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Diamondback alleges another form of water torture at Maryland chapter

Report: Chemicals used in hazing
Kevin Robillard

During what was considered a traditional initiation ceremony, a new member of Zeta Beta Tau was allegedly injured last month when stain remover was used to “gel” his hair and entered his eyes, according to an OFSL memo.

Zeta Beta Tau’s national headquarters and the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life are now investigating the ceremony as a hazing incident.

The initiation ceremony, called a “waterfall” in the OFSL memo, involves new members chanting the names of the founders of the fraternity. If a member makes a mistake, older members pour water over his head. Officials are investigating whether a brother put Shout stain remover the hair of a new member, which got into the eyes of a pledge being hazed after water was poured over his head, the document shows.

It’s unclear whether using the cleaning chemical was part of the fraternity’s traditional initiation, or the act of one individual. The member who put Shout in the new member’s hair may have been removed from the fraternity, a document requested by The Diamondback through the Maryland Public Information Act.

Student names and the nature of the new member’s injury were both removed from the memo, which was written by Matt Supple, OFSL’s assistant director and addressed to John Zacker, the director of the Office of Student Conduct.

Attempts on Friday to reach the Office of Student Conduct and Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life were unsuccessful.

Arkady Gelman, the president of the Inter-Fraternity Council and a member of Zeta Beta Tau, declined comment on behalf of the Interfraternity Council. Student leadership of the fraternity did not return calls for comment.

Andrew Friedson, the Student Government Association president and a member of the fraternity, said that he doesn’t condone hazing, but declined further comment, saying that it would be “inappropriate.”

Hazing is illegal in the state of Maryland, and the fraternity could face stiff penalties pending the results of the two investigations.

The alleged incident appears to have happened on the fraternity’s initiation day, Sept. 10. The OFSL did not learn of the incident until Oct. 3, when an anonymous e-mail was sent to Carrie Gagliano, the faculty advisor for the IFC and the Panhellenic Association.

“The brothers pour all types of stuff on the pledges,” the anonymous e-mail said. “This is absolutely ridiculous. No kids should be going through this.”

Punishment from the university would depend on whether an individual or the fraternity as a whole was responsible for the alleged hazing. “Aggravated” violations of the hazing policy can result in suspension or expulsion from campus, as well as revocation of group recognition from the university, according to an OFSL anti-hazing brochure.

Zeta Beta Tau’s national organization could also shut down the chapter, if their investigation finds it was guilty of hazing.

The findings of Zeta Beta Tau’s investigation were supposed to be announced on Friday, National Executive Director Jonathan Yulish said in an earlier conversation. Repeated attempts to reach Yulish on Friday were unsuccessful.

The injured member met with Gagliano and Supple to discuss the allegations on Oct. 11. The new member denied the event had occurred, the memo said. He said he suffered an injury, but it had nothing to do with his fraternity.

The story changed on Oct.19 when Supple met with another member of Zeta Beta Tau to discuss the allegations. This member confirmed that the “waterfall” did take place, the memo said.

Events like a “waterfall” are seen by fraternity chapters as rituals, “as bizarre and repugnant as they may be to an outsider,” said Hank Nuwer, author of The Hazing Reader and other books on hazing.

“They don’t see hazing as anything other than an accident,” Nuwer said.

Investigations into alleged hazing incidents are difficult, Nuwer said, as universities are often acting with incomplete, partial or erroneous information. Students are rarely willing to speak openly about the incidents.

Nuwer also said that forms of hazing not involving alcohol are fairly common, although over 80 percent of hazing deaths have been related to drinking.

By Hank Nuwer

Hank Nuwer is the Indiana-based author of 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 new book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press.

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