Sean Lavery’s face was red with blood. His cheeks and forehead were bruised. A plastic tube ran through his battered nostrils. It was May 19, 2012, and Lavery was in the emergency room with a busted nose, fractured in four places. Two weeks later, he returned for a surgery that totaled thousands of dollars. Overall, he spent about 20 hours at the hospital, according to a written account he gave to the University and, later, The Daily.
The Medill senior doesn’t like to dwell on the details of that night, simply referring to the situation as “an incident of hazing.” But the documents and photos he shared tell a grislier story: After months of pledging Phi Delta Theta and vocalizing his concerns about certain forced activities, Lavery was told to report to the fourth floor of the fraternity house. There, he found a stranger. A brother told Lavery he had to fight the man. Lavery was slammed to the ground. He blacked out. His shirt ripped. His face was smashed.
Lavery did not tell hospital officials what had left him so beaten. He didn’t tell the University until January 2013, when official after official redirected him, before his complaint was forwarded to the Office of Student Conduct. The case remains unresolved, though Lavery has been told that nearly a year after he reported the incident, he should expect a ruling sometime soon.
Phi Delt president Greg Booth was not a Northwestern student when Lavery was pledging. Still, Booth conceded that hazing incidents occurred and said the fraternity is focused on moving forward.
“I would say that in the past, definitely Phi Delt did have some problems. I feel terrible for the people who had to go through that,” the Weinberg sophomore said. “We tried to eliminate all of the members that are associated with that. Frankly, it’s unacceptable for those things to happen ever again in Phi Delt, and in the Greek community in general.”
For Lavery, the experience reflected a broader culture of nondisclosure around hazing at NU — something that goes deeper than one fraternity, team or organization. According to the National Collaborative for Hazing Research and Prevention, 55 percent of students nationwide reported having been hazed.
Those The Daily spoke with said NU’s main issues are a slow judicial process and a lack of transparency. It’s a problem Dean of Students Todd Adams — in his second full quarter at NU after a long tenure at Duke University — acknowledges. And one he intends to fix.
“I think you’re going to see some changes,” Adams told The Daily. “We have a responsibility to ensure that cases are heard within a timely way and that students on either end of the process … understand their role in it. …You can come at it from almost any end and say that we’re not as transparent in our process as we could be and should be.”
When the University announced Adams’ appointment in December 2012, the news release boasted that he would “chair the Hazing Prevention Task Force and the Community Alcohol Coalition, which will be formed under his leadership.” Nearly a year later, that promise remains unfulfilled — though Adams did unveil an updated, more specific hazing policy at the beginning of this academic year. Adams said he intends to jumpstart a task force next quarter, along with publishing data on the number of hazing incidents that come through the Division of Student Affairs.
Lavery hopes the task force will illuminate the University Hearing and Appeals System, a decades-old process that handles misconduct on campus. Although those currently and formerly involved in it say it is an effective way of settling student conflict, they admit it has some flaws, including how long it takes for a complaint to lead to a hearing. In his conversations with NU administrators, Lavery said, they admitted the system is imperfect but offered little recourse.
“This isn’t something that we’re trained on as you become a student,” Lavery said. “They don’t say how or why the resources aren’t there. They say the process is broken, and that’s sort of what they have to deal with. It will take a lot to change.”
Blindfolds, ‘blow jobs’
Phi Delt’s pledging activities started innocuously enough, said Lavery, who rushed as a sophomore. He remembers the chapter’s philanthropies fondly and recalls a round of “snow football” that pitted upperclassmen against the new class.
“You were forced to do it, so under the definition that would be hazing,” Lavery said. “(But) there’s no physical harm, it’s not a degrading activity, it’s not anything that attacks the spirit of the person going through the process.”
The first red flag came later that winter. According to Lavery’s written account, Phi Delt brothers termed the event “The Brothel.” Pledges were taken to an off-campus residence and blindfolded. Female NU students — whom Lavery said the brothers called “hookers” — came in to touch, dance and grind on the pledges.
One student present during the activity confirmed Lavery’s description. The student requested to remain anonymous but said pledges were brought out in small groups and about six women participated.
“There were some girls that were like licking the pledges and lap dancing and all of that, and some girls who were just poking them and afraid to touch them,” the student said.
Then, the women were instructed to ask the pledges whether they wanted blow jobs. Most declined, the student said, but some agreed. Either way, the women brought the pledges over to a table and gave them what is known as a “blow job shot,” typically a shot of alcohol topped with whipped cream. The pledges were then led out, and a new round came in. The student said the entire activity lasted for a few hours.
The student called “The Brothel” awkward and was uncomfortable that older Phi Delt brothers were present.
“There were existing members in the room watching on a couch, so that made the girls feel as objectified as the pledges, sexually,” the student said.
Although the anonymous student insisted the event “didn’t hurt anyone,” Lavery said a fellow pledge told him he was troubled by what had happened.
“He expressed to me that he felt violated, and it was an event where he had no control over what happened,” Lavery said. “The first time it happened was sort of the first alarm bell that went off and said, ‘This is something that needs to be reeled in.’”
In his written account later submitted to the University, Lavery described numerous activities he considered hazing, including one where he says pledges were given finger puppets depicting different races and asked to create a racially charged puppet show. On “Pledge Dad Night,” Lavery said, pledges were forced to eat a mixture of Doritos chips, molasses and rotten olives. Over the next few months, Lavery continued speaking up when he thought hazing activities crossed the line, he said.
“They were sort of shocked that anyone was saying anything, and they were reluctant to discuss it directly with me,” he said. “And then later it just grew more directed, ‘You just need to do what you’re told until you’re done, and then you can change it.’”
Lavery delayed his pledge process until spring because of school and work commitments and expected to be initiated at the end of that quarter. But then Phi Delt pushed back “Hell Week” — a time of intense hazing in fraternities before new members are initiated — until the fall due to final exams, Lavery said. Over the summer, Lavery learned he and the other pledges would endure more hazing when they returned to NU. In early October, Lavery left the pledging process in what he calls a mutual decision between him and Phi Delt.
Lavery admits he was a “rebellious” and “bad pledge” who questioned the older members openly during meetings.
“I wanted to show my pledge brothers that they had a choice. That they didn’t have to do things that made them uncomfortable, or would lead to injury or was against their morals,” Lavery said. “That they weren’t completely under the control of the upperclassmen. That they could make decisions for themselves. That their agency wasn’t completely and totally taken away from them. But I may have been wrong.”
Filing a complaint
In January 2013, Lavery took his concerns about continued hazing to Dominic Greene, director of fraternity and sorority life. Greene passed Lavery’s story on to the Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution, which filed a complaint to be evaluated by UHAS. Lavery received an email notifying him the investigation had been initiated in February.
According to the current system, students may either serve as the complainant or a witness in their UHAS cases. Complainants bear the burden of investigating without University involvement, so Lavery chose to be a witness. But the officials he corresponded with told him that means he is not privy to information about the complaint’s progress.
In April, Lavery hadn’t heard anything from the University. According to emails obtained by The Daily, Lavery reached out to Lance Watson, assistant director of student conduct and conflict resolution, for an update.
“Apologies for the delay,” Watson wrote back in an email. “We have made our final decisions and are moving forward and the information is currently private.”
Lavery also contacted Burgwell Howard, assistant vice president for student engagement. Howard was sympathetic but suggested Lavery meet with Adams, then new to NU. Lavery met with Adams in October, then again with Adams and Watson, and then just with Watson. He told Lavery other witnesses had since come forward, Lavery said. Lavery submitted emails with more evidence of hazing, prompting the complaint to be reintroduced. He said he has been told he will be contacted soon by Student Conduct about his availability to give testimony before UHAS.
Phi Delt’s executive board minutes, obtained by The Daily, suggest the same. On April 22, 2013, Phi Delt officers discussed a “Student Conduct update” and referred to alleged hazing incidents in both winter 2012 and winter 2013.
“The best angle to take re:hazing based on student handbook is to discredit all alleged forms as hazing from winter 2013 as not technically hazing per student conduct,” the minutes read.
The document goes on to outline strategies for handling an upcoming UHAS hearing.
“Don’t spend too much time on old events (winter 2012) b/c can’t really fight them,” the minutes read. “Distance our current chapter from alleged hazing events of winter 2012 b/c after membership review they are no longer influencing factors in the organization and operations of the fraternity.”
Another set of minutes obtained by The Daily suggests Greene — to whom Lavery first reported his hazing — met with Phi Delt. Greene refused multiple requests for comment by The Daily.
Under “UHAS update,” the minutes read, “Met with Dominic and came up with plan for hearing.”
“Ask for deferred suspension … through Spring 2013 and disciplinary probation through Winter 2014,” they continue. “Propose added statement in by-laws about ‘hazing’ related issues warranting immediate meeting afterwards with exec board, President and Dominic (IFC) — bring to chapter for ¾ vote to pass.”
Asked about OFSL’s role in hazing cases, Adams said Greek officials have a dual purpose.
“What I would say the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life is there to do is to provide resources and support for their Greek chapters,” Adams said. “Being an advocate for chapters and individual members within does not mean, however, blindly agree. And so working to help educate but also to move the community forward means holding folks accountable. I think that would be the expectation I would have of any staff member.”
Shining a light
Before he came to NU, Adams spent 12 years at Duke University. His last position was senior associate dean in the Dean of Students office, but he was also involved with Duke’s Greek community, leading the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life and advising the Interfraternity Council.
Duke boasts a wide range of anti-hazing resources, including a website outlining what the term means, possible penalties, how North Carolina law plays into enforcement, what organizations and individuals can do to combat such abuse, and even hazing myths.
Adams said he immediately noticed NU lacked a central resource for fostering a community conversation on the topic.
“There was a lot of chatter about hazing, as there happens to be on a lot of campuses, but it seemed to be a lot of chatter going out without there being a repository for it,” he said. “What is it that we’re currently doing educationally, from a policy standpoint? What do we do to enforce? Let’s inventory this across the whole university and see what we’re doing, what works, perhaps what’s not working, where there are gaps.”
Adams was quick to note that though Greek organizations have a reputation for hazing due to their histories and rituals, other student groups are just as susceptible. In forming the revised hazing policy, Adams consulted OFSL, athletics and other student organizations, he said.
The new policy is slightly more specific, naming “branding” and “tattooing” as misconduct and emphasizing that under Illinois law, hazing can now be treated as a felony, not just a misdemeanor.
University President Morton Schapiro said in an interview earlier this month he was unaware of the hazing policy change.
“Hazing’s bad. You want to be compliant with the law,” Schapiro told The Daily. “I just don’t know anything about it. I didn’t even know we had anything. It’s in a book? It’s like a student handbook or something?”
Adams said he looks to the upcoming anti-hazing task force to bring together students, faculty and staff across campus for conversations — talks, he said, that could lead to even more changes to NU’s procedures. He emphasized three areas of improvement: policy, education and enforcement.
Most importantly, Adams hopes to begin publishing data on the number of cases Student Affairs comes across — and details of their outcomes — sometime next quarter. That information was freely available at Duke, he said, and could help bring hazing out of the shadows at NU.
“It’s not going to happen overnight,” Adams said. “Cultural change tends to happen very slowly, with the exception of really one thing, and that would be a catastrophic event. And that’s certainly not anything that any campus wants, Northwestern included.”
A history of hazing
Although catastrophe may not have struck, NU has gained national notoriety for past hazing scandals.
In spring 2006, pictures on the Internet showed women on the soccer team blindfolded, with their hands behind their backs. The photos depicted players dressed only in T-shirts, underwear and white socks at a party, with many of the players covered in marker. In other pictures, women are giving lap dances to men.
The incidents occurred in 2005 but were not made public until May 2006, when the pictures were posted to badjocks.com. The team was subsequently suspended.
An investigation led by the Division of Student Affairs concluded the incident constituted hazing under University policy. The program’s suspension was lifted, but some members were placed on disciplinary probation. Others served suspensions from regular season games during the 2006 season.
Under federal law, universities cannot divulge information about specific action taken against individual students.
In addition to student consequences, then-coach Jenny Haigh resigned after heading the team for five years.
That year, the University also disciplined students who performed as NU’s “Willie the Wildcat” mascot for staging a fake abduction of new students hoping to fill the position. The students who had played the role of mascot were subsequently fired and placed on disciplinary probation. The mascot was also forbidden from appearing at several football games
In 2008, The Daily published an article revealing hazing violations as part of Lambda Phi Epsilon fraternity’s pledging process. Pledges of the historically Asian-American fraternity were forced to drink jugs of liquid believed to be a mixture of ketchup and Tabasco sauce and perform all-night calisthenics on South Beach.
After a UHAS hearing, Lambda Phi Epsilon received a four-year suspension from NU. The chapter has not returned to campus.
In 2011, The Daily reported on incidents during Project Wildcat trips that seemingly violated NU’s hazing policy. During the University-subsidized program — known as P-Wild — several campers got lost overnight, and pre-departure skits involved nudity.
The organization’s emphasis on social unity is similar to that of a Greek group, but former P-Wild co-chair Emily Roskey (SESP ’12) said it lacked equivalent oversight.
Timeline JS by Cat Zakrzewski/Daily Senior Staffer
‘A shutout process’
After a series of meetings with NU officials, Lavery stumbled into the UHAS process, a 44-year-old disciplinary process tailored to NU. The administrator in charge of it, as well as two students who have sat in on hearings, agree it has room for improvement but stand by its overall effectiveness.
UHAS starts with the filing of a complaint by a student, group of students or student organization. An executive secretary — a third party who advises the parties but makes no decisions — reviews the complaint, meets with the parties and makes sure they understand how the process works.
A complaint is resolved through either conciliations or hearings. In a conciliation, the parties settle their differences with the help of the Conciliation Board. Conciliations are less formal than hearings, where parties can make their cases, call witnesses, present exhibits and question one another and witnesses.
A Hearing Panel made up of six to nine members of the NU community is tasked with deciding which rules were broken — if any — and the appropriate course of action once that conclusion has been reached.
Watson said UHAS sees about five to seven cases each academic year. His office does not have “hard” numbers on the number of cases involving hazing because reports of hazing are not always determined violations of the Student Code of Conduct, he said.
Lavery described UHAS as “very much a shutout process,” saying he felt he was kept in the dark as decisions were being made, sometimes hearing about them first from Phi Delt members. He also cited how long he has been waiting for a hearing: 11 months.
“I still don’t even understand it,” Lavery said. “A lot of it doesn’t make sense to me, and a lot of it seems sketchy, and especially as time goes on and you’re not hearing anything, and you’re just told, ‘Oh don’t worry, it’s still being investigated, oh don’t worry it’s still being handled,’ and they’re still allowed to continue the conduct that you reported them for. It gets incredibly frustrating and incredibly isolating, and there’s no resolution.”
Watson acknowledged UHAS is not perfect. He said his office has looked at speeding up the timeline for complaints to lead to hearings, as well as clarifying the system in general for those who are not directly involved.
“We try to be mindful of feedback from students, faculty and staff who have participated in the process (both as respondents or members of the board) and seek to constantly improve,” Watson wrote in an email to The Daily.
Interim measures before a case is resolved, Watson said, are “not done lightly” and only when there is “clear evidence” supporting the complaint.
After a hearing, the board deliberates and votes on a consequence, with each vote receiving equal weight.
The length of each case depends on several factors, including the availability of board members.
For Lavery, the timeline has proven frustrating.
“It’s not fair to the organization … to drag it out for a year,” he said. “It’s unfair for either side.”
Emails obtained by The Daily show how hearings can be delayed on short notice. During finals week of Spring Quarter, students on UHAS received a message about a hearing request for a Greek organization. Two days later, the hearing was canceled.
“This hearing will NOT be taking place this spring (although it could happen at a later date/time),” Jim Neumeister, former director of student conduct, wrote in a June 13 email.
The Greek organization’s hearing request was likely not fulfilled because it coincided with finals week, according to an NU graduate who sat on the board and requested anonymity to discuss its procedures. Issues of availability for board members often push back hearings, but students’ presence improves the fairness of deliberations, the former board member said.
“My expectation was that they should ask students for their input, and I thought in reality they wouldn’t care,” the former member said. “But they did care. I was impressed by that.”
From 2010 to 2012, Suneil Ahuja (Weinberg ’12) estimated he sat in on two or three UHAS cases, including one involving a fraternity. He said the hearings were generally fair, with every party given an equal amount of time to speak, and student input weighed just as much — if not more than — that of faculty members of the board.
However, Ahuja said the time between the filing of the complaint and the start of a hearing can take “forever,” or at least more than a month. Some of the delays, he added, may have to do with scheduling but are otherwise puzzling.
In the case of the fraternity, Ahuja said four months passed between when the complaint was lodged and the hearing was held. The fraternity “made good use of that time to clean up their image” and come up with their own internal sanctions, Ahuja said.
‘Your son will never be in jeopardy’
Although Booth, Phi Delt’s newly elected president, was still in high school at the time, he said the hazing issues his chapter experienced two classes ago are “unacceptable.”
Phi Delt is now strictly against hazing, and the chapter has eliminated all members associated with Lavery’s incident, Booth said. He plans to work “religiously” with his new member educator to ensure his chapter adheres to University policy.
The most important thing Phi Delt emphasizes with its new recruiting process is protecting new members, Booth said.
“When anyone takes on new members, you have to tell Northwestern, tell OFSL, tell their parents essentially that they’re going to join this organization, and they’re going to go through it, and we are not going to hurt them,” he said. “Your son will never be in jeopardy of any danger.”