The University of Arizona placed the Theta Chi fraternity under interim suspension for violating the school’s hazing policies after a former pledge claimed he suffered a chemical burn in his eye and a blood infection during a hazing in April.
The student initially filed a notice of claim against the school in August and an amended claim in October that detail a pattern of physical and emotional abuse by members of the fraternity, according to copies obtained by the Star.
He alleged that pledges were forced to do grueling physical workouts and were kicked in the head and chest, sometimes while loud music, including from the Nazi Party, was blasted into dark rooms.
He suffered the chemical burn after an fraternity member flung hot sauce in his eyes after he failed to correctly recite the member’s hometown, and the infection from cuts after being forced to do push-ups on a floor covered with broken glass, according to the claim.
The student has since withdrawn from school and returned home. He needs to undergo surgery to remove scar tissue from his damaged eye as a result of the incident, according to the claim. He is seeking $1 million.
The Arizona Daily Star is not naming the student because he has been threatened.
“We’re seeking compensation for him caused by the personal injury and the impact it’s had on his college career,” said his lawyer, Robert Thompson. “We’re also hoping to bring awareness to this type of hazing. People might become aware of this type of behavior so it doesn’t happen again.”
Theta Chi is currently under interim suspension for “engaging in, supporting, promoting, or sponsoring hazing or violating the board or university rules governing hazing,” per the UA’s judicial website.
A university spokesman said an investigation was opened after the school received the claim. It is being conducted from the Dean of Students Office or Greek Standards Board, according to the UA’s judicial website.
The Theta Chi fraternity was previously banned from campus for four years in 2015 after an investigation found members introduced a paddling ritual during 2011 hazing and new fraternity members were subjected to it in the previous fall, according to published reporting.
However, the fraternity negotiated a shorter suspension by agreeing to several stipulations, including removing all current active members of the fraternity, with the exception of the fall 2014 and spring 2015 new member classes, according to an August 2015 letter obtained by the Star.
The Star recently found that 10 fraternities have been kicked off campus since 2012 for various reasons including hazing, violence toward members and nonmembers, illicit use of alcohol and setting up fake bank accounts to hide misuse of funds. Theta Chi is one of two fraternities currently on interim restrictions.
Thompson accused the university and the national Theta Chi fraternity of “not doing their job.”
“Clearly the national chapter and local regional advisor is not doing their job and the University of Arizona seems to have a problem with other fraternities, as well,” he said.
The national chapter of Theta Chi said it’s aware of the suspension at the UA chapter and is investigating.
“Fraternity leaders have been in contact with University of Arizona administrators,” the statement said. “Hazing runs contrary to Theta Chi’s mission of developing resolute men and has no place within the fraternity experience.”
A university spokesman declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing a policy not to comment on pending litigation.
The claim details the process that the student and his fellow pledges were tasked with to become members. The student said he was told it would entail various chores and tasks, such as cleaning the house and interviewing members, but did not realize that it would include “relentless and psychological abuse,” according to the claim.
Pledges were obligated to be on call and available during all hours to go to the house, which is just off the UA campus in the Sam Hughes Neighborhood. There, they were required to run and do push-ups, wall sits and planks while being quizzed on the history of the fraternity and the hometowns of the active members, according to the claim.
“When (the student) or another initiate failed to answer correctly, the older members would kick them in the chest and head,” the claim states.
Active members told pledges they would be beat up if the hazing activities were exposed, and went as far as staging a hoax to scare pledges out of reporting the activity, according to the claim. During the hoax, pledges were forced to perform various exercises, including planks, while they were kicked in the chest. They were told nobody actually reported the fraternity “after hours of physical and psychological torment,” according to the claim.
The student suffered his injuries during an April 12 incident, when he and his fellow pledges reported to the house, where their cell phones taken away. They were told to lie face down in a dark room, while active members slammed some pledges heads into the ground, and choked other pledges while being forced to recite the fraternity creed, according to the claim.
One member made the student do a wall-sit while interrogating him on his hometown, according to the claim. When he got it wrong, he was forced to drink a shot glass of Tapatio hot sauce. When he still couldn’t remember, the member flung a shot glass of El Yucateco Habanero into his eyes.
In severe pain, the student ran to the bathroom to wash his eyes out, but he was unable to rinse them before being forced back into the room, according to the claim. He rejoined pledges as they were forced to do push-ups on the floor, which was covered in broken glass and trash. In addition to the eye injury, he suffered cuts to his elbows and palms.
He went to nearly a dozen doctor appointments, starting with urgent care the next day. He eventually went to a specialist, who recommended surgery. Doctors also found a blood infection as a result of the cuts, according to the claim.
He did not report the incident to the university or police out of fear of retribution from the university as a result of the hoax incident, according to his associate attorney, Alex Zolg.
“He didn’t want retribution,” she said. “He was very, very afraid.”
The lawyers have until April of 2020 to file a formal lawsuit. Thompson said the student wants the university and the fraternity to “change their ways.”
“We want a change in conduct,” Thompson said.
Contact reporter Justin Sayers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4192. Twitter: @_JustinSayers.