(Updated: 8:56 a.m.) New members of Alpha Sigma Tau found themselves in the sorority chapter room surrounded by their newfound sisters while an upperclassman fraternity member ordered them to perform a series of pushups, which UCA policy includes in its definition of hazing. The act was met with laughter, shouts and call-outs.
“Y’all are one pledge class. Y’all need to start acting like one pledge class,” Sigma Tau Gamma junior Jordan Bailey said to new members of Alpha Sigma Tau. “So why are y’all just still sitting here when your pledge sisters are doing pushups? Y’all need to become one.”
“Hold your sisters accountable,” he said. “Stop faking it and actually do it.”
Multiple cellphones recorded the act and the captured footage began circulating in and around the Greek community. A university review of the incident determined it was not hazing.
One video depicts Bailey entering the Alpha Sigma Tau chapter room and telling new members to stop talking and start doing pushups.
When the girls start to laugh, Bailey and sorority members yell to the girls on the floor, “I don’t understand what’s so funny,” “Why are ya’ll still talking?” and “Pushups don’t require talking.”
Background voices in the video also call out new members freshman London Stallings and Hope Castle.
Another new member of Alpha Sigma Tau, who requested to remain anonymous, said members called out Stallings because she is a legacy member, which means other members of her family have experienced life in the sorority.
“So out of anyone in our pledge class, she would be the one to know that it was a joke. And she did,” she said. “She was sitting next to me when we were doing – halfway doing – we knew it was a joke. We were laughing and the people behind us were laughing, which is why they recorded it – they thought it was funny, too.”
Although several Alpha Sigma Tau members echoed statements that the videos were part of a joke played on new members, the UCA Hazing Policy states that the event qualifies as a hazing offense.
The policy defines hazing as “any intentional action taken or situation created, whether on or off university property, to produce mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment or ridicule.”
It lists as specific examples “calisthenics such as sit-ups, pushups, etc.”
Policy penalizing guidelines categorize hazing as a Class B misdemeanor and calls for the expulsion of involved students.
Despite these policies, Greek Life officials agreed with Alpha Sigma Tau members. They ruled the pushups to be a practical joke and closed the case without issuing any punishments.
Special Operation Coordinator Sgt. Brad Moore said Greek Services contacted UCAPD about the investigation.
“They advised us that they investigated the claim and came to a conclusion that no ‘crime’ had been broken,” Moore said. “If they would have found it to be a valid case of hazing, then it would have been reported to us on an official capacity, and we would have created a report/investigation.”
Dean of Students Gary Roberts said the Division of Student Services received a copy of the video Aug. 31. Associate Dean of Student Life Wendy Holbrook, along with one of her staff members, executed an “immediate investigation,” which included interviewing five people directly associated with the video.
After the interviews, the Student Life Administration Team, which included Roberts, Holbrook, and assistant directors of Student Life Lindsey Shurley and Dustin Hargis, met Sept. 10 to evaluate the situation and come to a conclusion.
“We as an administrative team … concluded – I think 100 percent concluded – that it was not hazing. It did not rise to a level of hazing,” Roberts said. “What we have is a bad practical joke.”
Roberts said if Alpha Sigma Tau’s senior leadership had asked the new members to do this, then the team may have investigated it as hazing.
“We have a roomful of new members, a guy walks in with a friend, and he just basically asks the girls to start doing pushups, and a few of them start doing pushups,” Roberts said. “So somebody records it, and that goes out as a hazing video.”
Although Roberts said “a few” women started performing pushups, one of the videos, which is posted at the website ucaecho.net, shows at least 30 women participating.
Roberts said if they had believed the video to depict hazing, they would have pursued the event as a Greek Judicial Board.
“They thought it was funny,” Holbrook said. “[Bailey] said, ‘I’m your pledge dad,’ and they were like ‘Pft, you’re not.’”
Holbrook said Bailey was at the Alpha Sigma Tau house visiting a friend before he walked into the sorority chapter room.
“Then immediately after it was done, it’s not like they tried to drag it out. They were like ‘that was joke, I hope y’all don’t take it seriously,’” the anonymous Alpha Sigma Tau new member said.
Castle and Stalling had to speak with the Panhellenic Council about the video. The anonymous Alpha Sigma Tau member said the girls explained what happened to the board and expressed that they did not interpret it to be hazing.
“To me, the issue here is not hazing,” Roberts said. “The issue is rush to judgment. This is the issue we face today in society. But when you gather all the facts and all the information and you put things in its context, it doesn’t always come across as what it appears to be.”
Roberts said his team recommended that the Alpha Sigma Tau leadership visit UCA’s other Panhellenic as well as the non-Panhellenic Greek chapters to explain the event and share concerns of how the video may have been perceived.
Alpha Sigma Tau President senior Natalie Brown went to every sorority house to personally explain the video.
When questioned about the hazing scandal, Brown did not address the situation, but said, “Alpha Tau does a great job of upholding a classy reputation throughout campus and the community.”
Holbrook said hazing is part of the “Greek conversation.”
“We know it’s a problem in the Greek community, so we address it from the very beginning,” she said.
Roberts acknowledged how hazing has changed over the past decades and how it used to shape Greek community.
“There are some aspects to [hazing]that in a sense, develop a sense of community,” Roberts said. “The problem is there’s a line.”
Holbrook said every UCA chapter participates in steps toward hazing prevention that their national organizations set.
“For the Greek family, it’s one of those things that are part of our history, that we’re predisposed to,” Holbrook said. “So we have those conversations with them. This is something that we’re predisposed to, and we want students to know going into it, this is what it looks like, this is how to handle it.”
The last reports of hazing at UCA were addressed in spring 2014. That semester, five Kappa Alpha Psi members were arrested for alleged hazing and the Dean of Pledges, Isaiah Christopher Ozuna, 22, pleaded guilty in Faulkner County Circuit Court to one count of battery and four counts of hazing. He was sentenced to 12 months probation and 120 hours of community service.
Prior to that incident, in spring 2013, several members of the UCA cheerleading team received university discipline after new member Cassandra Purtle was found duct-taped to a metal light pole in 34-degree weather. All members of UCA cheerleading teams are now required to sign agreements stating they will not commit hazing.
Hazing did not become illegal until 1993 after reports detailed severe physical and mental damage to people who endure hazing.
by Misti Hollenbaugh, Joe Kramer, Morgan Embry & Julia Kramer
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