The Horizon requested records relating to hazing investigations from IUS on Nov. 4. After more than two months and two Horizon editorials publicly calling on the university to release the records, an Indiana University spokesperson sent The Horizon eight pages of heavily-redacted records.
The records, which cover hazing allegations since 2010, reveal that in the past decade, IUS has not once charged a fraternity with hazing, despite multiple, and sometimes recurring, allegations.
“It’s hard to get into the specifics,” Dean of Campus Life Seuth Chaleunphonh said when asked in a Nov. 4 interview how many allegations of hazing at IUS have been found to be hazing since he became dean in 2008. “If you’re asking whether or not we’ve concluded some, we have. But I can’t really give you specifics because some of these are regarding individuals.”
“It is a priority of our university to make sure we keep our students safe from anything related to hazing or other abuses or misconduct,” he said in the interview.
In December 2010, the records show, a student organization, called “PKE” in the email, was accused of prohibiting its members from speaking with the opposite gender for one week.
The records of this 2010 allegation were so heavily redacted by the university that only the email headers remained. But even the email headers revealed how the university viewed the issue.
The subject lines of two emails included in the records show the administrators in charge of the university’s investigation referred to the alleged incident not as hazing, but as an “educational practice.”
No IUS fraternity uses the initials “PKE,” although Pi Kappa Alpha (PKA) does go by the name “Pike.” The Horizon asked Chaleunphonh, who sent the initial email Dec. 2, 2010, for clarification on the name of the student organization named in the emails. He declined to comment, citing the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act as the reason he could not comment.
Chaleunphonh also declined to comment on why the university did not charge the fraternity with hazing. He referred questions to IU Director of Media Relations and Spokesperson Chuck Carney, who also declined to answer any of The Horizon’s questions, citing privacy concerns.
“Fraternities must meet national guideline requirements and abide by both the law and the student code of conduct,” Carney wrote in an email. “All Greek Life organizations are asked to attend educational opportunities to address alcohol and drug safety, sexual misconduct prevention, and hazing prevention. Some of this is accomplished with online educational modules required by their national headquarters. Regarding hazing, whenever IUS receives a report, we review it to determine if an investigation is necessary and/or any other next steps that may be warranted. All investigations act on the information available at the time. At IUS, we have held, and will continue to hold, fraternities accountable for their behavior.”
PKA President Braden Schroeder, who is also a Horizon reporter, declined to answer any of The Horizon’s questions, instead saying “I did not become a member of the Theta Kappa Chapter of the Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity until November 5, 2017 therefore I was not a member during the time period in which your questions refer to.”
University records show in 2017, PKA was accused of “paddling (striking bodies with paddles) new members, ditching new members in the woods and telling them to find their own way home” and “forcing new members to strip for the crowd at a party” during the 2016-2017 academic year.
The email detailing this complaint, sent by Chaleunphonh to the then associate director of Campus Life Amanda Felton, said multiple students were named in the allegation, but the university redacted the students’ names. The email was sent Nov. 3, 2017.
The records given to The Horizon by the university are incomplete. The university omitted any records showing the investigation process or explaining why the university chose the actions it did, but the records do show PKA was not charged with hazing.
In an email sent Feb. 27, 2018, from Chaleunphonh to Vice Chancellor for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs Amanda Stonecipher, Chaleunphonh said “I wanted to let you know that as of 2/22/18, all recommendations related to this complaint has [sic] been satisfactorily fulfilled or completed.”
The next part of the email was redacted. Chaleunphonh finished the email, saying “we will follow-up with the Pi Kappa Alpha leadership for [academic year 2019] in the fall.”
The Horizon asked Chaleunphonh and Schroeder, who has been PKA’s president since April 2019, what the recommendations were. Both declined to comment.
One campus agency, though, was absent from all records the university produced. The Horizon asked IUS Police Lieutenant Travis Huntley if his department was aware of any hazing allegations.
“I’ve been here eight years, and to my knowledge we’ve had no reports of that,” he said.
Huntley said he was unaware of the 2017 allegation of PKA paddling, forcibly stripping, and abandoning its pledges in the woods.
“It’s surprising to me. If those things are occurring, and those reports are being brought to university officials, I don’t know why we wouldn’t be brought into that.”
The Horizon asked Huntley why the university would not involve the campus police after such an allegation was made.
“I’m not going to speculate,” he said. “I don’t know. It seems like that’s the kind of thing we should investigate.”
University records show in October 2019, Tau Kappa Epsilon (TKE) was accused of forcing its members to carry a pumpkin around campus.
On Oct. 10, Felton emailed TKE’s chapter advisor with questions about the activity.
“I just received a complaint from [redacted], who came to ‘report’ a potential hazing activity involving TKE,” she wrote. “According to them, TKE’s new members are being required to carry a pumpkin/pumpkins around campus.”
The Horizon interviewed multiple TKE members and pledges about the pumpkin activity. All denied the activity was hazing.
TKE member Dylan Grant, who carried a pumpkin as a pledge last fall, told The Horizon the activity was not even a fraternity event.
“Honestly, it wasn’t a fraternity thing,” he said in an Oct. 25 interview. “So, basically what happened was we had this pumpkin, so I’m like one of the new guys, and – we just kind of got together and were like, ‘Hey, let’s get people to sign the pumpkins.’”
But TKE leadership confirmed the activity was in fact a fraternity tradition.
“This is one of our traditions that had been held even before I came to TKE, and basically the basis behind this pumpkin activity that we do is it is incorporated into our education,” TKE member Reilly Gray said in an Oct. 28 interview.
“My position in TKE,” he said, “is to be the chapter educator, and a lot of my job is to educate the new members in TKE. I’m not sure if this is week three or week four of their candidate education, but we talk about our values and what makes Tau Kappa Epsilon Tau Kappa Epsilon, and we incorporate that class into what TKE’s values are, which are love, charity and esteem.”
Gray said the new members of TKE write the value meaning the most to them on the pumpkin, which they then carry around campus.
But the value the pledges chose was not love, charity or esteem. It was loyalty.
As confirmed by photos provided to The Horizon by a TKE pledge, new members of the organization carried a pumpkin around campus with the word “LOYALTY” written on it with a black marker. The pledges asked other students to sign the pumpkin.
“And we tell them to protect it at all costs by, kind of like a metaphor,” Gray said. “I don’t know, I guess just a representation of what we do as TKE. We protect our values at all costs and we make sure that we are living them every day in the community and on campus and it kind of just gives them, it’s not necessarily a practice, but it just gives them an idea of what it’s like to be an active member and it shows them how important it is to uphold the values of TKE.”
Gray said the university investigated the pumpkin activity after the hazing allegation.
“The basis behind that,” Gray said, “was that they thought there was going to be a repercussion if they were going to be carrying around a pumpkin. But this is something that’s brought up every year and what we do is we just send in our document, our formal document that we made whenever this activity began, and I’m not sure when that was, but really we just send in a document and really what ended up happening was that they investigated, they asked a couple of the candidates if they thought something were to happen to them if they were to drop the pumpkin or if they felt that this was a form of – or they felt like they were forced to do it, and none of them did.”
But participation need not be forced in order for an activity to be considered hazing. As defined in the IU code of conduct, “hazing is defined as any conduct that subjects another person, whether physically, mentally, emotionally, or psychologically, to anything that may endanger, abuse, degrade, or intimidate the person as a condition of association with a group or organization, regardless of the person’s consent or lack of consent.”
In its Nov. 4 interview, The Horizon asked Chaleunphonh whether the pumpkin activity is alleged to be hazing every year, as Gray said. “I can say that’s not true,” Chaleunphonh said. “The pumpkin incident does not come up every year.”
Asked how often the activity comes up, he said “I can’t really say specifics, but I’m just letting you know that’s not true.”
Other Greek organizations at IUS steer clear of the pumpkin tradition.
On Oct. 29, Phi Sigma Sigma Sisterhood Development Chair Megan Lowe confirmed during a phone interview that a group text was sent to new members of her sorority warning them not to sign the pumpkin.
“If one of the fraternity men ask you to sign their pumpkin, tell them no!!” said the Oct. 14 text, which was sent by Lowe, based on a screenshot of the text obtained by The Horizon.
Upon further questioning regarding hazing, Lowe denied knowledge of the text. “A group text about the pumpkins, I have not heard about that, that’s new,” she said.
Gray said he is aware of the belief the activity might be hazing. “That is something that comes up every year, and I think that it’s honestly – I’m not sure if it’s been the same sorority or if it’s been all of them, but we usually get pretty good participation throughout most of the sororities, but I think usually they just want to keep their hands completely clean if it were a hazing activity.”
The Horizon asked Chaleunphonh and Carney why TKE was not charged with hazing after the 2019 allegation, but both declined to comment.
TKE President Jordan Parker disagreed with the premise of The Horizon’s investigation, and on Nov. 5 sent The Horizon an email complaining of the “false narrative that is being put forward.”
“We appreciate the coverage and appreciate the opportunity to set the record straight from the fake news that is circulating amongst the Horizon staff,” Parker wrote.
The Pumpkin activity,” he said, “is an exact copy of the IUS first year seminar program. New members get autographs from stakeholders of the university. The only difference is that the fraternity does not penalize our new members for not getting signatures; as IUS will fail a freshman.”
University records obtained by The Horizon show no mention of the pumpkin activity being a copy of the First Year Seminar program, in which freshmen seek stamps or signatures from various offices at IUS.
“TKE will continue to focus on what matters and not be distracted by fake news,” Parker wrote. He then listed achievements his fraternity has had that The Horizon has not covered.
Parker told The Horizon any further questions about the issue should be directed to TKE member Chase Howard.
Even though the TKE president made him the fraternity’s spokesperson for the issue, Howard has declined all interview requests from The Horizon since November.
The Horizon made multiple attempts to contact TKE pledges during the weekend of Nov. 1, 2019. All phone calls went unanswered.
The following week, The Horizon interviewed multiple TKE pledges and asked why no TKE members answered their phones that weekend.
None of the pledges interviewed asked The Horizon to protect their name, but in the interest of minimizing potential retribution against them, The Horizon decided not to use their names.
The pledges said they were told by TKE leadership they were going on a trip to Baton Rouge, La. that weekend, but instead were taken to an outdoor initiation ceremony at a location they had no prior knowledge of. None was willing to specify exactly where they were taken, but it was not Baton Rouge.
“We all thought we were going to one place, but we ended up going to another place,” one of the students said in November. But some members of TKE did not go, and the secret of the initiation trip was kept from them by the other members.
“They don’t know we went on a camping trip,” one member said. “The handful of guys that didn’t go, they all think we went somewhere else.”
“The trip to Baton Rouge – officially, that’s where we went,” another TKE member told The Horizon. “It would be bad if it got out that we didn’t go to Baton Rouge.”
None of the TKE pledges asked told The Horizon where they really went or what they did on the trip.
What they said was not reflected in any of the records produced by the university, meaning, unless the university withheld records showing they were aware of this activity, IUS does not know about this TKE tradition.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, we did go to Baton Rouge,” Parker said in a Nov. 22 phone interview. “We take a trip every single year.”
He denied the idea pledges were taken elsewhere three times in the interview.
The Horizon asked both Chaleunphonh and Carney if they were aware of this TKE activity, but neither answered The Horizon’s questions.
Although the records provided to The Horizon by IU show in the past 10 years no allegation of hazing has resulted in a fraternity being charged with hazing, some records appear to be missing.
TKE’s pumpkin activity, for example, was shown in the records as only coming up as a problem in 2019, but one of the records produced by the university indicates the activity has been questioned before.
“This activity has been questioned by Campus Life before due to concerns raised by [redacted] and has been upheld as an activity permissible under university policy, as it is not hazing,” an email to Felton in October said.
But if it was brought up before, and there are records that reflect that, the university did not provide those records to The Horizon.
Chaleunphonh told The Horizon in the Nov. 4 interview not all hazing complaints result in a written report. “It depends on if there was enough evidence to act upon things,” he said.
“Sometimes we may not have enough people cooperating to verify activities, but we can get them to participate in some education, just to make sure they’re aware. Because sometimes we don’t get all the information, you know, enough to do something about it.”