saying Director of Standards Adam Kearns recently visited AU and is looking into the allegations.

"We are partnering with the University and are fully cooperative to make sure that what is going on at the University is what should be going on," Gleason said. "If any of our members have acted against our code of conduct or against any state or federal law, we will work with the University to make sure they are disciplined for their actions."

Kearns did not respond to requests for comment by the time of publication.

"TKE nationals did not put an end to this and instead defended our chapter when we were accused of hazing last spring, and it is disturbing to see the national organization defending the practices they swear to abolish," the anonymous group of TKE members told The Eagle in their email. "You would think they would do something when the same brothers are accused of hazing again and again, and this year, there is direct evidence implicating the accused."

Notifying the University

Four active TKE brothers first notified University officials of the alleged hazing practices in late January, according to emails shown to The Eagle. The brothers gave Dean of Students Rob Hradsky and the Office of Student Conduct and Resolution evidence of hazing within the organization that dates back to fall 2011, the anonymous brother said.

"We hope that coming forward with this new evidence will shed some truth on the situation our fraternity experienced last year, and expose those who are truly at fault," the anonymous group said in the email.

The fraternity's actions are documented in photographs, audio recordings, chapter meeting minutes and screenshots of Facebook posts and chats. The Eagle obtained copies of this evidence on April 19.

"The current leadership of the chapter all supports hazing practices, and they hold secret events without alerting the rest of the chapter to haze the pledges," the anonymous group told The Eagle in its email. "When we actively speak up against the hazing, we are told to 'shut up' and are not included, or even told about pledge events."

University policy defines hazing as a "physical or psychological . . . intentional act or method of initiation . . . subjects another person, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, to conduct that may injure, abuse, humiliate, harass, or intimidate that person."

Chapter President Phil Seggio and four other members of the fraternity declined to comment.

Reports of forced hikes, alcohol

At events called "tuck-ins," members of an unidentified AU sorority were allegedly invited by TKE brothers to strip the fraternity pledges down to their underwear, tie them to chairs and ask questions such as, "What is our sorority flower?" and "What's my sibling's middle name?" according to the anonymous brother.

Pledges allegedly had bottles of alcohol poured down their throats as punishment for giving incorrect answers, the brother said.

"They're things you'd never have any idea how to answer," he said. "The end goal is to get them puking."

Around 11 p.m. one night in February, TKE brothers were said to have stripped pledges of their cell phones and wallets, blindfolded and drove them to Cabin John Regional Park in Bethesda, Md., the anonymous brother said. Brothers allegedly told the pledges to get out of the vehicles and then made them walk for about 10 minutes into the woods. The pledges were allegedly then told to perform push-ups and squats, while the brothers snuck away and drove back to AU, he said.


View Larger Map This map shows the alleged spot where pledges were taken and then compelled to walk back to campus, also marked.

When the pledges completed the physical tasks, they were allegedly left with a note that read, "Find your way home," the brother said. Cabin John Regional Park is approximately 10 miles from AU.

In a Facebook chat conversation obtained by The Eagle, one member of the spring 2013 pledge class described going to sleep at 6:30 a.m. after a night of tasks, before having to wake up at 9:45 a.m.

"[A]pparently it's a good idea to make pledges walk three miles, buy their own poster board, create their own ransom note letters, and force this all on them when half the pledge class has strep/the flu," the pledge said in the chat.

"Ransom notes" are letters cut out from magazines and glued together to recreate a portion of TKE doctrine, according to the anonymous brother. No two letters are allowed to be the same style and the process takes eight to 10 hours, he said.

In a "line-up" on Feb. 28, brothers allegedly blindfolded the pledges and led them into the basement of the fraternity's house, where they were drilled on TKE history and symbols, according to a brother who recorded and transcribed audio of the event.

Pledges were berated throughout the process, called "goddamn rodents" by one fraternity leader and singled out for verbal abuse if a question was answered incorrectly, according to a seven-minute audio recording of the line-up obtained by The Eagle. Brothers forced the pledges to perform push-ups and planks for incorrect answers as well.

The line-up lasted longer than two hours, according to the audio transcription obtained by The Eagle.

Allegedly, pounds of marijuana are often present in the fraternity house, and the drug is used to haze pledges, according to the anonymous brother. Chapter minutes obtained by The Eagle confirm the presence of pot in fraternity activity.

At a chapter meeting March 3, fraternity leaders allegedly planned to take the pledges to Battery Kemble Park on Nebraska Avenue NW on March 6 from midnight to 3 a.m., according to a transcript of the meeting obtained by The Eagle. Battery Kemble, known as the "dog park," is about a mile from AU.

The brothers discussed how to avoid police in the area and said not to wear fraternity letters, as the park is closed after dusk and patrolled by the U.S. Park Police and D.C. police, according to the transcript. TKE has allegedly hidden pledges in the bushes to avoid law enforcement during hazing events, the anonymous brother said.

When discussing freshmen pledges' midterm exams, a fraternity leader said only "minimal study hours" were needed and did not want to change the pledging process to accommodate exams, according to a transcript of a March 3 chapter meeting.

The University is also allegedly treating TKE's rendition of the popular "Harlem Shake" YouTube videos as evidence of hazing, the anonymous brother said.

"So, I've been watching 'Greek,'" one TKE brother said of the ABC Family television series in a private group post on Facebook on Nov. 13, 2011 obtained by The Eagle. "I realize why the fraternities on the show are so tame. None of the s*** we actually do could EVER be put on TV. Even the tame s***."

Though the then-pledges supposedly voiced their disapproval with the process, TKE brothers allegedly threatened not to initiate anyone in the class who came forward with information about hazing, the anonymous brother said.

Pledges are blinded by the end goal of becoming a brother and are willing to endure hazing despite the physical and mental harm it causes, he said.

Unofficial pledges and brothers

TKE reported that it had 30 members as of Jan. 11, according to University Registrar records. Its spring 2013 pledge class was allegedly secretly initiated during the weekend of April 20, the anonymous member said.

The pledge class has 16 bids and five "ghost bids," according to a private list obtained by The Eagle. A ghost bid is a student who is pledging without meeting the University's academic standards required to participate in Greek life, according to an anonymous member.

Potential new members must complete 12 credit hours of courses, maintain a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.5 and be in good standing with the University to join a Greek organization, according to the Student Activities website.

The TKE brother listed on the AU chapter's website and referred to in the evidence as the "hegemon," the executive board member in charge of the 2012-2013 pledging process, is not actively enrolled at AU, according to the University Registrar's office. He has not been enrolled since fall 2011 but did not graduate. Fraternity rules state executive board members must be current students, according to the anonymous TKE brothers.

When asked for comment, the brother denied being the hegemon but would not say who currently holds the position.

University involvement

Hradsky, the dean of students, and Director of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution Rosie McSweeney said they could not confirm or deny an ongoing investigation into TKE's behavior.

If a hazing complaint is brought forward, the Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution reviews the information to determine what level of disciplinary action should be taken, McSweeney said. The Dean of Students office can also investigate such cases and is responsible for the care of and concern for students' well-being throughout the process, she said.

Curtis Burrill, assistant director of fraternity and sorority life, said he is unable to comment on the situation.

AJ Custard, executive vice president of IFC, said that to his knowledge, the University has not notified the Council of a conduct violation by TKE. The IFC is not involved until the end of the process if the University finds an organization guilty of misconduct, he said.

Previous allegations

Four TKE members disaffiliated from the fraternity after the fall 2011 semester because they took issue with the alleged hazing practices, The Eagle previously reported. One brother was allegedly kicked out of the fraternity after requiring pledges to eat an entire onion in late March 2012.

Last spring, during an investigation by TKE nationals for hazing, certain members of the chapter leadership allegedly decided to try to blame the hazing on one specific member and attempted to kick him out of the group, five anonymous brothers said in a statement.

"The e-board leadership put together a false compilation of evidence against the member in an attempt to scapegoat him for the chapter so we did not get as harshly punished by nationals," the anonymous group of TKE brothers said in their email. "We feel deeply sorry that this happened and sincerely wish that member did not have to experience that injustice."

UPDATE: April 28, 5:28 p.m.

Assistant Vice President and Dean of Students Rob Hradsky submitted the following statement April 26.

"Hazing is antithetical to the values of American University and has no place on our campus. The university takes allegations of hazing seriously, and aggressively investigates all matters brought to our attention in accordance with the American University Hazing Policy. All members of the university community are expected to report allegations of hazing to the Office of the Dean of Students and/or the Department of Public Safety."

"When an incident is reported to the university, a "cease and desist" order is issued to the alleged organization or party effectively ending all communication and activity among members pending the outcome of an investigation. Upon completion of the investigation, alleged violations of the Hazing Policy are forwarded to the Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution Services office for resolution. Typical sanctions for hazing involve suspension or dismissal from the university. It is the policy of the university not to comment on specific hazing allegations during the course of an investigation and while matters are being resolved through the Student Conduct Code."

"It is our understanding that the Tau Kappa Epsilon Fraternity's national headquarters closed the Upsilon-Omicron chapter at American University effective April 25, 2013, and that they have suspended all members of the chapter."

rkaras@theeagleonline.com


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