Coastal Carolina University officials lifted the suspensions of two fraternities this week after the organizations agreed to participate in anti-hazing training and change their initiation practices.
The Coastal chapters of Pi Kappa Phi, Kappa Sigma and Tau Kappa Epsilon were suspended last month amid allegations of hazing during new member activities.
Two of those suspensions were removed after university officials determined the infractions were minor, said Debbie Conner, Coastal’s vice president for student affairs. However, Tau Kappa Epsilon will not be back on campus because the national organization opted to close the local chapter, Conner said.
While they are no longer on suspension, Pi Kappa Phi and Kappa Sigma will remain on probation for the semester and are not allowed to host events where alcohol is served. Members of those organizations also are going through additional training about what constitutes hazing.
“We knew that we were going to be able to work through it,” said Stephen Markee, a member of Pi Kappa Phi and president of Coastal’s Interfraternity Council. “We would have done anything it took to be back on this campus.”
Little h hazing
Although hazing is a buzzword on college campuses across the country, Conner said there is a difference between a “little h hazing incident and a big H hazing incident.”
Conner defines “little h” hazing as forcing new members to wear certain colors on a specific day or requiring them to exercise together.
As for “big H” hazing, Conner said that would involve fraternities forcing new members to drink alcohol or go through rigorous physical training.
“It would be something that is definitely physical or severe mental abuse, power-differential situation,” she said. “That would be a big H.”
So what led to the fraternity suspensions?
“There were varying reports of servant-type behaviors,” Conner said, adding that pledges were required to clean older brothers’ apartments or pick up food for them. There also were reports of required running and workouts.
“I would say everything across the board was a little h,” she said.
“The physical activity is on the edge, but I’ve seen hazing cases where physical activity is a big H and this was not.”
Ariel Tarosky, Coastal’s director of fraternity and sorority life, said what universities consider hazing has changed, in part because of concerns about how far students will take it.
“Maybe 10 years ago, when I was in college, just having [pledges] wear something different than the chapter or having them go pick up a meal is not a big deal,” she said. “But now it’s this whole psychology that the servitude and the hierarchy that’s made. It doesn’t just stop there.”
Coastal’s Greek community has seen explosive grown in recent years.
Prior to the fall 2013 semester, the fraternity and sorority population accounted for just 4.6 percent of the overall student body, university officials said. The latest enrollment and membership data show Coastal’s 1,337 Greek members make up 14.7 percent of the student population.
That growth correlates with the university’s promotion of Greek life, said Conner, who urged university President David DeCenzo to create Tarosky’s position two years ago in an effort to expand Coastal’s Greek community.
“[DeCenzo] said he is committed to fraternity and sorority life because of the vibrancy it brings to a university campus,” Conner said. “And I was like, ‘OK, then we need to make an investment in fraternity and sorority life.’ It brings with it some of the risk management type of things, but our students are learning a lot through those processes, too.”
Coastal now has 16 Greek organizations, including eight fraternities that are divided into two groups. The Interfraternity Council consists of four organizations, including the two that had been previously suspended. Four are part of the National Panhellenic Conference Council.
Tarosky said four new Greek organizations are going through the approval process this semester.
Coastal officials learned about the latest hazing incidents from several sources, including an anonymous hazing tip form that had recently been added to the university’s website.
On Sept. 25, Conner sent a letter to all of Coastal’s Greek organizations informing them that the university had been reviewing complaints of hazing on campus and had levied the suspensions in response to the accusations.
Temporarily, she canceled social activities at all chapters in the Interfraternity Council, including those that were not accused of any wrongdoing.
“We all kind of were like, ‘Why are we getting punished for something that they did?’” said senior Scott Karchner, a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon. “When Ariel [Tarosky] spoke to our chapter, we realized it wasn’t punishment. It was precautionary to make sure that, even though nothing was reported against our chapters, that nothing was going on inside our chapter.”
Although university officials had provided training about proper initiation procedures to fraternity leaders, they hadn’t taken the additional step of reaching out to all members. Instead, they expected the fraternity heads to communicate that information to their other members.
“Through this experience, we’ve come to find out that that’s where it’s getting lost in translation,” Tarosky said. “So what we need to do in moving forward is making sure that I’m getting in front of all 1,200 of our fraternity and sorority members and doing the education with the entire chapter myself. At least to get us back to a good place.”
When the hazing allegations first surfaced, Tarosky said she spoke to each chapter about them, the purpose of initiation and ways to avoid even minor hazing.
On Wednesday, Tarosky will sit down with the executive boards of Pi Kappa Phi and Kappa Sigma and begin developing new initiation programs. She expects those to be finished by the end of the semester.
“How do we still get that intent but do it in a safe and positive way?” she said. “I want them to still have a good and fun new member experience.”
Spreading the word
Along with drawing unwanted attention, those in Coastal’s Greek community noticed the hazing problems overshadowed other aspects of their organizations.
So they began using social media to talk about the leadership and charity work they were doing. Tarosky created the Twitter hashtag “OurPurpose” to challenge Greek students to share their reasons for joining those groups.
“That was an awesome way to show everyone on campus what we do,” said senior Kaitlyn Bailey, student coordinator in Coastal’s office of fraternity and sorority life. “We aren’t just these allegations and we aren’t just the negative things that maybe one or two members do in the community.”
When asked about upcoming Greek volunteer work, Tarosky rattled off a list of activities, including some students packaging food for third-world countries and others shaving their heads to raise money for an adviser battling multiple sclerosis.
“They don’t do a great job of showcasing all of the amazing work that they’ve done,” she said “And I think that’s because they don’t feel that they need to. So when Pi Kappa Phi donated $20,000 to their adviser last year, they didn’t do it to get publicity. They did it to help their adviser.”
That culture, however, is changing.
Students say they’re putting more effort into spotlighting their fundraisers and philanthropy. They don’t deny the mistakes they’ve made; they just don’t want the public to think that’s all they are.
“We realize that it might be our job to prove to everyone else the good stuff that we do,” Markee, the IFC president, said. “So when something like this happens, this isn’t the only thing that they hear.”