“Do away with all proof…”
After seven hazing allegations in four years across the country, the national office of Sigma Sigma Rho, Inc. was concerned – not with how to eliminate hazing but with how to cover it up.
In a nationwide email sent to every chapter in February last year, the nation board issued a memo instructing how chapters should seek to do away with all proof of hazing – under threat of penalization.
Rather than condemning hazing, a practice officially shunned by the organization, the email detailed how chapter members should eliminate a paper trails that could be linked back to the organization – belying a contradiction some Greek organizations appear to have with what they say on paper and what they do in practice.
Further, the memo advises “pledge mistresses,” or those charged with membership recruitment, to avoid electronic messaging, as that might leave incriminating evidence former pledges or other witnesses could use to present to their respective universities.
“Even you should not email/text pledges with things that could be considered hazing,” it reads. “Either call or do it in person.”
If caught in the act, the memo suggests that sisters use a pre-prepared, made-up excuse to justify their actions to throw off suspicious university officials or police officers and limit what they could be charged with.
“If ever faced with a scenario where a cop begins questioning your activities, always follow what they say, give IDs if they ask and NEVER (sic) discuss the organization you belong to,” the email reads. “Think quick, and always have a local chapter/colony plan of the story you can tell anyone of authority in the case something like this happens.”
The email goes further to solicit help from the national office if facing problems with “preparation,” even saying that the national executive board will penalize sisters and/or chapters for breaking the rules laid out to suppress evidence.
“It is better to be safe and prepare yourself with STORIES (sic) for quick thinking purposes, than to be sorry with a scenario that turns for the worse because you were not prepared,” according to the email.
The local chapter of Sigma Sigma Rho was placed on a new member recruitment suspension as of Jan. 13 – when the assistant dean of students, Pamela Anthony, said the organization’s “new member policies condone practices that are in direct conflict with Georgia State University’s Hazing Policy and constitute violations of criminal law as hazing is a crime in the state of Georgia.”
Evidence sent to the university include photos of non-GSU sorority members committing hazing rituals, specifically where recruits were forced to kneel and have pounds of flour and other materials poured on them.
Other examples of hazing activity include a structured merit/demerit system, forced entries into pledge books and mandatory physical exercises as punishment measures.
As of press time, the national office was not prepared to comment.
Attempts to conceal or prevent certain information from being leaked are not confined to Sigma Sigma Rho, however.
In regards to one of The Signal’s recent Open Records requests, the national president of Zeta Tau Alpha, Keeley Riddle, sent a letter to the Dean of Students and University Legal on Feb. 3 requesting prior review of all relevant documents requested.
However, both the university Office of Legal Affairs and the Office of the Dean of Students refused to comply with her request, according to emails they have released.
Riddle did not respond with a statement despite repeated attempts for comment.
Secrecy, anonymous letters and lack of evidence
Due to the secretive nature of many Greek organizations, verification of events and activities not formally sanctioned by the university can be daunting.
Pledges often must sign confidentiality agreements as a precondition of joining Greek organizations and are frequently sworn to secrecy – putting tremendous pressure on them to not speak out.
Therefore, fraternities and sororities are not investigated until someone gets hurt or a member or former member comes forward – typically on an anonymous basis.
However, unless that anonymous individual is willing to speak on the record, it is extremely difficult to investigate anonymous complaints, as the university cannot ascertain specific details to move forward, according to Pamela Anthony, the assistant dean of students.
For example, the Eta Mu Georgia State chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha was investigated last November but was never formally charged due to a lack of evidence.
In that case, the student that reported the organization refused to come forward and provide the university with details involving dates, locations or times of alleged hazing incidents nor the names of those involved for fear that she would be revealed, the student said.
Her letter alleges that interests were forced to undergo a variety of pre-hazing activities to even be considered. She said interests were required to perform acts of servitude, subjected to public ridicule and physically assaulted to the point of bruising – mostly at off-campus locations over the summer or during rush periods.
“Throughout the summer several girls were forced to run errands for the members, buy their lunches, act as their chauffeurs by driving them anywhere they wanted to go including the airport, packed their luggage, painted their apartments, come to their apartments to be cursed out by members in a line-up, write poems about certain members, and some girls have even been hit and bruised,” the letter reads.
Despite the serious allegations, the investigation was dropped due to a lack of evidence.
Angel White, then AKA chapter president and former Signal section editor, said that the allegations against her sorority caught her completely off guard and denied that any hazing occurred while she presided over the chapter.
“I felt like I was blindsided. Nothing like this happened while I was president,” White said.
She said it’s not uncommon for allegations to be made by former pledges or those with an axe to grind.
“This sort of thing happens every year during rush,” White said.
Indeed, as some national offices are quick to point out, the anonymous nature of complaints received against organizations make verification of allegations problematic. Also, by their nature, it’s often impossible to verify the identity of the sender and verification of a person’s motive may be difficult as well.
In an official statement to the university, the national office of Sigma Sigma Rho accused the anonymous informant involved in the leak of documents and behind the hazing allegations of conjuring false claims about the organization as part of a personal vendetta to slander the organization.
However, anonymous victims claim that offering up their identity would expose them to an undue amount of pressure and criticism from their fellow Greek life members.
In each of the anonymous letters sent to the Dean of Students office in the last year, individuals expressed universal concern for the consequences of reporting suspicious behavior against a Greek organization.
The consequences of whistleblowing
Reporting suspicious or hazing activity carries some risk to the person responsible for “snitching” or “ratting” out an organization. That risk often prevents complainants from further testifying on the record in an official capacity, records show.
In the case of the AKA investigation, the student that reported the organization decided to “lay low” once she determined that other members had become suspicious about girls reporting them, according to emails.
“I fear that losing my anonymity will cause unnecessary backlash for me on campus from the chapter, young women currently on line and interests still adamant about pursuing membership next fall,” she said.
In the case of Zeta Tau Alpha, the anonymous informant claimed she could not give her name “for fear of what some of he sisters might do to me if they found out that I was the one that reported them”
Earlier in the letter, she cite the example of a sister that wrote up the sorority for “dirty rushing,” or banned forms of recruiting, that has been shunned publically by the sorority.
Following the reporting of the violations, records show ZTA sisters cursed at mediators assigned to the case during an informal discussion due to frustration stemming from the fact that fellow sister turned them in.
In the past, organizations convicted of hazing or other university-banned activities have had their school charters revoked and social activities banned for a specified time depending on the seriousness of the charges.
In rare cases, some Greek organizations at Georgia State, such as the Kappa Theta chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi, have been permanently suspended.
An anonymous letter prompted the investigation that led to the Student Judicial Board’s decision in June 2010 to hold the organization responsible for maintaining an environment where interests were slapped, punched and beaten with canes, among other hazing rituals.
The chapter’s president and advisor were also found guilty of lying to the university.
At present, seven Greek organizations have been investigated in the last year for a variety of code of conduct violations ranging in severity from unfiled paperwork to hazing allegations.
Two of those organizations, Sigma Gamma Rho and Delta Phi Lambda, have lost their charters.
Photo: Ben Williams, SGA vice president of student life, acknowledged that two sorority girls admitted to him that they had dumped hundreds of Signal newspapers on the same day “Proof…” first appeared in print.
Credit: Chris Shattuck