The Alpha Phi sorority will face a five-month suspension after an investigation by Cal Poly Student Life and Leadership (SLL) found it guilty of hazing on Thursday. The investigation began after a freshman pledge was transported to the emergency room at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in the early morning hours of Sept. 29 with symptoms of alcohol poisoning.
SLL director Stephan Lamb said although the actions of Alpha Phi did not meet the state penal code definition of hazing, they did fall in violation of the education code, which “casts a broader net” over its definition of hazing.
“In a pledge status, the whole concept is that the pledge wants membership into the organization, and the pledge, therefore, may do things they normally wouldn’t do because of that desire for affiliation,’” Lamb said. “And, in essence, they sort of lose free will because they feel compelled to behave in a certain way to gain membership. That could be, ‘I want to drink because everyone else is drinking, and I want to be a part of the membership.’”
Lamb said it was subtle peer pressure that occurred with Alpha Phi.
“It wasn’t this overt, ‘Hey, you drink this,’” he said. “There’s a difference there. The ‘Hey, you drink this’ goes into the penal code. The peer pressure is kind of the wider net.”
Some students at Cal Poly have had strong reactions to the investigation and following suspension.
Business administration freshman Tabitha Ahearn said she was surprised when she heard the news.
“It’s kind of scary to think that this happened to someone,” Ahearn said. “Especially after Week of Welcome (WOW) when everybody is hearing about (Carson Starkey’s) story.”
Ahearn said she agrees with the ex-pledge at the center of the hazing investigation, who said she feels the sorority should have done more to ensure her safety after the parties.
“The sorority has a responsibility to take care of the students, especially the pledges,” Ahearn said.
Alpha Phi International issued a statement on Friday, the day Lamb released the investigation’s findings.
“While Alpha Phi International disagrees with some aspects of the university’s decision, including the hazing label associated with it, our primary concern is that the former member involved in the incident is okay,” the statement said.
The Alpha Phi chapter at Cal Poly will also work with the university to further educate members about alcohol safety, according to Alpha Phi International. The chapter could not be reached for comment on its opinion of the judicial sanctions.
In addition to the suspension, Alpha Phi members will also undergo training sessions regarding hazing, minors, alcohol and alcohol safety. Lamb said this will help the sorority return to the values of sisterhood and scholarship originally held by its founders.
“I think those (values) are still in place,” Lamb said. “But what’s strayed from that original purpose is a student culture both within and without the greek community that has a high relationship with alcohol.”
Lamb said what witnesses revealed during the investigation corresponded with what the freshman pledge told investigators.
“There was a series of events that occurred at off-campus sites, and we tried to talk to people at those venues to determine what they saw and what they experienced, so we could try to get a picture of what transpired over the evening,” he said.
The investigation focused on the first of two parties the pledges attended, which Lamb said took place at the residence of Pi Kappa Alpha (PIKE) fraternity members. Though PIKE was at first under investigation along with Alpha Phi, there was not enough evidence to link the PIKE students at the gathering to PIKE leadership, Lamb said.
The first party, Lamb said, was specifically for Alpha Phi pledges and their “bear buddies,” or temporary sorority sponsors for the pledges. Though alcohol was provided at this party, Lamb said he does not feel Alpha Phi’s goal was to haze the pledges.
“I believe there was no intent from Alpha Phi to haze,” Lamb said. “I do not believe they understood (their actions) as hazing, the peer pressure dynamic that was in play. But it still was in play.”
Alpha Phi leadership gave messages to its “bear buddies” that they should not force pledges to be at functions with alcohol, Lamb said. But this did not stop the pressure those at the parties put on the ex-pledge to drink.
“(People at the parties) weren’t tying me down and forcing alcohol down my throat, but they were putting a great deal of pressure on me to drink alcohol, and it was just constantly being poured for me,” the freshman said in a previous Mustang Daily article.
The student decided not to pledge Alpha Phi after the night’s events.
After the second party, which took place at another PIKE affiliated house on Hathway Avenue, the student returned to her Cerro Vista apartment where she told her roommate to call 911. She did not go back out to any other parties that night, Lamb said.
“If there’s any upside to this at all, is that hopefully the Aware Awake Alive program that we hit during WOW made a big enough impact that the new member took the initiative to seek medical help,” Lamb said.
An investigation was immediately launched after doctors at Sierra Vista told the freshman’s parents what happened. The parents then called the university.
Lamb said the ex-pledge cooperated fully during the investigation.
“I’m pretty impressed with her, I think she seems like a pretty mature woman,” he said. “She took her own responsibility for what happened. She wasn’t saying, ‘Oh, they did this to me,’ she was saying, ‘I made some bad decisions, too.’”
The suspension was decided upon at the hearing Thursday, though the results were not made public until Friday afternoon. The hearing included the executive board of Alpha Phi, the Cal Poly Greek Life staff and Lamb.
“What’s interesting about this investigation is that everything triangulated,” Lamb said. “What the (PIKE) guys said, what the (Alpha Phi) women said, what (the ex-pledge) said, no one disputes the sequence of events. It’s just sort of what their feelings about those events were.”
President Jeffrey Armstrong made his second statement regarding the Alpha Phi investigation in an email Friday. Armstrong said he is in support of the sanctions placed upon Alpha Phi and condemns hazing in all forms it may take.
“People need to think before they drink,” he said. “And they need to think before they push others to drink ridiculously excessive amounts – and everyone knows or should know what’s excessive.
Armstrong was also thankful that someone called for help when the student needed it.
“Fortunately, no one died. According to the young woman’s account in the Mustang Daily, she was lucky to have a friend who got her help and got her to the emergency room. I’m grateful for that.”
In accordance with the suspension, Alpha Phi may only hold weekly meetings at the official chapter house. No alcohol can be present at these meetings. The members must also file additional paperwork that documents changes to their risk management policy, education initiatives and chapter programming.
Alpha Phi has until Oct. 23 to appeal the suspension to the Cal Poly Vice President of Student Affairs.