Hazing News

Bama update

The Crimson White has confirmed details with a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity about the hazing incident that resulted in that fraternity’s removal from campus.

The fraternity member, who requested to remain anonymous, confirmed the incident, which occurred last month, involved the heating of a metal chair by means of a blowtorch or iron.

Once the chair was heated, pledges were asked to sit down on the heated chair, though the fraternity member said that no pledge was forced or required to do so by anyone present.

The incident was uncovered, the fraternity member confirmed, when one of the pledges went to DCH Regional Medical Center for burn treatment several days after the incident occurred. The wounds were discovered in an advanced stage of infection, and the pledge suffered a collapsed lung as a result of the infection.

Soon thereafter, the University of Alabama received a call from “an outside source,” said Tim Hebson, dean of students. The call informed the Office of the Dean of Students of the hazing incident.

Hebson said, however, that no one from the fraternity had come forward to press charges or make a formal complaint to the university, making any charges from the victims unlikely.

Hebson said his office would conduct an investigation of the incident, following “due process.”

The fraternity’s suspension, Hebson said, was invoked by the Sigma Phi Epsilon national chapter, which enacted the punishment before the university could carry out any action.

Aaron Jarnger, director of marketing and communications for the Sigma Phi Epsilon national chapter, said the university contacted the national chapter with information from a confidential source.

He said staff members from the national chapter were sent to the university to investigate the incident.

“If there’s some evidence of hazing, we conduct an investigation,” Jarnger said.

Jarnger said he could not release any details of the incident because it is still under investigation.

Hebson said the fraternity’s local Alumni Board submitted a list of about 30 names for investigation. His office will hold hearings to determine what type of actions will be taken toward the individuals in question.

“Greek life is strong [at the university], but no one is above being kicked off of campus,” Hebson said. “We want everyone to have a safe experience at the university.”

Hebson did say, however, that their investigation is more about finding the individuals responsible for the hazing incident and not punishing the chapter as a whole.

The Office of the Dean of Students has outlined several anti-hazing measures that have worked with relative success, Hebson said. The university’s anti-hazing policy is reviewed by each chapter president and advisor with the entire membership of the organization, including alumni, associate members and pledges.

The chapter president, chapter advisor, new member educator and faculty advisor sign a copy of the anti-hazing policies, which can be read below, indicating that their organization will follow and adhere to this policy. Violation of this agreement subjects the organization to punishment.

Punishment for violation of the anti-hazing policy can come with a stiff penalty. Alabama is one of 31 states with anti-hazing legislation, according to the Office of the Dean of Students. As such, those who violate the university’s anti-hazing policies can be charged with a Class-C misdemeanor, or may be named in both criminal and civil prosecution.

Ralph Clements, president of the fraternity’s local Alumni Board, said board members conducted an investigation as well.

Clements said the board asked questions to anyone who may have been involved, compiled the list of names that was submitted to the Office of the Dean of Students and wrote a summary of what they uncovered.

Clements said their investigation was an internal matter.

“The alumni board wants to return Sigma Phi Epsilon to campus as soon as possible,” Clements said.

—With additional reporting from Dave Folk, Phil Owen and Paul Thompson

By Hank Nuwer

Journalist Hank Nuwer is the Alaska author of Hazing: Destroying Young Lives; Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His current book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press. He is married to Malgorzata Wroblewska Nuwer of Warsaw, Poland and Fairbanks, Alaska. Nuwer is a former columnist for the Greenville (Ohio)Early Bird and former managing editor of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner in Alaska.
Nuwer was named the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists columnist of the year in 2021 for his “After Darke” column in the Early Bird. He also won third place for the column in 2022 from the Indiana chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He and his wife Gosia, recently of Union City, Ind., have owned 20 acres in Alaska for many years. “The move is a sort-of coming home for us,” said Nuwer. As a journalist, he’s written about the Alaskan Iditarod sled-dog race and other Alaska topics. Read his musings in his blog at Real Alaska Daily-- and in his weekly column "Far from Randolph" in the Winchester Star-Gazette of Randolph County, Indiana.

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