This is what we talk about when we talk about corrupt Greek life. Last week, Northwestern University's school paper The Daily Northwestern published an extensive look into the history of hazing at the college, prompted by a long-term investigation of the fraternity Phi Delta Theta for events that have occurred over the past few years. Though details of the potential punishment for the frat have been sealed, Phi Delt brothers are happy enough with it that they've taken to social media to celebrate dodging a bullet after their history of sexist and violent behavior.
The backstory is this: for most of this year, Northwestern officials have been investigating Phi Delt for serious instances of hazing that occurred during pledging for the past few pledge classes. The case was sparked by student Sean Lavery, who came forward to the administration in January 2013 with complaints that he had literally been beaten up while pledging the previous spring. Following Lavery's complaint, the University Hearing and Appeals System started a investigation that took almost a year, finally essentially exonerating Phi Delt this week, a source tells Jezebel.
Besides general hazing, Phi Delt brothers also displayed an disappointing lack of respect for women. Minutes taken as notes for their pledge class from Winter/Spring 2013 previously shared as part of a public Google Group "jokingly" suggest pledges rape virgin cafeteria workers at the college:
That cavalier attitude towards women wasn't just words; it echoed through the actions of the Phi Delt brothers. In the Daily article, Lavery and another student recalled having to participate in an event they called "The Brothel," where the pledges were blindfolded as a small group of female Northwestern students – apparently friends of the brothers – were brought in to dance and grind on them:
"There were some girls that were like licking the pledges and lap dancing and all of that, and some girls who were just poking them and afraid to touch them," the student said.
Then, the women were instructed to ask the pledges whether they wanted blow jobs. Most declined, the student said, but some agreed. Either way, the women brought the pledges over to a table and gave them what is known as a "blow job shot," typically a shot of alcohol topped with whipped cream. The pledges were then led out, and a new round came in. The student said the entire activity lasted for a few hours.
"There were existing members in the room watching on a couch, so that made the girls feel as objectified as the pledges, sexually," the student said.
According to the Daily, current Phi Delt president Greg Booth – who was not at Northwestern when Lavery was pledging the fraternity – says that the experiences outlined in the recent investigation are problems that Phi Delt's current brothers don't have:
"I would say that in the past, definitely Phi Delt did have some problems. I feel terrible for the people who had to go through that...We tried to eliminate all of the members that are associated with that. Frankly, it's unacceptable for those things to happen ever again in Phi Delt, and in the Greek community in general."
Since that time, Phi Delt has done heavy work to distance themselves from the process, like impeaching their recruitment chair Jesse Clifton and deactivating other members who were involved with the violence Lavery says he experienced. Again, as indicated by their meeting minutes from the spring, they decided to see if Clifton would want to speak on his own behalf i.e. say it was his own "choice to resign for made up reasons" so that the brothers didn't have to tell the real truth.
Since that time, Phi Delt has done heavy work to distance themselves from the process by deactivating other members who were involved with the violence Lavery says he experienced. Minutes shared with Jezebel indicate that the fraternity worked hard this past spring to make it clear that they were a different frat than the one being investigated. Those same minutes include notes that suggest a willingness to keep details about the fraternity out of the public eye, like comments concerning the potential impeachment of recruitment chair Jesse Clifton for reasons unknown, which show the frat encouraging Clifton to say it was his "choice to resign for made up reasons." Clifton tells Jezebel that his potential impeachment and subsequent resignation was "unrelated" to any hazing allegations and because of "personal reasons."
Other notes emphasize the fact that Phi Delt had gotten rid of the cancerous brothers and not that the brothers really understood the seriousness of what had transpired:
Our case is that we are aware that in the past brothers associated with Phi Delta Theta have acted wrongly (immorally, however you want to phrase it) but that we have greatly improved thus far with the dissociation of phi delta theta with those aforementioned members are have and continue to redirect the chapter in a good [direction]
Though Phi Delt's punishment hasn't been released publicly (An email to Northwestern's Assistant Director of Student Conduct & Conflict Resolution Lance Watson were not returned by press time, while an email to Dean of Students Todd Adams returned an Out of Office message. Citing preoccupation with finals week, Greg Booth referred Jezebel to Phi Delt's national headquarters representative Garrett Taliaferro, who has also not responded), our source reveals they are on "deferred suspension," a reprimanding that is above probation but below full suspension in seriousness. It's basically a warning that if the fraternity messes up again, they'll be in deep trouble, but allows them to participate in this upcoming rush, according to Northwestern's website:
Deferred Suspension: A status in which a student organization is given a specific period of time to demonstrate the ability to abide by community standards and expectations or face an immediate suspension of a designated period of time. Suspensions may also be deferred pending adherence to or completion of specific additional conditions or requirements. If a student organization on deferred suspension is found in violation of any act of misconduct (or otherwise fails to comply with specified conditions or requirements), the originally defined suspension takes effect immediately without further review. Additional student conduct sanctions appropriate to any new act of misconduct may also be taken.
It's clear that current Phi Delt members have tried to star anew while also trying to keep their frat – the oldest on campus – thriving. But while doing so, they've continued to try to protect their organization at all costs, and displayed a lack of respect for what's happened before them – and not long before them, mind you. Case in point: the multiple celebratory posts alums from the Class of 2013 posted on social media when news of their verdict came down this week that were "liked" by current and former students. One alum compares his happiness over the news to how he felt during "the snow day or when Bin Laden was killed."
The Daily has outlined the incredibly complicated and secretive process one must go through as a student to file a grievance like this, much of which is difficult for a student, let alone an outsider, to understand. Suffice it to say that it's similar to the lack of transparency demonstrated in the processes that bears a striking resemblance to the frustration sexual assault victims have vocalized during the current battle with Universities attempting to revamp their policies in that regard. The overlap between these inappropriate Greek hazing rituals and the sexual assault that often happens at Greek events is not a coincidence.
Much of this echoes the frustration people feel with local, state or federal government. The difference here is that this is an institution of higher learning, usually paid for with much more money than annual taxes. This is a place students and their parents spend thousands a year to attend, a place that's supposed to be better than the world at large.
There's nothing wrong with current frat brothers being proud and happy that their fraternity has been exonerated, especially if they weren't around for the wrongdoing. But it's the way Phi Delt – and by extension, the Northwestern officials – have gone about dealing with this development that shows that whether Phi Delt wants to admit it or not, these issues are not a distant memory and the process for dealing with it wasn't transparent or clearcut. What are their recent alums doing now? Joking about it all on social media by tagging one of the men their frat hazed and celebrating their current president for pushing it all under the rug. It shows, at the very least, a disrespect for the actual issues they've been exonerated from and a misunderstanding of the seriousness of what has occurred.
And it's all too typical: Phi Delt's argument that their issues were due to a few members ignores the system their fraternity is a part of, where instances of sexist, racist and intolerant behavior crop up constantly. To them it might be one moment; to others, it's part of a much larger problem. In meeting minutes from the spring, Phi Delt made a note to, "Make secrecy of organization clear to new Phikea to protect our family." Because the "family" matters above all else. For them and for many other families like them.
Update: This article has been edited and amended to reflect clarification from Clifton regarding his departure from Phi Delt.
Image via Phi Delta Theta/Facebook