The University of Alabama takes Greek life very seriously; there are 56 fraternities and sororities on campus, and the school often tops "Best Of" Greek life lists thanks to the community's longstanding tradition of raging hard. Perhaps too hard: University of Alabama's administration canceled all fraternity pledgeship activities for the semester yesterday, citing a number of anonymous phone calls to the university's hazing hotline as the impetus. But threats of "unwanted national attention" might have had something to do with it, too.
"No hell week is to take place and, I quote, if hell week does take place, there will be hell to pay from the University of Alabama," Assistant Dean of Students Lowell Davis told the university's student newspaper, The Crimson White, when he announced yesterday that frats would have to initiate their pledges without any further hazing — er, "pledgeship" — activities beforehand. "So please, understand that we take any allegation seriously and that we will not continue to let anything happen as it revolves around pledgeship here at the University of Alabama."
A press release that followed shortly after the announcement named specific houses that were accused of hazing, including Pi Kappa Alpha and Delta Tau Delta, and reiterated that the decision to end pledging was due to the anonymous calls. But some students think an anonymous letter sent to the administration and leaked by The Crimson White late last month that warned the university it would receive "unwanted national attention" if it didn't cancel pledging by October 1st may have had more to do with it than the administration is letting on.
"We represent a group of freshman men and women that are the subject of physical hazing, sleep deprivation and excessive alcohol consumption that is occurring under your stewardship of the program," the authors wrote in the email. "The time requirement of these young men and women at the houses is too much and contributes to the aforementioned abuses that are occurring.
"I would like to remind you that in our country and world today, it takes very little for something to go ‘viral,' and the greek situation is close to explosion at UA. We are writing you because we wish for our children to be successful and stay at UA without enduring the current ‘insanity' of greek life pledgeship."
In late September, before the letter was leaked, the university's Intrafraternity Council President, Drew Smyth, temporarily suspended pledgeship for a week, starting Oct. 1 and ending Oct. 8. That wasn't enough for the anonymous letter writers, who then leaked their missive to the The Crimson White, along with an emailed statement that said they were receiving the letter because "due to the significant hospitalizations and other infractions, it would appear a weekly suspension is insufficient in order to correct the pledge process."
In response, Smyth told the paper that the letter had "absolutely zero bearing" on the decision to suspend pledging. Seems unlikely, doesn't it? It also seems unlikely that the letter had "absolutely zero bearing" on the decision to permanently cancel pledgeship activities for the semester, especially given that the school is no stranger to hazing drama. Just last year, a former pledge of Pi Kappa Alpha— one of the frats accused of hazing this week — sued the frat and his former brothers, claiming he "suffered severe and permanent bodily injuries, physical pain and severe mental distress when he was dropped out of a truck onto the pavement while unconscious." Christ. Yet, all pledging plans were set to go on as usual before the anonymous whistleblowers came on the scene.
After the news broke yesterday, Jake Morrow, a UA junior and Delta Kappa Epsilon member and Rush chair, tried to keep a straight face while telling the media that frat brothers never give alcohol to pledges (lol) and that the decision to cancel pledgeship was "a little ridiculous" given that hazing — which he said was really just history lessons and "exercise," in his experience — helped him become the mature man he is today. Really.
"Football players do exercises. All students do exercises. For that to be considered hazing is a little absurd," he said. "I haven't heard of any lightbulb, bottlecaps, any 'Bows and Toes.' I did 'Bows and Toes' when I played baseball in high school. It's a good workout. It gets the abs going, so I don't see that as a problem necessarily."
He also said he felt bad for the pledges, who will now miss out on all that fun male bonding/personal growth. "I'm not upset about not having pledgeship for my sake," Morrow said. "I'm upset for the pledges. I feel like it's a little ridiculous that they're taking that away from them."
"There is no hazing," he added. "I hear hazing rumors all the time. Everybody does their own thing." Apparently, doing your "own thing" sometimes involves severe bodily harm — and enough people are upset about it to finally pressure the administration into making significant structural changes.
A tipster also sent us the following (with a grain of salt):
"I'm a current sorority member at Alabama and have heard that this has been a long time coming...the university suspended pledgeship for a week before fall break (about two weeks ago) and sent out a warning to fraternities that if their behavior continued, this would happen. I've also heard that the pledge who spoke to the Crimson White is a member of Delta Tau Delta, although that is obviously not confirmed, and Pi Kappa Alpha seems to be the fraternity implicated in the administration's explanation of the suspension...The whole campus (and Greek community) is abuzz."
We've not yet been able to confirm that, but we're certainly looking to get the whole story —if you know anything more about what's going on at the University of Alabama, email me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or tell us in the comments.
(Image by Jim Cooke, photo via Pi Kappa Alpha's website.)