An unpleasant disposition spread throughout campus on Wednesday, Dec. 7, as the Hofstra community absorbed the image of a swastika among other visuals that highlighted one of the biggest connotations that can come with collegiate Greek life: hazing.
The images were presented in a story that was the culmination of months of investigation by The Chronicle into the circumstances surrounding the suspension of the Sigma Pi fraternity last spring semester.
Some responded with disgust of the images, which included pledging members of the fraternity vomiting milk onto one another, while others found the revelations to be a misrepresentation of Greek life, which celebrated its 80-year anniversary at Hofstra, in November.
Aaron Shubert, the president of Sigma Alpha Mu, said although he was “shocked by the information in the article,” he felt the story was an example of “dirty journalism.”
“It put faculty positions in jeopardy by falsely placing blame in certain instances and attacking a community when attacks were made by individuals not fully knowledgeable on the community in which the report was regarding,” Shubert wrote in an emailed response. “The language of the article was stated in such a way as to attempt to cast a negative shadow on all of Greek Life when this instance has no business representing the Greek community.”
Both University and Sigma Pi Fraternity International officials condemned the hazing allegedly depicting the Fall 2014, Spring 2015 and Fall 2015 pledge classes of the Eta-Gamma chapter of the organization.
According to Newsday, Sigma Pi Executive Director Jason Walker said, “We are appalled by the abhorrent behavior concerning our former chapter at Hofstra University. Upon receiving information from a person who asked to remain anonymous, Sigma Pi Fraternity International immediately revoked the chapter’s charter.”
“Greek life is looked upon to uphold standards and morals of the utmost importance,” Shubert said. “By doing this, Greek life is able to produce leaders throughout the Hofstra campus and encourage increased involvement in the betterment of our Hofstra community and the communities surrounding us [at] large.”
Greek life at Hofstra has definitely proven to develop leaders, as Shubert said. Last year, the organizations raised over $50,000 for 31 philanthropic groups, worked nearly 10,000 hours of community service, all while maintaining a collective community GPA of 3.18.
Despite this, negative attention for Greek life and Hofstra was garnered after the story and images were viewed on various national and international outlets. Frustration grew within the Greek life community, prompting members to speak out.
One student appearing to be from the University of Pennsylvania commented on Facebook, “For the record this is a CHAPTER of the Fraternity of Sigma Pi. People shouldn’t be casting judgment on an entire fraternity or its members based on the actions of one out of the hundreds of its chapters. I’m proud to be a brother of Sigma Pi.”
The Chronicle reached out to several members of the disbanded fraternity, but received no response.
The greatest concern from other members of Greek life at Hofstra seem to be similar in that the acts revealed by The Chronicle are not ubiquitous.
“Hofstra had no knowledge of the severity of the actions but the organization was still removed because any hazing isn’t tolerated in Greek Life at Hofstra,” one student commented on Facebook. “Without my Greek experience at Hofstra I wouldn’t have a job today and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
Since the story broke, other students and alumni have come forward to tell their stories regarding Greek life at Hofstra.
One alumnus who attended Hofstra in the early 2000s contacted The Chronicle to discuss his reasons for de-pledging the Sigma Pi fraternity at that time.
“I didn’t expect to enjoy pledging but I didn’t realize the sacrifice I’d be making with the relationships I already had and the people I was already friends with on campus. It didn’t really seem worth it to me at the time,” said the alumnus, who asked to remain anonymous.
He said he did not experience anything close to what was reported in The Chronicle regarding more recent classes of the fraternity, but he claims hazing was not absent from his process.
“My personal pledging process consisted primarily of mind games,” he said. “It seems silly, but I was not allowed to smile or laugh at any point in my day. The brothers took my phone and I was also not allowed to speak to family or friends any longer.”
According to Hofstra’s policy, hazing can be anything from “acts which cause or are likely to cause mental or physical harm or danger” to “verbal harassment or abuse” and “excessive or unusual physical exercise.” This alumnus said he was “fortunate” to only experience the latter.
He claimed if he was caught disobeying any rules, he and his pledge brothers would be punished.
“We would have to do planks and pushups at night. They would make you do more if you got in trouble during the day. We would have to go to the house every night, they wouldn’t tell you what time. They would call you at any time of night and you’d have to run over there a fast as you could.”
A current student of junior standing who de-pledged a pre-professional fraternity that operates on campus also shared their experience with The Chronicle.
“It was all mental. They just tortured us,” they said.
The student claimed the fraternity forced pledges to greet members in specific ways and complete work related tasks on strict deadlines. They claimed that should any requirements not be met, the pledges would be subject to severe verbal and emotional abuse.
“Other pledge brothers were like, ‘this isn’t even hazing, this isn’t even hazing.’ But those of us who de-pledged knew it was … When you have actual fear of people, not to get abused physically, but just to get put down and get yelled again – that’s not right.”
The student told The Chronicle that they de-pledged because of the verbal abuse, which forced them to reconsider the brotherhood.
“The idea of being brothers with people who tortured us … I don’t think any of us could handle it – except for the people who did continue pledging, but they took that mentality and were excited to haze others,” they said.
The perpetuation of hazing seems to stem from a variety of factors. One sorority executive board member, who asked to remain anonymous, discussed how hazing can permeate a campus through a cycle. She spoke of a situation where she witnessed someone’s view of hazing completely change after they were initiated into their organization.
“At first she started off really angry at them. She was constantly wanting to report them,” she said. “So then they become fiercely loyal to their hazing because they just went through all of that. I watched her go through the process and I was watching her transform from anti-hazing and wanting to report them every night, to the opposite.”
One sorority member commented on Facebook in an exchange with the author of the original article, “…regardless of what allegations seem violent or harmful, boys and girls across the country in greek life have full control of participating in the events or getting up and walking away. i would like to see the real villain persecuted rather than the participants of activities that have taken place for generations of greek life.”
The sorority executive board member who spoke to The Chronicle said that pledges who are subject to hazing often feel that they need to prove others wrong. “I think the other mindset is that you’re scared. You’re scared if you quit you’re not going to have friends, everyone’s going to talk bad about you.”
However, she said she did not experience any hazing while pledging her sorority. “I love Greek life. I wouldn’t quit it, but I do think there are frats on campus that have the wrong idea.”
This issue does not only exist within Greek life. Hazing can be found in sports and even the military. One social media comment appearing to be from an active duty serviceman said, “Hazing? lol. Join the Active Duty Marine Corps. Infantry then you see what a real hazing is and what real men go through.”
The recent allegations against Sigma Pi have left a lasting impression on Greek life, as well as on the broader Hofstra community.
Rabbi Dave Siegel, a Jewish chaplain on campus, spoke about the anti-Semitic imagery that was allegedly used in Sigma Pi’s pledging process. “It saddens me that all of our students still don’t grasp the seriousness of these images and symbols,” he said.
He continued, “For many of our students, faculty and staff, the Holocaust represents the murder and torture of loved ones.”
W. Houston Dougharty, the vice president for Student Affairs, said in a statement, “We will work with all student groups and individuals to reaffirm our commitment to a safe, nurturing environment for every student and member of our community and our work to eliminate hazing, hate speech, discrimination and any behavior that degrades others.”