By Aoife Branco
*The names of the Kappa Alpha brothers quoted in the story have been changed to protect their anonymity
Ever since VWC’s director of student activities and Greek life, Kate Griffin, sent out an email last week about the closure of Kappa Alpha order, rumors have been spreading about the nature of the hazing incident that shut down the fraternity.
“Late in January, the College learned of an alleged hazing incident that took place in November 2014 prior to and after Kappa Alpha’s initiation ceremony,” Griffin said. “A member of the Kappa Alpha executive board self-reported the incident after he heard about it from new members of the fraternity.”
According to the VWC student handbook, hazing is defined as, “Any mental or physical requirement, request, or obligation placed upon any person which could cause discomfort, pain, fright, disgrace, injury, or which is personally degrading, or which violates any federal, state, local statute or collegiate policy, the willingness of an individual to participate in such activity notwithstanding.”
The school launched an investigation immediately following the report, in accordance with the VWC student handbook policy, which states, “…hazing is a criminal offense in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Hazing is a violation of VWC’s policy and is prohibited in all forms.”
In order to assess the gravity of the situation and allow for a fair, objective assessment of the potential hazing incident, school officials asked the brothers of Kappa Alpha to wait until the school had finished their investigation before contacting their national office to report the incident.
Although the act of hazing is illegal, “The allegations did not involve criminal activity,” said Griffin. “But they did involve violations of the Student Code of Conduct and Wesleyan Creed. The College immediately began interviewing witnesses and later forwarded its notes and findings to the Kappa Alpha National Office. The [Kappa Alpha] brothers cooperated fully with the investigation.”
“Most of us agreed with what the school decided,” said Mark, a brother of the chapter. “However, not everyone agreed. One of our brothers, really the main one the investigation was focused on, who had earlier been placed on involuntary alumni status, called nationals and reported the investigation. All while denying that he, specifically, was being investigated.”
In reaction to the failure of both the school and the brothers to report to them first, the Kappa Alpha national office immediately made the decision to suspend the chapter at VWC prior to doing their own investigation.
“Before any of the officials from nationals even came down here, they had decided to suspend us,” said Tony, a brother of the chapter. “It didn’t seem right and it didn’t seem fair coming from an organization that talks so much about brotherhood.”
At this point, VWC had finished its investigation and called some of the brothers of Kappa Alpha to the Community Relations Council to discuss the details of the case.
“The college’s investigation concluded that hazing had occurred in the Epsilon Omicron chapter,” Griffin said. “The incident was self-reported, the chapter was cooperative, and the three students who were found in violation of the Student Code of Conduct apologized for their involvement in the activities. For those reasons, the College would have considered a lesser sanction.”
“The school ruled that it was an individual, isolated incident and that it wasn’t a chapter incident,” said Tony, a brother of the chapter. “The school even went so far as to say that it was one of the most minor hazing incidents they had ever had to deal with, ever.”
Despite the outcome of the investigation made by the school, the Kappa Alpha national office sent officials down to VWC to investigate the incident for themselves as a follow-up to their initial suspension.
“The school even went so far as to say that it was one of the most minor hazing incidents they had ever had to deal with, ever.”
“Kappa Alpha’s national office sent two representatives who conducted their own investigation with the full cooperation of the brothers,” said Griffin. “The national representatives then met with Dean David Buckingham, VWC Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Enrollment Services, myself, and McCarren Caputa, VWC Director of Residence Life and Chapter Advisor to Kappa Alpha Order to inform them of their decision to close the Epsilon Omicron chapter.”
“Basically what happened is nationals decided to suspend us for at least four years without even hearing what the school had to say,” said Philip, a brother of the chapter. “Later that night they took our charter and all of our chapter materials.”
Along with the materials taken that night, other Kappa Alpha articles taken later included all composites, paddles, and chapter finances.
“After telling us how ‘we’re all still brothers no matter what,’ we find out that they told the school to take the letters off our house and paint over the crest inside our house immediately,” said Philip. “It just all happened too fast and was all so unnecessary.”
In addition, all of the brothers of the Epsilon Omicron chapter were placed on an involuntary alumni status, regardless of whether they were involved in the incident or not.
“It just isn’t right,” said Jake, one of the new members who was hazed. “I mean, the brother that reported us to nationals just basically threw the rest of us under the bus. He was already on involuntary alumni status from a different incident completely separate from this investigation, and he took the rest of us with him. There was no differentiation between the hazers and the hazees. We all got the same punishment.”
Although the specifics of what occurred during the “hazing incident” are not public knowledge, the brothers confirmed that, contrary to rumor, the hazing incident had nothing to do with alcohol.
“If I am being honest, I wish that is what it was for,” said Mark. “It would make sense to me that we got suspended if that was the case. What happened was just such a minor thing to get completely shut down for at least four years.”
Despite campus administration fighting hard to keep the chapter alive, the Kappa Alpha National Office would not back down from its strong stance.
“McCarren, Dean B. and Kate all fought so incredibly hard for us,” said Tony. “They tried to reason with nationals, but they seemed set on suspending us. What’s more, the national office refuses to even speak with us. They won’t even talk to the school. They want the school to send them the return agreement before they will talk to anyone about anything.”
According to Griffin, VWC is in the process of drafting a return agreement with Kappa Alpha so that the fraternity could re-open a chapter on campus in the spring of 2019.
Jesse S. Lyons, assistant executive director for advancement and editor of The Kappa Alpha Journal, issued the following statement from the national office:
“Kappa Alpha Order’s National Administrative Office has suspended the charter of its Epsilon Omicron Chapter at Virginia Wesleyan College effective Thursday, 12, February 2015 due to the violation of fraternity policies. All chapter operations and activities have ceased. We are continuing to work with the College to confirm a return agreement outlining a future return to campus.”
They offered no comment on the nature of the hazing incident or anything about how they conducted their investigation.
“Essentially all of us are just stuck in this hanging pattern,” said Jake. “We don’t really know what to do or where to go from here.”
Contributing writers: Jessica Mackey, Thomas Mills