Allegations of hazing leveled against TKE initiation practices
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This article was also co-authored by Derek Thurber with contribution from Rachel Alexander and Josh Goodman.
Several weeks ago, The Pioneer was approached by senior Dan Hart with some of the allegations described below. As a result of his coming forward, we began an investigation into his claims as well as into the policies of the administration, of TKE and of all the Greek groups in regards to initiation. Our goal in printing this article is not to write an exposé on any fraternity’s initiation practices or to damage the reputation of Greek groups on campus. On the contrary, we have attempted to present the facts and opinions expressed to The Pioneer from all sides of this matter. We hope this article will inspire a thoughtful discussion on all the issues presented here, and we encourage you to comment on this story at whitmanpioneer.com or to submit a Letter to the Editor expressing your thoughts.
On Feb. 18, senior Dan Hart approached Dean of Students Chuck Cleveland as well as The Pioneer with hazing allegations against Tau Kappa Epsilon (TKE). According to Hart, TKE violated Whitman’s Code of Conduct, specifically the college’s hazing policy, during the fraternity’s initiation ceremony of new members last winter.
Hart, a junior at the time, underwent 16 hours of TKE initiation before making the decision to cease participation in the activities and de-initiate from the fraternity.
Hart alleged that the 2010 TKE initiation included restrictions on food and sleep, verbal abuse and required clean-up work: all of which are in violation of Whitman’s hazing policy. He waited a year to come forward over concerns for his personal safety if he made the allegations public.
According to college policy, which is found in the Student Handbook, “[hazing] is any activity of a physical or psychological nature that is degrading or humiliating to another person.”
Associate Dean of Students Clare Carson said the college expanded this hazing policy in 2008, after the administration became aware of hazing incidents occurring as part of a varsity sports team’s initiation process.
In addition to Whitman’s hazing policy, the state of Washington has its own laws against hazing, thus students attending college in state: whether public or private: can be prosecuted under these laws separately from the policies of individual schools.
In the two weeks since the allegations were first brought to Cleveland’s office, the administration has begun a formal investigation into the validity of Hart’s claims. The administration has met with both Hart and the members of the TKE Executive Council.
“The college takes all these kinds of investigations seriously and we have an obligation to investigate. That’s what we’re doing,” said Cleveland.
“When students come forward with allegations, we are always concerned about their personal safety, how they are doing, what kind of support they need,” Cleveland added. “By the same token, we’re also concerned about the well-being of either the individual or the group to whom the allegation is leveled against. We feel that we have an obligation to all students to provide them the support they need to get through difficult issues and times.”
The TKEs initially declined to be interviewed for this article, preferring instead to respond to allegations in a Letter to the Editor which can be found on page seven. Ultimately, current Whitman TKE President, junior David DeVine, responded over e-mail.
The last initiation activity Hart participated in, and the event that ultimately compelled him to de-initiate, took place in the TKE kitchen.
According to Hart, he and his fellow initiates were instructed to prepare breakfast for the active members in accordance with TKE initiation rule number 13: provided to Hart by the TKE Hegemon: that all pledges must “make and serve breakfast”: a task made more difficult by the trash and food that had previously been smeared on the kitchen surfaces.
Hart said that when the pledges cleaned up the trash, it was smeared back on the floor and kitchen surfaces; when they finished cooking the food, it was thrown against the wall. He said this went on for four hours.
“It was senseless and I was terrified and I was scared by what the TKEs were doing. They were purposefully intimidating me into doing what they wanted: to clean this kitchen, which in the first place had no point other than to submit to their actions,” said Hart.
Hart alleged that the TKEs employed verbal abuse to force the new members into labor similar to that in the kitchen, as well as to “dehumanize” new members in an attempt to make explicit the power dynamics between new and active members.
According to rule number five of TKE initiation, all pledges must always “wear hoodwinks but not outside.” Hart explained that a “hoodwink” is a piece of cloth adorned by a number identifying each initiate. Hart’s number was “1876.”
“I despised being called 1876. These are my friends, these are my colleagues, my peers: these are people I look up to. These are people I tutor and they are calling me 1876. It doesn’t get a whole lot more depersonalizing than that,” he said.
In 2007, former Whitman student Daniel Bachhuber also approached the administration with similar concerns. Like Hart, Bachhuber de-initiated from TKE as a result of his dissatisfaction with aspects of TKE initiation. In his three days of initiation, he experienced comparable types of food and sleep deprivation and forced cleaning.
“Initiation wasn’t anything constructive; it was destructive. If we were going to deprive ourselves of sleep but we wanted to do something constructive, we should have built a house for Habitat for Humanity or something like that,” said Bachhuber. “The way I construed the situation is that they were trying to break us down and recast us into this mold of a TKE fraternity member.”
Both Hart and Bachhuber alleged that TKE initiates were forced to take communal showers in freezing cold water. According to rule number nine of initiation, all pledges can only “shower with direction.”
“I’m told that I can’t take a shower because another rule is that pledges can only shower under the direction of an active,” said Hart. “We are all lined up. We are in our underwear; some people are naked, and we are forced to go into the shower.”
According to Cleveland, Bachhuber’s accusations were dealt with at the time by Associate Dean of Students Barbara Maxwell, the Greek advisor.
Maxwell declined to comment specifically on Bachhuber’s allegations, but said that the administration has consistently addressed complaints about conduct violations during initiation.
“When an incident gets brought forward, there’s an investigation, there’s a finding, there’s an outcome,” she said. “One [claim] wasn’t handled any differently than the other one.”
Bachhuber had problems, however, with the way the administration dealt with his claims.
“[Maxwell’s] recommendation was to express my grievances with [the fraternity presidents] and she made some sort of promise that things would be cleaned up the next time around, but I didn’t ever see the extent of what that was,” said Bachhuber. “My interpretation of the entire situation is that whoever was involved wanted to sweep the incident under the rug so they could keep on doing what they were doing.”
After de-initiating, Bachhuber struggled to connect with Whitman, especially with his friends in his residence section.
“I lived in 2-West, so everyone I knew was part of a frat house,” said Bachhuber. “To de-initiate was really hard for my social life, not necessarily because anyone made it explicitly so, but because I felt ostracized from the community that developed from [initiation].”
Hart said he did not feel the repercussions of his de-initiation as harshly as Bachhuber. According to Hart, the fact that he was a junior and had already developed a support system at the college was a primary reason for the lessened impact of his de-initiation.
“I already have my friends, whereas a lot of the freshmen are all friends with the TKEs, so they believe they would be socially ostracized,” said Hart. “I had all these other communities that were willing to welcome me.”
Maxwell agreed that the desire to be accepted as part of a group might deter some students from coming forward with allegations of misconduct.
“I think it’s hard [to come forward] if you’ve got an affiliation or attachment to a particular group, whether that’s a fraternity, sorority or an athletic team or another club on campus,” she said. “It’s human nature to want to be affiliated and want to be accepted.”
Interfraternity Council President, and member of Sigma Chi, junior Peter Olson contests the claim that participation in fraternity initiations is influenced by peer pressure.
“Not all the time are people pledging with all their best friends,” said Olson. “Theoretically you could see how that may happen, but at Sig we actively work to have an open channel of communication and really check in with them throughout pledgeship and initiation to make sure they’re comfortable with everything going on and that they’re having a good time.”
Maxwell added that national Greek organizations have been very proactive in developing communication channels for members, including toll-free 800 numbers where misconduct claims can be reported anonymously.
Bachhuber left Whitman in May 2007 after his first year, a decision which he said was influenced by his experiences both during and after initiation.
“I initially took a leave of absence and then I dropped out all together. A good 60 percent [of this decision] was because of initiation. The singular effect of de-initiating destroyed my entire community at Whitman and the community of what Whitman is supposed to be about,” he said.
Official Regulations and Response
According to the national Tau Kappa Epsilon organization, “[TKE] does not condone or tolerate any form of hazing and is committed to a membership education period which instills a sense of responsibility and commitment to the new members.”
Current Whitman TKE President junior David DeVine said Whitman’s TKE chapter upholds all national standards as well as follows all Whitman policies.
“The administration is aware of the details of our initiation. Any issues that may exist will be addressed,” said DeVine in an e-mail.
“Through a shared experience, members learn to trust and depend upon one another. They are much closer friends as a result,” he added.
Hart also said he recognizes the benefits of fraternity membership, which he said prompted his initial decision to rush TKE.
“I genuinely like the TKEs. I am not coming forward now because I have any personal resentment toward any members of TKE. That community can be really good for people,” said Hart. “I think the friend aspect of it is why a lot of people want to initiate.”
According to DeVine, initiates may opt out of any activities they find objectionable, a claim Bachhuber and Hart both found to be true in their own experiences.
“During the initiation week, they’re expected to be committed to the initiation process. They’re expected to participate in everything, but if they feel really uncomfortable with something, they’re given the option to [opt out],” said Olson in regards to Sig initiation.
DeVine said that nothing in TKE initiation would be considered more stressful than the first day of classes for first-year students and that TKE initiation does not involve any illegal activities which could make initiates uncomfortable. Both Hart and Bachhuber also emphasized that the use of alcohol or drugs was not a part of TKE initiation nor was physical contact or abuse. This fact is affirmed by TKE initiation rule number 18 that there is to be “no alcohol or drugs.”
Perceptions and Changes Going Forward
Sophomore Panhellenic President and Delta Gamma member Alex Woodward said that in spite of popular perceptions, initiation is not synonymous with hazing new members.
“People associate hazing and bad things happening [with] initiation, but those aren’t the same and those don’t coincide together. It is interesting that people always ask about that aspect of initiation, because there are really all of these great things that happen that have nothing to do with negative impacts on members,” she said.
Woodward and Olson also emphasized that Greek groups on campus strive to have accountability and provide outlets for members to address concerns with initiation practices. Concurrent with these practices, Maxwell said she supports any student who comes forward, hoping that initiation can be a positive experience for everyone involved.
“[The Greek groups’] intent is to create a strong, cohesive group of people where everyone feels valued and respected,” she said. “I would hope that if people don’t feel like that’s happening that they would come forward and that we could use it as an opportunity to educate the group so that they would then make changes.”
Like Woodward and Maxwell, Hart wants the positive aspects of TKE initiation, and of Greek life in general, to be emphasized. Hart, however, believes that the positives are currently undermined by hazing practices.
“I don’t want hazing to occur in the TKE house,” he said. “I don’t want to take communal showers, I don’t want to be called by a number, I don’t want resources to be wasted in the way they are, I don’t want to be yelled at and intimidated. I would rather see initiation be a true, transformative experience.”