This time, the system in question is the SAE chapter of Salisbury University in Maryland. We know that Salisbury's SAEs haze, because a sophomore named Justin Stuart went forward to both his school's administration and Bloomberg News to detail what happened during his eight weeks of 2012 pledge training, including, but not limited to, paddling, forced drinking, cross-dressing, and extended periods of time listening to German metal. “It honestly reminded me of Guantanamo Bay,” Stuart said. “It was almost like torture.”
Among other events, he described one “hell night” as a pledge:
Again, the German song blared in their ears, Stuart said. He was then led upstairs, blindfolded, and tossed into a car without a seatbelt, he said. Tires screeching, the driver sped around curves and made quick stops, he said.
“I thought I was going to die tonight,” he later told police.
Back at the house, Stuart recalled being asked to bend over. He heard clapping, thumping, and chanting; a member took a running start and hit him in the buttocks three times with a paddle as hard as he could, Stuart said.
“It sounded like a punch, like skin was cracking,” he said.
Stuart held back a scream, while his back seized up for 20 seconds, leaving him briefly unable to walk, he said. The paddling left bruises that made it hurt to sit down the next day, he said.
Members told pledges to dress in women’s clothing and makeup or diapers, Stuart said: He wore a skirt, leotard top and platinum blonde wig. Then, they were given four or five shots of a “secret drink,” made up of various liquors, and driven to an off-campus party, he said.
“Guys should have gone to the hospital,” Stuart said. “One guy was dry heaving for hours. One guy was vomiting blood. It was the most dangerous thing I’ve ever done.”
Stuart later said that he ultimately decided to take a series of allegations to the campus police. He reported them anonymously. The police tracked Stuart down, though, and convinced him to report the misdeeds to Salisbury's board of trustees. After hearings were conducted, Salisbury's SAE chapter was suspended.
“What you said sounds like Disney Channel, when what I’m thinking [is] more like Quentin Tarantino,” the member said, according to Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s later appeal.
“Not all of your members are True Gentlemen,” another board member said, echoing the fraternity’s creed.
The SAE chapter appealed the findings, complaining that members weren’t allowed to have lawyers at the hearing. Citing the Tarantino and “True Gentlemen” comments, it contended that board members were biased.
“The fraternity was given a fair and impartial hearing,” Susan Griisser, the university’s general counsel, said in an interview.
In November 2012, the university denied the appeal and suspended SAE through the spring of 2014, removing its recognition as a student organization and barring it from campus. It will then be on probation for another year. A handful of students were also disciplined, Griisser said.
Pro-fraternity and anti-fraternity types will probably have a tough time conjuring much outrage. Hazing “confessions” are ubiquitous in the Internet age, and they all follow a similar track: Everyone acts STUNNED that hazing exists—even though you see it literally every fall when freshman walk to classes with paddles in their backpacks—the school then takes measures to “curb” hazing, including suspending or banning a fraternity (which just sends it off campus), and then the whistleblower transfers.
Nothing, though, actually changes. (Unless you go to Trinity.) That's the cycle.
And the truth is that will always be the cycle. Universities have a vested interest in ignoring the obvious—the paddle holders, the kids with the shaved heads, the 18-year-olds chugging at the behest of their larger friends. Colleges' largest donors are, almost uniformly, fraternity alumni. You just don't anger them. And if a college president says he's going to “Take a stand” against frats, he can expect to face declining revenues.
Exhibit A: Salisbury! After the SAE suspension, it's now out a $2 million donation, a figure that represents 5% of its endowment.
The Salisbury episode also shows how difficult it is for colleges to prevent hazing, and the extent to which alumni protect their fraternities. Investment executive J. Michael Scarborough, a founder of Salisbury’s SAE chapter, was so upset over its suspension that he withdrew a $2 million donation to the university.
It's easier than ever to blow the whistle. (Andrew Lohse is banking his literary career on it.) But my question is, what good does it do? Stuart is now a pariah in certain circles. Salisbury is out 2 mil. Wouldn't it be better if colleges acknowledged hazing existed, allowed the minor stuff to continue, and actually took an active hand in stopping the really dangerous shit? Because a zero tolerance policy isn't working.