The Cal Poly chapter of the Alpha Phi sorority is under investigation after a freshman woman was sent to the hospital with alcohol poisoning early Thursday morning, Sept. 29.
The student, who wished to remain anonymous for her personal safety, said she went out with her “bear buddy” — a member of the sorority who acts as a temporary sponsor for the pledge — the night after she received her bid to join the sorority.
“On bid night, they had told us that we were going out with the ‘Phis’ — my bear buddy — so she told me and my other pledge that was with me that she was in charge of the two of us,” the student said. “(She) told us we were going out at 8 p.m. the next night and to ‘Be ready for a crazy night,’ and we were like ‘OK.’”
The pledge, who left Cal Poly’s campus at 9 p.m., said several Alpha Phi pledges and their “bear buddies” initially met at the Alpha Phi house then walked to a Pi Kappa Alpha (PIKE) affiliated house on Crandall Way.
She said when the pledges arrived at the house, the other party-goers there encouraged her to drink shots of vodka, which they were providing.
PIKE president and parks, recreation and tourism administration senior Eli Simon said the allegations made by the student are not true.
“The Alpha Phi girls, I believe, weren’t provided any alcohol from the PIKE guys,” Simon said.
The pledge said PIKE members later informed the group that they would go to another party on Hathway Avenue. There were many sororities and new pledges at the second party, the student said, as well as more alcohol and more encouragement to drink.
Simon said he cannot speak about what happened at either party because he was not present, but he said this did not occur.
The student said at this point of the party she was “pretty blacked out.” She said she remembers walking back with her “bear buddy” and the other pledge to the Alpha Phi house after the party. An older member asked her if she wanted to stay there, but she said she decided not to.
“I think (my ‘bear buddy’) should’ve made sure we got home, walked us completely home,” she said. “I do remember in my drunken state telling her I was perfectly fine, but I do think it would’ve been better.”
A group of 10 women then walked back to campus, she said. When she returned to her apartment in Cerro Vista, she said she was preparing to go to bed when she realized she needed medical attention.
“I went to get into bed, and then I just sat on the floor for a second and I was like, ‘This is bad,’” she said.
She then told her roommate to call 911 and her mother. She said that was the last thing she remembers before passing out, other than answering questions from the paramedics that responded to the scene.
“I was blacked out, (then) woke up in (Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center) the next day,” she said. “The police officer came in with the doctor and said, ‘You were in here for alcohol poisoning, and they’re running a hazing investigation.’”
Cal Poly officials scheduled meetings with her the next day as part of the investigation, which she said she fully cooperated with.
The student said blame cannot be placed on a single individual or organization as to what happened to her that night.
“I think that, in this situation, it shouldn’t be all placed on Alpha Phi,” she said. “I don’t think that’s fair at all. But … in my particular situation, it was Alpha Phi’s job to take care of me. And even though I am 18 and I am in charge of my own life, I don’t think it should look as though all responsibility should be placed on the fraternities and sororities for what happened to me.”
“Obviously some of it was personal choice,” she said. “(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 student decided not to pledge after that night.
Student Life and Leadership (SLL) began its investigation into the sorority after a “concerned parent” contacted Cal Poly about Alpha Phi’s involvement, SLL director Stephan Lamb said. The freshman confirmed the “concerned parent” was her mother, who made the call with an inquiry to the school after contacting Alpha Phi and receiving no response.
“Anytime we get a concerned parent or a written report from the police, we investigate,” Lamb said.
That investigation has involved interviewing members of Alpha Phi, as well as members of PIKE that were present. The fraternity was not responsible for the sorority pledge’s consumption of alcohol, Lamb said, but he said he is still investigating “to what extent was this an organized act of the sorority.”
Lamb’s investigation also seeks to establish whether the Alpha Phi pledge’s trip to the hospital is the result of a hazing ritual. Lamb said there haven’t been any incidents like this with Alpha Phi in recent history.
“Because we’re talking about a new member, (hazing) is always something that needs to be considered,” Lamb said.
According to the Cal Poly greek life policy on hazing, hazing is defined as “any activity that causes physical or emotional harm, degradation or humiliation during initiation into a student organization. The various actions that may constitute hazing, regardless of a person’s willingness to participate, include binge drinking, sexual harassment and assault, ridicule, sleep or food deprivation, personal servitude, physical beatings, emotional distress, embarrassing outfits or actions in public or water intoxication.”
The student said, although she is not familiar with the definition of hazing, others have told her they felt hazing occurred at the parties.
While the investigation is under way, Alpha Phi has been ordered to cease and desist all sorority activities. The judicial hearing, which is scheduled for this Thursday, will determine Alpha Phi’s responsibility and the university’s subsequent reaction.
“There will be a response from the university,” Lamb said. “What that response depends upon is how they act in the judicial hearing and what aspects of the event are on record.”
Until the judicial hearing has taken place, the consequences to Alpha Phi are unknown, SLL greek life director Diego Silva said.
“A judicial hearing has everything from — worst off — being suspended or disaffiliated, to nothing at all,” Silva said.
Alpha Phi representatives did not respond to Mustang Daily attempts to contact for comment.
The investigation comes nearly three years after the death of Carson Starkey, a Cal Poly freshman who died of alcohol poisoning during a fraternity entrance ritual.
Since Starkey’s death, the university and local law enforcement have made efforts to reduce underage drinking-related casualties, including making the emergency room at Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center a “safe zone” for intoxicated minors seeking help.
Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong said in an email statement this latest incident involving Alpha Phi indicates how little progress has been made, despite efforts.
“It’s disheartening that we don’t seem to be learning from past experiences,” Armstrong wrote. “Alcohol is very dangerous. It impairs judgment, leads to poor decision-making and not only ruins lives but, as we also know, it can also kill.”
But safe zones and presentations on the dangers of binge drinking are not always enough, University Police Department chief Bill Watton said.
“For us, (underage drinking) is always a problem,” Watton said. “That’s why we do so many presentations for freshmen. We do spend a lot of time and energy trying to get to our students.”
After Starkey’s death, SLL took its own steps to prevent illegal underage drinking, including forbidding freshmen to pledge fraternities until their second quarter at school.
This policy was not applied to sororities because statistically they have far fewer incidents of underage drinking, Lamb said.
“In national statistics from coast to coast, it’s the fraternities that by-and-large are the larger problem,” Lamb said. “We’re not discriminating because of gender; we are basically taking action because of high risk.”
In light of the recent hospitalization of the sorority pledge, SLL might look at a similar policy for sororities, Lamb said.
“It raises the issue for reconsideration,” Lamb said.
After presstime, Alpha Phi International issued this statement to the Mustang Daily:
A new member of Alpha Phi was transported to the hospital after she requested that her roommate call for assistance. Alpha Phi International has substantially completed its investigation into this report and has determined that its members did not engage in hazing. The chapter has cooperated fully with the investigation. Alpha Phi does not condone hazing in any form, and it has a very high standard for conduct in this area. All members who had any knowledge of the incident were interviewed, and if appropriate brought before individual judiciary board hearings. Alpha Phi International will be requiring the chapter to complete a number of educational terms to reinforce its risk management education.
Victoria Billings, Jennifer Young, Erin Hurley and Josh Friedman contributed to this article.
This article has been updated to reflect the correct date of the judicial hearing for Alpha Phi. It is Thursday, not Friday.