A sophomore who pledged the Tau Kappa Epsilon [TKE] fraternity last winter has alleged that his pledge class was hazed.
Sophomore Will Schwartz wrote an eleven-page letter to The Knox Student discussing the circumstances under which he dropped out of the TKE pledge process last winter, along with five others in his originally 14-member pledge class. Sophomore Ben Boor, who also left the fraternity, corroborated his statement.
Schwarz said he chose to come forward now because he wanted new recruits to be aware of all the aspects of the pledge process, which starts next week, before they sign up. He said he did not approach a hazing hotline or TKE’s national affiliate because the hazing “wasn’t severe.”
“It’s taken me a long time to figure out what I want to do with it…coming to the paper was a better solution because it will lead to better reform than a hotline taking care of the matter in a secretive way,” Schwartz said.
Current TKE president Dan Pers, junior, and current TKE hegemon, or pledge educator, Alex Perry, sophomore, admitted that the incidents Schwartz alleged occurred basically as Schwartz said they did. They both attributed the infractions to individual members of TKE, most of them seniors at the time who have since graduated, and not to the organization as a whole. Furthermore, they plan to make changes to their pledge process this year to ensure that such incidents do not repeat themselves.
“We also as a house have changed more from how we were in the past. We had a lot more older guys who were dicks to people in the past, and we’ve changed and are more comfortable with each other than in the past,” said Pers.
Schwartz and Boor’s allegations included:
• Sat., Jan. 26, 2008: At the “graffiti party,” each pledge is instructed to wear a white t-shirt and markers are passed out at the door. The president at the time, now graduated, walks through the party writing the phrase “I am TKE’s bitch” on pledge(s) shirts. The phrase “snitches get stitches” is introduced.
• Sun., Jan. 27, 2008: The first of weekly educational meetings, led by the hegemon. Pledges are taught about the “ramp rule,” in which pledges are only allowed to enter the house through the disabled-access door, and “scroll,” in which pledges are ranked by seniority and those lower on the list are made to do tasks for those above them.
• Thur., Feb. 21, 2008: an activity in which each pledge is given a nickname and asked to take a picture of themselves portraying it. One pledge received the nickname “Beowulf” because the fraternity had learned that he had drunken sex with an overweight woman at a party. To complete the picture portion of the activity, he chose a different overweight woman at random in the Gizmo and took a picture of himself “slaying” her.
According to the TKE website hazing guidelines, “Hazing activities are defined as: ‘Any action taken or situation created, intentionally, whether on or off fraternity premises, to produce mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment, or ridicule.’ Such activities may include but are not limited to the following… wearing of public apparel which is conspicuous and not normally in good taste; engaging in public stunts and buffoonery; morally degrading or humiliating games and activities, and any other activities which are not consistent with academic achievement, fraternal law, ritual or policy or the regulations and policies of the educational institution, or applicable state law.”
TKE also has a sexual abuse and harassment policy which states: “The Fraternity will not tolerate or condone any form of sexist or sexually abusive behavior on the part of its members, whether physical, mental or emotional. This is to include any actions which are demeaning to women or men, ranging from but not limited to verbal harassment to sexual assault by individuals or members acting together.”
“[Last year’s president,] when he was intoxicated, had issues at times,” said Pers. According to him Pers the former president, who could not be reached for comment, was the only active member writing on pledge’s shirts. While the “snitches get stitches” saying never came physically into play, the implicit threat could be read as causing the “mental discomfort” forbidden by the hazing guidelines.
Pers and Perry argued that the “ramp rule,” which Boor and Schwartz considered demeaning in light of pre-civil rights policies which forced black people and women to enter public places through a different door than white men, was actually born in practicality. According to the rules of the fraternity, only one door can be left unlocked at a time: the pledges, Pers and Perry said, were asked to use that door because they didn’t have keys to the house.
However, Perry admitted that some actives with keys would still tell pledges to go around to the other door when entering the house together.
Both TKEs said that “scroll,” originally intended as a way for more experienced members to check newer ones when they acted outside of fraternity rules, had devolved into actives telling pledges to bring them drinks in the cafeteria. Schwartz said in his letter to TKS that one of the first pledges in his class to leave the fraternity did so during a TKE cafeteria dinner in resistance to the rule. Perry said the tradition will be discontinued this year.
TKE officially apologized to the woman that gave the pledge called Beowulf his name once someone outside the fraternity confronted them about its offensive nature. Perry said the pledge class involved, of which he is a member, apologized to the woman in the picture in the Gizmo after being confronted as well.
“The picture is on him, he’s the one that chose to take the picture,” said Pers. Perry said the woman in the picture was asked if it was all right to take her picture, but admitted that nobody told her what the picture meant before or after she agreed.
The nickname Beowulf was also discontinued.
Changes for this year
Perry and Pers say things will be different during this year’s pledge process, partially due to a personnel shift.
“The pledge class last year questioned a lot more things than did previous classes,” said Pers.
Pers thinks an unusually large number of pledges rebelled against the process last year because the TKE actives were heavily involved in trying to get TKE off of social probation, which took them away from bonding with the new pledges.
“Early on, the parties attract you to places first. That’s when you meet people…so the pledges when they came in didn’t have as strong of a connection to begin with,” Pers said.
Pers reiterated that the hazing incidents were the acts of individuals and not condoned by the fraternity as a whole.
“We’ve always been against the more common definition of hazing. We don’t physically harm someone or force people to drink. It’s these smaller things that are more individual incidents, the gray areas where one individual takes something too far,” he said.
Perry, the new hegemon, wants to prevent such incidents from happening again. This year, actives will be asked to sign a sort of contract promising to abide by Knox and fraternity rules, including hazing guidelines, before the new pledges are introduced. Any infraction will result in the culprit being sent in front of a board of TKEs for punishment or possible deactivation.
Schwartz and Boor hope that getting the word out about hazing will help to prevent it occurring in the future.
“They act like being tough on people is a way to bring people together when it’s clearly not,” said Schwartz.
“It’s not like they’re bad people. It’s just herd mentality,” said Boor.