Amanda Baumfeld and Daniel Tedford, Staff Writers
POMONA - Cal Poly Pomona's Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity has been suspended from campus in connection with a March initiation that resulted in allegations of hazing and a student suffering second-degree burns.
University officials say 14 students were blindfolded on March 6 and driven to the High Desert for a ceremony attended by more than 130 fraternity members and alumni.
The blindfolded students were positioned around a bonfire. As their blindfolds were removed, gasoline was poured onto the fire for dramatic effect. Some gasoline splashed onto a student, who suffered second-degree burns to his arms, legs and chest, university spokesman Tim Lynch said.
The victim, who has requested anonymity, has since withdrawn from school.
Fraternity officers did not return phone calls seeking comment.
The victim told the University Police Department about the incident on May 28, according to Vice President for Student Affairs Doug Freer.
Investigators are seeking more information to determine precisely what happened. Lynch said the investigation will look into whether the victim was provided appropriate and timely medical attention and whether alcohol was provided to underage students, including the victim.
"These allegations are serious. If found to be true, this incident put student lives at risk and reflects incredibly poor judgment by the student and alumni members of Sigma Phi Epsilon," Freer said. "Our university policy on hazing is clear: zero tolerance. Our actions today reflect that when students choose to violate state laws and university policy on hazing, they will be held fully accountable."
University police are also conducting a criminal investigation.
At the end of the inquiry, school officials will determine whether criminal charges or other discipline are warranted for the fraternity and its members.
Nine of the 74 fraternity members are suspended from all academics pending the outcome of the investigation, Freer said.
Initiation bonfires are not uncommon for the fraternity but are normally not dangerous, said Daniel Ucko, a fraternity member and editor of the school newspaper.
"We are a nonhazing fraternity, and this is not something that usually happens," Ucko said. "Bonfires are definitely part of our campouts, but this is a fluke incident."
Sigma Phi Epsilon is the largest of 16 fraternities at the Pomona campus. It has not had any disciplinary issues in the past, Lynch said.