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Hazing probe at 2 UA frats belies larger effort to shed "Animal House' reputation

Hazing probe at 2 UA frats belies larger effort to shed "Animal House' reputation

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Alpha Kappa Lambda

Alpha Kappa Lambda, 1104 E. Seventh St., has been suspended by the University of Arizona through May 21, 2022. Monmouth University, Florida State University, Ohio University and others have suspended fraternal or all Greek operations on campus, news reports show.

Two fraternities are being investigated by the University of Arizona’s dean of students office for alleged hazing incidents, potentially adding to a long list of houses on campus that have been disciplined for misconduct over the past seven years.

Three fraternities were kicked off campus last year after losing recognition for health and safety violations, but the history of misconduct doesn’t end there: Since 2012, 10 fraternities have been kicked off campus for various reasons including hazing, violence towards members and non-members, illicit use of alcohol and setting up fake bank accounts to hide misuse of funds, according to UA records and Arizona Daily Star archives.

The latest investigations, of which Alpha Epsilon Pi and Theta Chi are the subjects, have spurred chatter across campus in recent months about the rationale behind schools continuing to support Greek Life and what benefits, if any, involvement in a fraternity or sorority provides to its members. Both houses are on interim restrictions pending the results of the investigations, according to the UA’s judicial website.

“With all the negatives and things that happen, it’s really easy to question: why should that exist?” said Marcos Guzman, the director for Fraternity and Sorority Programs and Assistant Dean of Students. In his undergrad, Guzman was president of his fraternity. “What’s happening out there isn’t being made up. The negative stories, it is bad. You have to acknowledge it.”

Last month, the University of Arizona Debate Team tackled its most controversial topic yet when taking on Greek Life, a community that is often criticized for the culture it cultivates in fraternity houses throughout the nation, said the team’s executive director Ted McLoof.

Nationally, three people have died from fraternity hazing related incidents this year alone, according to Franklin College professor Hank Nuwer’s database of hazing-related deaths. Monmouth University, Florida State University, Ohio University and others have suspended fraternal or all Greek operations on campus, news reports show. The Rolling Stone, in 2012, compared Greek Life to a modern day “Animal House.”

During the UA debate, one side argued that Greek Life does not promote individuality. Group thinking, they said, decreases a member’s autonomy, exposure to diversity and cultivates hypermasculine and hyperfeminine cultures that are systematically, foundationally flawed.

The opposition, who were all members of Greek Life at the UA, argued that the media misrepresents their community, which is often stereotyped and homogenized by outsiders. Greek Life, they said, actually cultivates leadership, a sense of community and identity.

The affirmative won, with 67% of the audience voting in support of their argument and siding with the resolution.

“The negative side’s always going to win,” Guzman said, adding that at annual North American Interfraternity Conference meetings, fraternity members themselves debate formally about Greek Life. “You can’t compete with death. You can’t compete with sexual assault. There’s nothing in the world that I can say that can outweigh the loss of a student.”

FSP is comprised of Greek students, Greek Life alum and UA staff. If any policies or regulations are broken, the adjudication process is dealt with by the Dean of Students or the Greek Standards Board, a board that oversees less-serious offenses.

The president of UA Interfraternity Council, Peter Leblanc, declined an interview request from the Star.

Greek organizations must abide by the student code of conduct, FSP policies, their governing council policies and all UA regulations.

“Obviously, we see a lot in the realm of health and safety, so a lot of alcohol violations, we even have the unfortunate hazing allegations. We see everything from unregistered events with alcohol to alleged providing alcohol to minors,” said Guzman.

Guzman and the FSP office tackle issues of sexual assault, hazing and alcohol and drug abuse; the issues are not ignored, denied or minimized, said Guzman. Instead, the FSP office has implemented programs, raised awareness of public safety issues and trained leaders to “change the narrative.”

But many remain skeptical and wonder if it’s possible to create change in a culture steeped in history and tradition.

‘This is a human decency thing’

Lianne Kowiak and Rich Braham know the risks more than anyone. On Sept. 24, Kowiak and Braham stood on the stage of Centennial Hall in front of about 2,400 members of UA Greek Life at an FSP event called Greek Speak, and shared the stories of their sons who died by hazing-related incidents. The members were required to attend.

“It’d be so easy for them to go on a crusade against fraternities,” said Guzman. “They have every right to.”

Kowiak and Braham are members of PUSH, Parents United to Stop Hazing. Hazing is a crime, but PUSH wants it to be a felony.

“Some of us parents are on a mission to try to speak to as many college students around the country so that your parents, your father, your mom, does not endure the pain that we have suffered,” Kowiak said.

Kowiak’s 19-year-old son, Harrison, died in 2008 by injuries from a hazing ritual. For the past eight years, Kowiak has been speaking to members of Greek organizations to raise awareness for hazing prevention.

“Collectively, we have to work together,” said Kowiak. “If we are going to address hazing, it truly takes a village. We can’t do it alone, it’s everybody in this room: It’s the advisors, it’s the alumni, it’s the administrators.”

But the problem doesn’t lie within Greek Life, Braham said.

“It’s not Greek Life that’s killing our children. It’s the hazing that’s doing it,” Braham said. “It’s not just from alcohol, it’s not just from stupid, physical, ritual, dangerous games. It’s also the emotional and psychological trauma that hazing puts on an individual.”

Braham’s son, Marquise, committed suicide in 2014 because of hazing.

“This is not just a Greek thing,” said Braham. “This is a human decency thing.”

The Greek community is “a challenging population,” said Spencer Gorin, an Alcohol, other Drug and Harm Reduction specialist with UA’s Campus Health. “It’s a population that I believe warrants a lot of wellness care,” he said.

Gorin works in partnership with Greek Life with his programs aimed at strengthening individual values through self-awareness. Some values of Greek organizations are admirable, he said, including leadership, academics, philanthropic service and community.

“They want to have a sense of belonging,” Gorin said.

However, while students are on a quest to fit in, values can be easily compromised, especially in situations where alcohol is involved, according to Gorin.

“It’s a recognition that we’re still young, and we’re still learning, and it’s easy to go astray,” Gorin said.

One of his programs, the Buzz, was licensed by Alpha Phi’s national organization and will be used as the sorority’s official alcohol training.

After one Buzz session, data from 30 days after shows that a student’s average BAC decreases from 0.113 to 0.08, and that 13 standard drinks per week decreases to eight.

“How do we become better human beings? That’s what we’re trying to do, and change the culture. And I do believe there are organizations that want to do it,” Gorin said. “It doesn’t mean we’re free from problems, we’re not. But we are mindfully addressing it.”

2019 is Hazing Prevention Year at the UA, with online trainings both from the school and national Greek organizations for topics like hazing and alcohol consumption, as well as awareness workshops or events like Greek Speak and Emerge, a program for fraternity men that addressed toxic masculinity.

Doing everything by the book

Guzman, who’s worked in Fraternity and Sorority Programs since 2015, said that faculty is starting to see a big shift with today’s generation of college students, as they’re taking more active stances, speaking up more and reporting bad behavior like hazing and sexual assault.

Gorin also mentioned these generational shifts, saying he believes a lot of Generation Z students have looked at their older siblings and seen what works and what doesn’t.

“They have a greater sense of activism, compassion. They want more of a balance,” Gorin said.

These perceptions are extremely generalized, Gorin said, but his research data has also proved that there is “intention to change.”

“We all understand how fragile the situation is right now,” said Nick Antrim, the president of Theta Delta Chi fraternity.

Antrim is proud of the growth that his fraternity has experienced. They’ve moved into a house on Greek Row that previously belonged to Sigma Alpha Epsilon, whose national headquarters disbanded the UA chapter for health and safety violations last year.

This is a huge step for Antrim and his brothers, he said, toward being seen by the UA as a “serious fraternity” on campus academically, philanthropically and socially.

“They saw us as kind of a drinking club on the other side of campus, but we wanted to be a real, legitimate, fraternal organization on this campus,” he said. “Part of that transition included getting our guys on the right page of how we act. How we behave in the public’s eye, how we behave in the private eye.”

That means doing everything by the book, Antrim said. In a few years, they’ve established an internal judicial system, risk management policy, academics policy, new member education documents and philanthropy documents.

Their community partnership with Intermountain Academy, a school for youth with autism, serves as a “Big Brother” program for the men in the fraternity and the students. Every Friday, the fraternity men spend time with the students and their annual philanthropy event raises money for the academy. As a whole, the UA fraternity and sorority community raised $389,034 for various organizations in 2018, according to the FSP annual report.

A refined focus on academics has improved self-accountability and the house’s overall GPA. What once was a 2.4 average has increased to a 2.9 in a few years. The average GPA for members in Greek Life is 3.2.

“It just comes with us growing up as a fraternity, came with the guys getting mature along with it,” said Antrim.

However, Antrim is skeptical if Greek Life will even exist in 10 to 15 years because of the recurring hazing incidents. He hopes it does, and has noticed that at the UA, “they’re trying to get ahead of that problem to make sure that Greek Life can be a thing here.”

Phi Delta Theta alum Devin Coppess is grateful for his years in the fraternity, saying that overall it had a positive impact on his college experience, his confidence and leadership abilities. While in the fraternity, Coppess served as philanthropy and risk management chair.

Like Antrim, Coppess is proud of his fraternity’s evolution into a well-rounded organization.

“There was a momentum shift in the house. People that wanted to progress,” Coppess said, adding that there were expectations from both outside and within the fraternity. “Outside of the Greek community, I think the expectation is low academic standards and high social standards.”

When thinking of a “stereotypical frat guy,” Coppess said that people sometimes expect someone with little substance, someone who likes to party and has very little academic agency. From within the organization, Coppess does agree that there is a “social emphasis,” but it’s not as “extreme” as people think. Academics are important too, and growth, leadership and balance are valued.

As for issues like hazing and sexual assault, Coppess said that these problems exist in Greek Life as well as the rest of society. He believes that with a focus on leadership, fraternities have the potential to be role models.

“Instead of disbanding the organization, use the organization to better the people within it,” Coppess said.

Guzman believes this too. His vision is for fraternity men to be role models in society.

“We’re not in the mix of what’s happening in fraternities and sororities,” said Guzman. “But it’s our job to empower leaders to see those negatives and to make those changes.”

Guzman’s message to fraternity presidents is simple: “The train is moving. We’re moving past the BS. You’re either on this or you’re not. And if you’re not, you’re going to be left behind.”

“It’s not Greek Life that’s killing our children. It’s the hazing that’s doing it ... It’s not just from alcohol, it’s not just from stupid, physical, ritual, dangerous games. It’s also the emotional
and psychological trauma that hazing puts on an individual.” Rich Braham, Father of a son who died by a hazing-related incident

Shayne Tarquinio is a UA journalism student and apprentice at the Star.

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