Cornell is investigating allegations of alcohol-related hazing at Tau Epsilon Phi after two of the fraternity’s pledges were hospitalized about two weeks ago, according to a University official.
The students, sophomores who have since been initiated into TEP, were highly intoxicated after what has been reported to Cornell as a hazing event at the fraternity, said Travis Apgar, associate dean of students for fraternity and sorority affairs.
Cornell announced Thursday that it has placed the fraternity on interim suspension while the charges are investigated. The University has not conclusively determined whether the hospitalizations were caused by hazing, Apgar said.
Representatives from TEP declined to comment on the suspension or accusations of hazing made against the fraternity.
The allegations against TEP come at a pivotal moment for Cornell’s Greek system as it tries to adjust to President David Skorton’s mandate to “end pledging as we know it.”
Since George Desdunes ’13 — a brother at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity — died in February 2011 after a pledging event, the future of Greek life at Cornell has been the subject of ongoing debate. In response to Skorton’s subsequent charge to eliminate hazing, administrators and student leaders have imposed a series of new regulations on Greek chapters over the past year.
“We’re under a little more scrutiny right now with everything that’s going on: preserving the Greek system in general, preserving safety,” said Alan Workman ’13, executive vice president of the Interfraternity Council. “We want to try and stop the problem at its root. We don’t want to be sending kids to the hospital.”
Apgar emphasized that the suspension does not mean that TEP has been found guilty of hazing.
“[The suspension] is not a decision that they are guilty, but that there is a level of credible information that we need to act on,” Apgar said. “There’s been activity that’s already placed someone’s health or well-being in jeopardy.”
If allegations of hazing or high-risk drinking are found to be true, TEP could face further judicial consequences from the University’s Fraternity and Sorority Review Board.
That TEP did take action to protect its members’ health will likely be factored into the board’s decision-making process, Apgar said. Members of TEP called for help for the intoxicated pledges, he said.
“I’m really pleased that members of TEP did call 9-1-1 and had medical professionals come intervene … It's much more important individuals are getting help when they're in need than it is for us to adjudicate,” Apgar said.
But calling 9-1-1 did not exempt the fraternity from facing possible judicial action as a result of the hospitalizations.
Both the Interfraternity Council and the University’s review board have the authority to place a fraternity on interim suspension, according to IFC President Chris Sanders ’13. In this case, it was the University board that made the decision to suspend TEP, he said.
That board is not bound by the Judicial Administrator’s or the IFC’s medical amnesty policies, which protect individuals and organizations from punishment when they call for help during an alcohol-related emergency. The IFC policy can only shield fraternities and their members from judicial consequences imposed by the IFC itself, according to Apgar.
Although Apgar said the University tries to adhere to medical amnesty policies as often as possible, he added that the administration must balance support for the policies with an obligation to discourage dangerous behavior.
“When things are so egregious that people’s lives are put at risk, we have to pause and consider what’s best for the community moving forward,” Apgar said. “It’s been a very difficult process.”
Workman emphasized that a medical amnesty call alone will not result in a fraternity’s suspension.
“It’s important to note that it’s not the call of medical amnesty that places a chapter on interim suspension,” Workman said. It was the allegations of hazing made against TEP on top of the hospital call, rather than the call on its own, that led to the investigation into the fraternity, he said.
Workman added that he is confident that medical amnesty protocols are “generally trusted” and that chapter presidents will continue to call for assistance when necessary.