Binghamton University’s Greek Life organizations have been ordered to halt all spring pledging, pending an investigation into widespread allegations of hazing.
The University’s order, delivered through multiple emails and at a meeting with Greek leaders, signals a sweeping rebuke from administrators who said that pledging practices on campus pose a threat to the physical safety and mental health of BU students. Under the order, no members may be inducted into fraternities or sororities until groups are notified by the University that they may do so.
Zach Stein, president of the Inter-Fraternity Council and Alpha Chi Rho, a social fraternity, said that hazing is a problem at Binghamton. However, while he said that he has heard of “bad things” happening this year, he does not believe this semester has been any worse than usual.
“Let’s not play stupid,” said Stein, a junior majoring in anthropology. “It’s a problem and it’s not what joining a fraternity is about, but it happens … So I think now the administration is just smart enough to realize it is happening, and they’ve actually caught onto the fact that these things are happening, and they have to do something about it, they just don’t know what.”
The University’s decision to issue a cease and desist order was made public in an email from Sunni Solomon, assistant director of Greek Life, to chapter presidents, on Wednesday, April 11.
“The University has received an alarmingly high number of serious hazing complaints this spring, and although many conversations have taken place to address the behavior in question, the reports continue to come in,” the email read. “We are extremely concerned about new member safety, as well as the futures of our current fraternity/sorority members.”
Solomon bluntly denied a Pipe Dream request for an interview, and Lloyd Howe, interim dean of students, could not be reached for comment. Brian Rose, who, as vice president of student affairs, oversees Howe’s office, shared information at an open Susquehanna Community Council meeting last week.
“The volume of complaints we received from parents, boyfriends, girlfriends and other sources was frightening and involved a large number of organizations,” Rose said.
More than 10 Greek organizations, including social and professional chapters, are currently under investigation, according to Rose.
Rose added that he suspected that the investigation would be hindered by a lack of cooperation.
“How many organizations will we be able to formally charge? I don’t know. My suspicion is probably very few because nobody is going to tell us anything and most people that say something to us are just going to lie through their teeth all day long,” Rose said. “That’s the very frustrating relationship to Greek Life on this campus.”
The Dean of Students Office announced in an email that there will be a petition process to allow fraternities and sororities who are not under investigation to complete spring initiation.
“There is a petition process in effect as of today,” wrote Enki Toto, president of the Professional Fraternities Council, in an email. “Organizations that did not have credible hazing complaints this semester will be able to apply. The induction will have to be on campus and must be reported to the Greek Life Office.”
Rose, Howe, Solomon and Milton Chester, vice president of student conduct, as well as members of Binghamton’s New York State University Police, brokered a mandatory meeting with the presidents of all campus Greek chapters on Wednesday to discuss the allegations.
“Basically at the meeting they just told us that there has been a lot of concern about hazing, and they’re concerned for the health of the students that are pledging,” Stein said. “They want to put it on hold so they can investigate the fraternities that are under investigation, and they want to try to figure out ways to stop this problem.”
At the meeting, according to Matthew Rossie, assistant University police chief, Greek leaders were largely defensive.
“The one issue that I can address is after that meeting last night, the statements that were made by people stating that they would not report hazing if they knew it was happening in their fraternity or another sorority … they said they would just not tell on other people in a Greek organization. That’s very, very concerning,” Rossie said. “Because that’s how we end up students who are seriously injured or, God forbid, that are killed. Because they don’t want to step forward and do the right thing and protect someone who is being brutalized.”
Rossie could not share specifics of the allegations, because the hazing investigation is being conducted through the Greek Life office, not UPD. He said victims in hazing cases often avoid criminal proceedings in hopes of protecting their identity.
“They’re not going to want to come talk us,” Rossie said. “Because we’re going to say ‘Well, you got to put your name on it and when we investigate it and make arrests, they’re going to know your name.’ Most people don’t want that.”
Rossie said UPD will “probably” see the reports, but he is concerned about the effect Greek Life’s culture of secrecy will have on the investigation.
“It’s a pet peeve of mine anyway,” Rossie said. “I hate this whole mentality that if you’re a snitch you’re a bad guy, where the way I view it, there’s no bigger sign of somebody who is weak than someone who is afraid to step up and speak up for someone or themselves.”
Stein said that nothing like this has ever happened before at Binghamton.
“They have said ‘you can’t pledge after a certain date’ but they’ve never ceased and desisted pledging,” he said.
Samantha Vulpis, president of the Pan-Hellenic Council and a member of Delta Phi Epsilon, said despite anger at the reports of abuse, the Greek community is firmly against the pledging halt.
“But every single person in that [meeting] felt really disrespected,” said Vulpis, a junior double-majoring in in finance and political science. “The cease and desist is a huge thing. It’s very unfair.”
Vulpis believes hazing is much less of a problem now than it was years ago.
“I think that more people have gotten in trouble, but that is because more attention is being placed on us,” she said. “The problem is actually 100 times better, things now are completely different than they were years ago, and people don’t see that … We’re being targeted.”
She said she has not received any complaints about students being hazed.
“We don’t do dangerous things,” she said. “We don’t beat up new members. We spend a lot of time with them teaching them about our organization. I don’t think spending a lot of time with them and making them come to our events is hazing.”
Toto also acknowledged the rumors, but has not received any hazing complaints.
“It is difficult to really know what is truth and what is a rumor unless you see it in person,” said Toto, a senior double-majoring in accounting and actuarial science. “I think the University responded in a manner that got everyone’s attention. However I think it was punishing the wrong people since the pledges were not the ones who were at fault in those situations.”
According to Vulpis, the administration put a ban on pledges crossing because they are hoping more pledges will come forward with further instances of hazing. At the meeting, Vulpis said, the only reports shared were the anonymous accounts of students.
“They don’t even know that it was the official fraternities and sororities involved. It could have been one of the underground fraternities and sororities for all they know,” Vulpis said, adding that de-chartered Greek groups are not prevented from crossing over their pledges. “How is it fair that their new members can become sisters and brothers, while the 56 chapters on campus following the rules, our members are just in limbo now?”
Stein said that as far as he knows, the fraternities have honored the University’s cease and desist order. He said members he has spoken to are nervous about the future of their fraternities and hope that they won’t lose their charters.
“We’re trusting them [the administration] that in a week or two, this ban will be lifted and everything will be all right,” Stein said. “If it’s not, we’re all screwed.”
— Daniel S. Weintraub contributed to this report.