THE BLOG
12/06/2013 05:32 pm ET Updated Feb 05, 2014

Reports of Hazing Increase at Wake Forest University, Kappa Sigma Fraternity Loses Charter

By Molly Dutmers Online Managing Editor

Trapped in a basement. Stuck living in a pen created for animals with a dozen other grown men. Forced to eat inedible food only from a trough. Ordered to sit in other people's vomit. This sounds like a scene out of a horror movie, but it is actually a scene from a fraternity ritual at Wake Forest University.

Talk to most students on campus, and they will have heard similar stories. "Everyone [on campus] definitely has heard some hazing horror stories," said one junior student who is not involved in Greek life.

In the past two semesters, reports of hazing on campus have increased. "In the spring semester of 2013, we first received a high volume of allegations," said Steve Hirst, director of student organizations. "There were six groups that had hearings and were looked into for hazing. Three of the six were found responsible, three were found not responsible."

This semester, one of the six groups that previously had a hearing was alleged of hazing again this semester. That is currently under investigation. Another organization, Kappa Sigma, has lost its charter after their national headquarters suspended it for their organization.

The Suspension of Kappa Sigma Fraternity

Kappa Sigma Fraternity was one of the three organizations found responsible for hazing after allegations were made last spring. "[Kappa Sigma], appealed their sanctions (from the spring semester) to the appellate body of the student life committee and the appeal was heard," Hirst said. "Some of the sanctions were modified, but as part of that process, it initiated a review by the organization's headquarters staff. The headquarters made the decision to shut Kappa Sigma down and that decision was made right before the [Thanksgiving] break." This decision means that Kappa Sigma cannot function in any form.

"They are no longer a fraternity at Wake Forest," said Hirst. "They do hope to return to Wake Forest in three to five years."

Kappa Sigma acting president, sophomore Lee Terwilliger, declined to comment.

A Harmful Tradition

The university claims to have a zero tolerance policy for hazing, but students know that hazing is part of the culture of Greek life at Wake Forest. "I think most of the Greek life on campus participates in [hazing]," said a university junior who is in a sorority, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Greek life has a significant presence on campus. In spring semesters, roughly 53 percent of females at the university are in sororities and 39 percent of males at the university are in fraternities. There are 13 fraternities on campus, not counting Kappa Sigma, and eight sororities.

Hazing is frequently a term associated with Greek life. It is meant to build solidarity and foster close relationships between members of an organization. Hazing is defined as an initiation process involving harassment, intimidation, humiliation or abuse. Some initiation processes are relatively harmless or are even performed all in good fun, although they can be humiliating. However, several initiation processes are far from all in good fun.

"I think to some extent it can bring a pledge class together," said one senior fraternity member, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid self-incrimination. "When it gets to a certain line it can become dangerous and unnecessary. I think that physical harm is a line you don't cross, that's not benefitting anyone, but certain things can bring a pledge class together."

The National Collaborative for Hazing Research and Prevention at the University of Maine found that 55 percent of students in any club or organization have experienced some form of hazing. The study, which is the most comprehensive study on hazing to date, also found that alcohol consumption, isolation, sleep-deprivation, deliberate humiliation and sexual acts are the most common forms of hazing across the nation.

From allegations he received and investigations that he has conducted, Hirst believes that forced alcohol consumption, driving duty and cleaning are the three most common hazing activities among Interfraternity Council fraternities.

He has also encountered allegations and found evidence of intimidation, physical abuse, which he said is defined as a variety of behaviors, psychological abuse, forced calisthenics such as running in the very early hours, forced consumption of food and other liquids and general servitude and the intimidation that goes with that.

Students agree that these are the most common forms of hazing that occur at the university.

"I would say those are the most prevalent forms of hazing," said the same junior sorority member. "I've also heard that pledges are forced to drive places far away for no reason."

The same senior fraternity member remembers being forced to clean houses, drive for parties and attend physical training that consisted of push-ups, sit-ups, running and other exercises early in the morning.

Another hazing issue that frequently occurs on campus is disregard for the university's six-week new member policy.

"We require that after six weeks of the new member education process that each of them be initiated and we require that someone, not an undergraduate member, an advisor or a headquarter staff member, to verify that the initiation took place," Hirst said. "That information is sent to us each semester. We've encountered that while there is a form of initiation, it is frequently known among some organizations, that they'll disregard that for the rest of the semester. After [the new members] are initiated they're told they have to continue a lot of the servitude aspects for the rest of the semester and potentially into the following semester."

These types of hazing can result in both physical and psychological harm to an individual.

Nationally, hazing has caused the deaths of 60 people in the past seven years. Most of these deaths were caused by excessive alcohol consumption.

Cecil Price, director of student health services, does not have a concrete number of injuries or illnesses as a result of hazing.

"Most students who are victims of hazing are reluctant to report this activity to anyone (including confidential resources such as the Student Health Service)," said Price. "I'm sure that we do see students who are victims of hazing either through coerced or forced use of alcohol, fatigue related to pledging 'duties,' or physical injuries related to pledge activities. When we ask students about how their injuries occur we may not get the complete story."

Handling Hazing at the University

Since 2010, only seven cases of hazing have been handled by university police.

Hazing at the university is handled by both judicial affairs at the university and the university police department.

"Wake Forest as a whole has a strong anti-hazing policy," said Lesia Finney, sergeant of university police. "Violators are subject to criminal action by the police, which is a misdemeanor, in addition to being held accountable through the university's judicial process."

Generally hazing allegations come to Hirst, but Charlene Buckley, the associate dean for judicial affairs, also receives allegations. Hirst has received allegations of hazing in numerous ways, including phone calls, emails, letters delivered through Fed-ex or slipped under doors. Allegations can also come as referrals from faculty or staff or Residence Life and Housing.

This semester, Hirst has been carrying out investigations of Greek organizations that have been alleged of misconduct by himself. In the past, Hirst and Buckley has conducted investigations together, but after Harold Holmes, former associate vice president and dean of student services, retired, Buckley is the presiding officer for judiciary hearings, making any participation in investigations a conflict of interest.

If an investigation determines that an organization knowingly carried out acts of hazing, the organization could possibly lose it's charter, face suspension, have their lounge taken away or be forced to complete a rehabilitation plan.

Unwilling to Come Forward

Due to the strong ties individuals have with their organizations, crimes of hazing often go unreported on campus.

"We try to encourage anyone who has been a victim or anyone who knows of hazing happening to report it immediately as it's occurring," said Finney. "Sometimes there's peer pressure and social pressure so students don't really want to get involved."

To combat this issue, the university has set up ways for students to send tips to the university police anonymously.

"If you want to remain anonymous, we have an online reporting tool, which is called 'Silent Witness,'" said Finney. "We also have a new safer campus phone app where you can do live chats with our communication officers 24/7 and you can also text a tip to us which is another way to remain anonymous."

Hirst also conducts his investigations in a manner that is meant to protect students from revealing themselves as the source of information.

"If there's the potential that one of the new members, is wanting to share some information but is fearful of retribution from the organization, by sharing that information with me as the investigator, I'm able to compile all of my interviews with staff, faculty, parents and students and present all of my findings and I'm the reporting party, which protects students from that scenario," Hirst said. "Which oftentimes can be a scary proposition, to go on record and have your name associated with reporting a serious allegation."

University police view hazing as one of the most difficult crimes to investigate, because of the pressure to not report it or discuss it. The seven cases of hazing investigated by university police in the past three years have all been unfounded.

"A lot of times a victim won't come forward," Finney said. "A third party will report it, we'll investigate it and the victim won't want to pursue it. That makes it hard to get a conviction like that."

Preventing Hazing at Wake Forest

In recent months, Wake Forest has taken steps towards preventing hazing, including creating a committee that works to prevent hazing. This hazing prevention committee has been meeting over the last few weeks and they will continue to meet into next semester.

"The committee looks at taking an enhanced, proactive approach to education in an attempt to prevent similar activities from occurring in other organizations," Hirst said. "That committee is composed of students, alumni, faculty, staff advisors, organizational volunteers, headquarter staff and a member of university athletics. So it's a fairly broad committee with good input. We're really trying to look at this very carefully and give good consideration to not only what our issues are, but what our best options for addressing those concerns are."

The university also hopes to prevent hazing by requiring all presidents of Greek organizations to review the hazing policies and university behavioral polities with their fellow executive board and new members each semester. After they review the policy all executive members and new members sign the document and submit it to Hirst.

Hirst also said that outside speakers are frequently brought in to address the topic at IFC meetings and other organizational meetings. Hirst believes that the addition of the hazing prevention committee as well as these group education efforts will open a dialogue about hazing on campus.

"I think that it's important that our community know the issues that we face," Hirst said. "They're very serious and I think they're a really threat to our community. It's important that as an entire Wake Forest community we're all addressing these issues together."

However students question whether a committee and education efforts will be effective in preventing hazing.

"It would definitely limit it, since the fraternities would have a higher up to be accountable towards, but not eliminate it," said the previously mentioned non-affiliated student. "A lot of it happens off campus so they will always get away with things."

Another senior sorority member has a similar opinion of the new hazing prevention committee.

"I think it would be a good step to create more transparency with Greek life," she said. "However, I don't know how effective will be as hazing can be seen as a 'tradition' or a 'right of passage' for many fraternities and it will be difficult to get rid of."

Hirst believes that while the committee is a step forward, especially because students are members, that changes to the hazing culture at the university will have to start with students. "I think [students are] probably the most important part of the puzzle," Hirst said. "They're the ones that can really effect change, much more effectively and probably much faster than any administrator can. When students cease to tolerate the behavior amongst their peers, I think we'll see some real change."