Saturday, April 25, 2009

UNL Sigma Chi Suspended for Hazing

UNL suspends Sigma Chi fraternity following hazing allegations
By MELISSA LEE / Lincoln Journal Star
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln on Tuesday suspended Sigma Chi fraternity after newly unsealed court documents detailed a series of alleged hazing incidents, including one in which a stripper allegedly used a vibrator to anally penetrate a fraternity pledge during an initiation party.

The suspension means Sigma Chi must immediately cease all fraternity activities such as social events and recruitment, said Juan Franco, UNL vice chancellor of student affairs.

“As we were learning more and more (about the allegations), we thought the best thing to do was go ahead and take quick and decisive action so we can begin going about righting the ship,” he said.

Students will be allowed to live in the house at 1510 Vine St. for the rest of the semester, Franco said. It’s too early to say whether they’ll be allowed to live there next fall.

In a prepared statement, Franco said the suspension will give UNL time to complete an on-campus judicial review that will help officials make a final decision on Sigma Chi’s future in Lincoln.

“The allegations, if true, are serious violations of UNL’s Student Code of Conduct and will not be tolerated,” he said.

“We will work with the national Sigma Chi organization as well as the advisory board and president of the Sigma Chi house to fully address the future of the fraternity on campus.”

Expulsion is a possibility, he said. Sigma Chi, which has about 60 members in Lincoln, recently celebrated its 125th anniversary on campus.

Documents unsealed Tuesday in Lancaster County District Court show UNL police began investigating the local chapter after a former pledge told police in February that repeated hazing incidents - including one in which he was assaulted with a vibrator - had taken a toll on his well-being.

The pledge alleged he and others had been subjected to hazing from October through early 2009 as part of the initiation process into the fraternity.

He said pledges were, among other things, verbally assaulted in what was billed as a “character-building” activity and forced to drink shots of Tabasco sauce and vodka until they vomited. They also were ordered to leap-frog each other around the fraternity house while being pelted with ice, wet paper towels and toilet paper by older members in an exercise called “Busy as a Bee.”

Parts of his account were corroborated by interviews with four other pledges who also dropped out of Sigma Chi, court documents show.

The incident in which the pledge was allegedly sexually assaulted took place during an off-campus party at 21st and D streets. The pledge said he was handcuffed and blindfolded, and the assault took place even though he told the stripper “stop” and “don’t.”

The day after the alleged assault, the pledge said, fraternity members asked him if he was all right and appeared “indirectly apologetic.” The pledge said he learned the stripper had performed the act at the urging of other fraternity members.

Court documents do not name the stripper. Sexual assault charges have not resulted from the allegations, though when asked whether police are pursuing such charges, UNL Assistant Police Chief Carl Oestmann said this: “Parts of this case are still being actively investigated. I will not provide further details until the appropriate time.”

Several other pledges told police there had been a party with strippers involved, and at least two said they had seen a stripper standing near the other pledge holding some type of sex toy.

However, none could verify to police that the stripper assaulted him with the vibrator.

In multiple searches of the house that began March 18, police uncovered evidence to support some hazing allegations, including a letter to the fraternity’s national organization detailing a paddling incident and a party involving strippers.

Messages left with the national fraternity were not returned. Local Sigma Chi President Francis Acott referred questions to the fraternity’s lawyer, Bob Creager of Lincoln, who could not be reached.

Monday, UNL police cited eight fraternity members on charges of hazing or procuring alcohol for a minor. None of them was taken into custody.

Fraternity members cited for both hazing and procuring alcohol for a minor were: Michael Classen, 22; James Glover, 19; and Kyle Humphrey, 22. Cited for hazing only: Jonathan Knudsen, 21; and Keegan Anderson, 20. Cited for procuring alcohol only: Samuel Bates, 19; Ian Dimka, 21; and Chris Wozniak, 22.

Hazing is punishable by a maximum six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. All eight fraternity members are due in court May 15.

Court documents show former pledges reported paying $200 each for a “social fund” that was used to buy alcohol, including for underage fraternity members. Police found evidence of the fund in the house, including a bank statement addressed to the Sigma Chi Social Fund.

Police also found large quantities of alcohol in the house. Alcohol is forbidden on the UNL campus.

In an Oct. 1 incident, one pledge said, pledges were forced to stand staring at the ceiling while older members shouted obscenities at them for two hours. Fraternity members called the exercise “character building,” and older members were usually intoxicated.

In a January incident, court documents say, pledges were forced to sleep together with the windows open. At midnight, older members entered and began yelling and throwing ketchup, ranch dip, dill pickles, full beer cans and other food items.

About five hours later, the documents say, pledges were awakened and made to take cold showers with the windows open.

Franco said UNL leaders are “most disappointed” by the allegations.

“At the same time,” he said, “I’m hoping that the entire Greek system doesn’t get painted with the same brush because of this incident.”

2nd Story - follow up

Fraternity hazing definitely not the best-kept secret on campus

LINCOLN - If you want to know which fraternities on a college campus are involved in hazing, ask a sorority member.

Fraternities "brag about it," said Dave Westol, former chief executive of the national Theta Chi fraternity who now lectures on hazing. Westol called the boasting "a twist of logic that evades me to this day."

Still, it was hard Wednesday for alumni and students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to fathom the allegations against Sigma Chi fraternity.

Eight fraternity members were ticketed Monday on suspicion of hazing, procuring alcohol for minors or both. The hazing incidents allegedly included sodomy, forced alcohol consumption and even a bizarre game of leapfrog.

UNL suspended the fraternity from all campus activities pending an investigation.

"I wouldn't think that it would happen here," said Lindsey Preusker, a UNL senior dietetics major from Lincoln. "It's disgusting. It's gross."

Gib Robertson is a retired Air Force colonel and University of Minnesota graduate who serves as president of the fraternity's alumni chapter in Omaha.

"The alumni are all concerned," Robertson said. "Sigma Chi has traditionally had a very positive image, and to have this sullied by these allegations is very disturbing."

Curt Denker, a banker and 1977 UNL graduate who serves as president of Lincoln's alumni group, said he had nothing but a good experience with the fraternity.

"I roomed with an individual who guided me and helped me through college, and he remains a good friend," Denker said. "All positive, nothing negative - and nothing ever degrading."

Alumni said some hazing occurred in their day, but it was more like being required to shine active members' shoes and being yelled at, not physical hazing as described by the former Sigma Chi pledges.

In court documents, a police officer detailed five former pledges' accounts of hazing incidents this school year, including one in which a pledge was penetrated anally with a vibrator used by a female stripper.

The pledges said they had been paddled on their rear ends, pelted with beer cans and food, forced to drink shots of vodka and hot sauce, forced to take cold showers in an icy room, forced to stand for hours staring at the ceiling and forced to sit astride one another's laps in the leap frog game.

Police confiscated 120 cans of beer and two dozen bottles of hard liquor while searching the fraternity house for hazing evidence.

J. Steve Davis, a 1967 UNL alumnus, said the national Sigma Chi fraternity is conducting its own investigation into the allegations.

Davis said the fraternity's interviews of those involved in the alleged hazing "don't match up" with what police reported in court documents, but he also said he doesn't have a "blind fidelity" to the fraternity if hazing was practiced.

He said Sigma Chi will cooperate with UNL officials.

Juan Franco, UNL vice chancellor for student affairs, said the university had not heard from parents concerned about their students' safety. Some, he said, had called to applaud the decision to take action against the fraternity, and others urged administrators to look more deeply into the issue.

"Some are saying there is a lot of this going on and we need to check into it," Franco said.

The UNL campus has 1,401 men in fraternities and 1,470 women in sororities.

Many chapters are doing good things, Franco said, including leadership activities, community service and student government.

It's appropriate that parents get involved with their sons' rush experience, said a UNL junior who serves as an officer on the university's Interfraternity Council.

"I think some parents are afraid that they are going to embarrass their son if they talk to the rush chairs, but rush chairs should be just fine with answering any questions that parents may have," said Alex Stewart, an economics major from Lexington, Neb.

Stewart, a member of Beta Theta Pi, said parents should review a chapter's grade-point average, campus involvement, honor society membership, community service and cleanliness of the house.

Westol, who lectures on hazing, said there may be clues about a fraternity's practices right from the start.

If asked whether the chapter does anything that might be construed as hazing, he said, someone might say, "Our national organization has a policy against that" or "The university has a policy against that."

Such an answer "suggests to me that there's hazing," Westol said, as would rebuffed attempts to review the fraternity's new-member or pledge program, or being handed a single page that's thin on detail.

Westol said fraternity leaders should say, "Our chapter has a stance against (hazing). We're very vigorous in our enforcement of that."

Once a student has pledged to a fraternity that hazes, he said, the hazing usually starts with small things such as carrying around heavy objects or late-night "fun runs" around campus.

Westol said some fraternities will even post the titles of alleged hazing activities on their Web sites. Odd phrases such as "We're going to do Disney World next week" are tipoffs.

Hazing incidents, he said, "are designed to make a pledge feel inferior, take away his or her confidence. They are told everybody goes through this, which is not true."

Some students worry that all Greek organizations will be tainted by the allegations.

"This isn't something that happens in any other house, as far as my knowledge," said Trevor Nieveen, a senior Spanish major who belongs to the Farmhouse fraternity.

"A lot of members of the Greek community are very surprised it just happened at all, in any house. Those sorts of things aren't what others stand for."

At least two other UNL fraternities have faced university sanctions in the past seven years after allegedly hazing freshman pledges.

In 2002, Delta Upsilon was temporarily banned after an e-mail photo showed a man with a Delta Upsilon paddle and two other men, jeans dropped to their thighs, with abrasions and welts on their buttocks. The paddle-wielding man was holding a beer can, as were three other men in the photo.

In 2003, Sigma Alpha Epsilon faced a long series of punishments after a pledge came forward and accused fraternity members of urinating on his bed and striking him in the genitals with a broom.

Sigma Chi got in trouble at UNL in 1997.

Police were called to a field outside Lincoln and discovered 30 fraternity members wearing Civil War uniforms, waving Confederate flags and burning a 6-foot-tall cross.

Then-UNL Chancellor James Moeser condemned the cross-burning, labeling the fraternity "naive" for not grasping the racist overtones of the ceremony. Sigma Chi leaders apologized, accepted a year's probation from the group's international organization and promised not to burn crosses at future pre-initiation ceremonies.

The Sigma Chi house, which sits across from the University Health Center near the intersection of 16th and Vine Streets, is the closest Greek house to Memorial Stadium.

The three-story brick and wood Tudor-style building was built in 1931 and is valued at $419,000 by the Lancaster County Assessor's Office.

Denker and Robertson said alumni are in the middle of a $2 million fundraising campaign to update the building to remain competitive with new housing built by the university.

Davis, the Sigma Chi alumnus, said he and others are concerned that the allegations could harm the fund drive.

"This thing has been incredibly damaging to the fraternity's reputation," he said.

World-Herald staff writer Matthew Hansen contributed to this report.
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