Saturday, May 03, 2008

Davidson Sig Eps Accused of Hazing

Sig Ep pleads not guilty to hazing
Katherine Johnson

Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity was tried before the Patterson Court Judiciary Board for hazing new members over three months after the incident occurred on Self Selection night. The trial began with opening statements from Sig Ep President Chris Vincoli '09 and Student Solicitor Neely Meeks '09 before a room packed with students present to support the fraternity.

Meeks shared that the fraternity had been accused of hazing by Patterson Court Advisor Cheyenne Schultz, Director of Housing Dean Perillo and Area Coordinator Sabrina Brown. Davidson College defines hazing as compromising the dignity of the individual, and Schultz found that the atmosphere that the Sig Ep brothers had created for their pledges on Self Selection night was intimidating and demeaning.

Additionally, Schultz found that Sig Ep had violated Article 18 of the Patterson Court New Member Bill of Rights, which states that fraternities and eating houses may not prohibit its members from speaking.

Schultz, Perillo and Brown were all absent from the trial, but Meeks read a statement from Schultz about the incident, in which Schultz described when she, Brown and Perillo passed by the Sig Ep house at roughly 7 p.m. that night and witnessed the pledges lined up in a row outside of the house in complete silence. She continued that the lights were turned off inside of the house and that the brothers were yelling at the pledges from inside, including some obscenities. Schultz was greatly disturbed by the fact that, according to her, a brother had yelled at the pledges that "there are 25 of you and only 24 getting in," which would imply that one pledge would not be initiated into the fraternity. Also, according to Schultz, a shirtless pledge was yelled at to put his shirt back on.

Schultz also asserted that brothers were throwing objects at the pledges from inside the house. Brown stated that she saw a brother throwing an apple at the pledges and that it nearly hit them.

Schultz added that she was greatly disappointed in the fraternity because she is "one of Sig Ep's greatest fans," but that it "broke her heart" when she witnessed "what had taken place during pledging." Schultz, a strong opponent of hazing, saw Sig Ep's actions during Self Selection as "subtle hazing" and then shut down Sig Ep's activities for the night after only about 15 minutes.

Schultz conceded that Sig Ep had a valid point in that the College had sent mixed messages to Sig Ep. According to Schultz, other fraternities are allowed to send their pledges "running half naked" around Patterson Court on Self Selection night, and numerous other fraternities and eating houses engage in what could be deemed hazing during the same event.

However, Sig Ep was under probation and careful scrutiny.

Schultz stressed that by no means does she want to shut down the fraternity, but that she does want Sig Ep to learn a lesson.

Defense Advisor DJ Carella '09 and the rest of the fraternity were given one day to prepare for the trial; the administration informed them on Monday that the trial would occur the following evening. All Sig Ep members in attendance at the trial, new members included, had different recollections of Self Selection from Schultz, Brown and Perillo.

According to the Sig Ep New Member Educator Patrick Polenz '08, the activities were designed for the members to get to know each other. Pledges were to learn information about other members of the fraternity in their house's basement, and then they would compete in trivia games designed to help them get to know one another at a senior apartment. Afterward, they would travel off campus to eat pizza and learn fraternity cheers. All of the activities planned for the night were approved by Schultz, but they were not discussed in great detail because Schultz's main concern was that all of the activities were alcohol-free, which Polenz stated that they were.

Carella confirmed that the lights were off in the house not to create an atmosphere of intimidation, but one of excitement. As pledges walked into the house, they were greeted with welcoming cheers and excitement from the brothers. However, since the activities were stopped so soon, only five pledges were able to experience the excitement of being welcomed into the house.

Additionally, while brothers were yelling obscenities at the pledges, it was done in a lighthearted manner. Several former pledges who testified at the trial stated that the brothers were yelling things like "Ron Paul '08!" and "Expletive!" and other things that were comical and not intimidating in the least.

Other members who testified at the trial also confirmed that brothers were not throwing objects from inside of the house, but were lobbing bagels off the roof of the house. According to brothers at the trial, throwing bagels off the roof of the house is a common practice at many Sig Ep dinners as a form of comic relief. Additionally, both brothers and former pledges testified that no one threw an apple out of the window of the house. While the matter of apples and bagels was not particularly pertinent to the trial and to the matter of hazing, the discussion of these objects lightened the somewhat tense atmosphere of the trial.

Carella confirmed that while the brothers did yell at an individual to put his shirt on, it was a brother and not, as Schultz had assumed, a pledge.

Carella also clarified the matter of the supposed threat that only 24 members would be initiated into the house. According to Carella, Schultz misheard the quotation; brothers had actually yelled at the pledges, "There are 25 of you here, but there should be 26." As it turns out, the 26th pledge is a ringer or sorts. He is actually a brother and not part of the pledge class, so the activity is done in order to trick the pledges into thinking they have left one of their members behind. This is a Sig Ep ritual done year after year. According to Carella, it is done in order to stress "the unity of the class" so that they can understand that as fraternity brothers, they need to look out for each other.

Many of Sig Ep's witnesses at the trial were pledges at Self Selection, and all confirmed that they did not feel intimidated or demeaned by what had occurred that night. All shared that they had been excited and eager and were extremely disappointed when the festivities were cut short. Additionally, Carella received signed statements saying they hadn't felt intimidated or demeaned from all but one of the pledges, who could not be reached in time given the lack of advance preparation time for the trial.

While Schultz stressed that the issue of the brothers prohibiting pledges from speaking constituted a violation of Article 18 of the Patterson Court New Member Bill of Rights, the brothers present at the trial stated that they did not actively enforce a prohibition from speaking, as pledges were permitted to whisper amongst each other and laugh as they sat outside of the house.

The issue of whether or not Sig Ep violated the New Member Bill of Rights is central to the case, but new Sig Ep member Hugh Dowlen '11, who testified at the trial, stated that as an Honor Council member, he didn't feel Sig Ep had violated the New Member Bill of Rights.

Sig Ep Chaplain Artie Van Sciver '09 also testified at the trial. Sciver leads the Sig Ep "standards board," which is an internal j-board that operates independently of the Sig Ep house and follows the Sig Ep rules. In the past, the Sig Ep standards board has imposed harsh sanctions, including expulsion from the fraternity, on Sig Ep members in the past for infractions. Sciver found no need to investigate the events of Self Selection Night and deems the activities of the night appropriate. He stated that "new members were not held accountable to being quiet." Furthermore, some brothers, including Andrew Hathaway '08, even went outside of the house to introduce themselves to the pledges.

In her closing statement, Meeks stated that an intimidation factor did exist. She also pointed out inconsistencies in the testimonies about the whereabouts of Polenz. Polenz stated that he was inside the house for much of the event, while others said he was outside speaking to the pledges for most of the event, which is why the pledges were being silent. However, Polenz stated that he was actually running back and forth from inside the house to outside throughout the event.

In his closing statement, Carella brought up the "double standard" Sig Ep is being subjected to, "given what goes on on the court."

Carella argued that in the past, police officers and even Dean of Students Tom Shandley had witnessed the same Self Selection ritual occur in prior years, and that their activities had never been halted before. Carella urged that if Sig Ep were to be punished for their activities, it would be sending the message to all Patterson Court members that "the only way to avoid an investigation is to conduct all our activities secretly."

Carella stated that the Sig Ep house is right in front of the Campus Police office, which gave a high degree of transparency to their activities for the evening. He continued that since Sig Ep got in trouble for "playing by the rules" in a very open setting, other houses will not have any incentive to "be transparent and open with the administration." However, in order for relations between Patterson Court and the administration to improve, "honest discourse" is necessary.