Last fall, the biggest news to hit FAU was about a kidnapping.
“FAU fraternity under investigation in hazing incident,” read the headline of The Palm Beach Post. “Fraternity suspended as FAU investigates hazing,” read the headline of The Sun-Sentinel.
As the media reported, a 19-year-old at FAU’s Xi chapter of the Sigma Phi Epsilon (SigEp) fraternity was kidnapped by his fraternity brothers on the afternoon of Oct. 17.
His hands and feet were duct-taped together, and he was forced to drink beer and take shots of liquor. That student, Nick Letteri, tried to escape, but his SigEp brothers tied him up again. Letteri threw up repeatedly, blacked out, and finally ended up in Boca Raton Community Hospital.
The news shocked FAU administrators, who declared that hazing “would not be tolerated.” Within 12 weeks, SigEp was kicked off campus for a year. End of story.
Or was it? According to a UP investigation, hazing is still happening on the Boca campus. “It’s no secret for certain people,” said Dan Gootner, a former SigEp member and senior marketing major. “[Hazing] is an unspoken thing, and everyone knows what everyone does.”
According to past and present Greek Life members, SigEp may not be the only ones to haze, and they might not be the worst.
Chris Johnston, a senior art major, said he was hazed when he “rushed” the fraternity Pi Kappa Alpha, also known as Pike, in 2006. Johnston said there is no way to join a fraternity without any type of hazing.
He was a pledged Pike for one day, then dropped because he said he experienced “mental stress” and the pledges were treated badly.
“They would put bags over your head and call you ‘assholes’ for hours at a time. The pledges to them were not brothers; they were just pieces of shit that were objectified, and I could entirely see how someone could get hurt from a pledge system,” said Johnston. “They didn’t care about you. They would call you at any point of the day and tell you to do something, and if you couldn’t do it, you had to find another pledge to do it.”
Then, Johnston decided to “rush” SigEp, and said he was treated with respect.”In SigEp, you’re a brother from the first day you join, and you’re never treated [less than a brother].”
Johnston wasn’t a SigEp member when the incident with Letteri took place, but he explained that SigEp hazes in moderation.
“[Letteri] was kidnapped, but they didn’t mention the fact that his pledge brothers kidnapped someone else a couple weeks earlier. It’s perfectly healthy behavior,” said Johnston. “Something has to go on; there has to be something fun, and something you can tell stories about.”
Till this day, Johnston defends SigEp. He said other fraternities get away with worse things than those for which SigEp got in trouble.
“I think it’s bullshit that SigEp got in trouble for this and got suspended for a year. Having rushed another fraternity, having hated hazing and dropped after a couple minutes of being in a hazing fraternity — I rushed SigEp, and you’re treated like a brother, and anything that happens is just in good fun. That’s why it never gets out of hand, because we never lose respect for our brothers.”
In the police report, Letteri explained kidnapping is a game SigEp plays that involves drinking alcohol.
“Someone gets kidnapped, and we have a scavenger hunt so the younger brothers will try to find the person that was kidnapped.”
Being part of SigEp since spring 2008 and also having participated in kidnapping another brother before, Letteri knew the rules of the game and why SigEp did it. SigEp doesn’t have a formal pledging system, so brothers are not necessarily initiated when they first join the fraternity.
“It’s done in an attempt to build brotherhood and leaders. That’s why we have scavenger hunts. We give them drinks, and they would say it’s horrible, and we would make it better,” said Letteri in the police report.
According to Dan Gootner, kidnapping is a SigEp custom.
“I know exactly what was done because it’s a tradition. I know what my fraternity does, and I know what other fraternities do,” he said.
Adam Ferrando, an FAU SigEp alumnus and recreational assistant for Student Activities on the Jupiter campus, claimed scavenger hunts were an activity his fraternity did.
“We never had any hazing when I was a member,” said Ferrando, “but scavenger hunts [were] something we did every year.”
Jonathon Marques, the SigEp president during the time of the suspension, could not be reached for a statement.
According to Chris Johnston, SigEp never crosses the line like other fraternities do. He explained Sigma Alpha Mu is also known to haze.
“If you ask any Sammy [Sigma Alpha Mu member], they get hoses in the ass. I know plenty of fraternity girls who dated Sammies that said they get hoses in the ass, [and] I know other fraternities that steal,” said Johnston.
Kyle Riegler, president of Sigma Alpha Mu, said that their “hazing policy is inconjunction with federal and state law, as well as The University Student Code of Conduct” and “the statement [about the hoses] is false. I have never heard of such act even after talking to alumni of our chapter.
Dan Gootner explained SigEp may kidnap their brothers, but other fraternities are doing worse things to their pledges. He claimed other fraternities make their members eat goldfish and drink until they get sick.
“Any guy who rushed had to do some shit. I have friends who dropped because they didn’t want to go through it,” said Gootner. “Pike treats you shitty. They would make everyone drink in a kiddie pool, and if they threw up, they would have to stay in the kiddie pool and keep drinking — nasty shit like that.”
He also explained Pike would call their pledges at all times of the night and force them to do things.
“Pike would make you get Gatorade for them at a gas station at 3:30 in the morning. They would wake you up and tell you that you had [to do it], just to be annoying,” said Gootner.
Steven Eissa, the internal vice president of Pike, originally spoke to the UP on the phone but told the reporter he needed the questions e-mailed to him so he could consult other members of his fraternity. His response about his fraternity’s hazing was: “That statement is not true, and I will not address rumors.”
Gootner was in SigEp for three years, and, while involved in Greek Life, he said it was common to hear about hazing incidents by word-of-mouth. According to him, Ryan O’Rourke, the Greek Life coordinator, would have heard the same rumors about hazing that everyone else heard.
“He’s always around Greeks, and the social environment is very much still there. He’s on the friendship level with all of them, and he gets that same type of word-of-mouth. I feel like he’s the only [person with authority] who would know about other fraternities, and he never really did anything in the past. It’s politics.”
O’Rourke acknowledged hazing still exists in the fraternity and sorority systems at universities all around, not just FAU.
“I think [Gootner] is accurate in saying that if there are incidents that come up, I typically am the first administrator to know, but by no means do I feel like I am the first person to know. I would be the first staff person at the university to hear about things, and then we clearly have a process in place where we start reporting it as soon as we hear it,” said O’Rourke.
O’Rourke said he did not know SigEp was hazing before the investigation started, nor did he hear about it until the end of October.
One source, who wished to remain unidentified over fear of getting in trouble for exposing hazing, said out of 13 fraternities and nine sororities on campus, at least three or four of them haze.
He also said sports teams are hazing too.
“I’ve heard rumors about the rugby team, that they jump off one of the bridges into the Intracoastal, and I’ve heard things about the football team; I know those for a fact.”
He explained that the rugby team makes new members jump off a bridge for initiation.
Teddy Chapman said the rugby team doesn’t have a hazing policy.
As the president of the rugby team for a year and a half — with his term as president having ended just last semester — he said the rumors are not true.
“I’ve never jumped off a bridge,” said Chapman, a senior business and marketing major with a minor in financing.
As far as hazing continuing to happen on campus, he said Delta Phi Epsilon, Pike, Sigma Alpha Mu and SigEp are known to do it.
O’Rourke acknowledged hazing still exists in the fraternity and sorority systems. “My perspective is from a nationwide epidemic, and I think it’s the major issue that faces fraternities and sororities. I think the good thing about this situation happening is that it serves as a wake-up call to the other fraternities and sororities. If they do have things going on in their new-member processes that are inappropriate, then it’s time to change that. Do I think hazing exists? Sure. Unfortunately, sometimes it takes an incident like this for people to see the light,” he said.
According to O’Rourke, FAU Greek Life does not review fraternities and sororities’ new-member process, meaning FAU will always be in the dark when it comes to hazing. The only way administrators find out is when it’s reported.
“Most national fraternities and sororities provide manuals to their students, so their national office is creating their new-member processes,” said O’Rourke.
Chris Johnston said hazing will always be a factor in FAU’s Greek Life.
“No one wants to go through a fraternity process with no form of hazing at all — with no experience of a traditional fraternity.”
Senior Vice President for Student Affairs Charles Brown and Associate Vice President and Dean of Students Corey King could not be reached for comment.
Carine Porfiri, a physician and associate director for clinical services, has worked at FAU’s Student Health Services for six years. She has never seen any hazing-related medical problems, but she discussed the potential medical consequences of hazing with the UP.
Q: What are the dangers of binge drinking?
A: Fast and furious drinking can cause neurological dysfunctions. You can become unresponsive, and eventually the respiratory drive becomes slow and a person can die. When you first start drinking, you start to feel relaxed, then the more you consume, you start to become confused, less responsive, and can possibly lapse into a coma. Alcohol acts as a diuretic and can also dehydrate you.
Q: What is the worst that can happen if a person has their hands and feet tied together and someone is forcing them to drink liquor?
A: They can aspirate [choke].
Q: Are there any dangers in swallowing live goldfish?
A: I’m not sure, but goldfish swallowing has been around for a long time.
Q: What’s the worst that can happen if someone puts a garden hose up their rectum?
A: You can have mechanical damages [like inability to defecate] where there are tears and perforation of the colon, leading to the leaking of toxic chemical[s] out of your rectum. The worst situation would need colon repairs, and that requires surgery.
Q: What’s the best thing to do if someone is throwing up after consuming too much alcohol?
A: If someone is drunk and throwing up, put them on their side so they don’t aspirate.
What’s your hazing policy?
Here’s what some of the presidents of Greek Life have to say about their hazing policies:
Johanna Shepherd, senior social work major
Alpha Nu Omega: “We’re a Christian organization; we don’t haze. We practice Christian principles and put God first.”
Justin Lubor, junior sociology major
Alpha Tau Omega: “We have a 100 percent no-hazing policy. We refuse to do any of that. It’s not something that kids should have to do to get into a fraternity. We’re a brotherhood; we’re not like that.”
Del Davis, junior sociology major
Kappa Alpha Psi: “Strictly anti-hazing. There is no pledging involved.”
A hazy situation
On Oct. 17, Nick Letteri was kidnapped by his fraternity brothers from Sigma Phi Epsilon (SigEp), and ended up in the hospital the next day. Five days after the incident, Letteri went to the FAU Police Department to report he was hazed. Based on that police report, this is what happened to Letteri the day he was kidnapped.
On the afternoon of Oct. 17, Letteri was in his student apartment cooking because he hadn’t eaten all day when fraternity brother Ben Roy called him. Roy told Letteri to go outside to his car because their fraternity had events to plan.
Letteri got in the car, but once they drove off, Roy stopped and said, “Nick, you’ve been kidnapped.” Several guys came to the car and grabbed Letteri’s cell phone and keys, and they drove to fraternity brother Kevin Wyne’s house.
In the police report, Letteri said, “Once we were there, I tried to escape, and the guys tackled me at the door and my shirt came off. They brought me into the house [and] duct-taped my feet and hands together.”
Letteri asked his fraternity brothers for something to eat before they gave him alcohol. They made him a peanut butter sandwich, put it on a Rubbermaid lid on the floor and told him he could not use his hands to eat. “I asked for something to drink, and they gave me a cereal bowl with beer, and it tasted like liquor was in it also. They told me I had to take three bites per every drink.”
They got permanent markers and drew hair on Letteri’s back, then gave him a shot of liquor. “Straight after, they brought squirt guns and sprayed me in my crotch, face and chest area.” SigEp members brought in another brother, freshman Nevin Custodio, tied him with rope and made him start drinking.
“They gave him two beers and gave me one, and told us we had one minute to finish them. I could not hold both beers because of how my hands were tied, and I told them, ‘I can’t chug the beer. If I do, I’ll throw it up,’ so they brought a trash can over to me.” They gave Letteri and Custodio another beer and told them they had five minutes to drink it. Letteri drank it and threw up.
The next thing Letteri remembers is lying on a couch in different clothes when he heard banging at the door. It was the owner of the house, and three girls: “I asked one of the girls, Jennifer Diner, if I could use her cell phone to call someone to pick me up.” He called Victoria Hammonds to pick him up, but instead had Diner drop him off at his student apartment.
When Letteri woke up the next day, he continued to vomit. “At about 10 p.m., Hammonds came to my room to check on me. She and my roommates were looking at me and said I was pale and my hands were clammy, and they suggested that I go to the emergency room. My roommate, Victoria and I got to the car, and they took me to the Boca Raton Community Hospital emergency room.”
What happened to the SigEp boys?
Sigma Phi Epsilon (SigEp) was booted off campus for one year because of a hazing incident. On Jan. 11, a disciplinary conference decided the fate of the fraternity, concluding SigEp would be suspended for a year, with a two-year probation period to follow.
A mutual agreement was signed by both FAU Associate Dean of Students Terry Mena and Marcus Nielsen, student representative for the SigEp Xi chapter on campus.
As a part of their suspension, SigEp members will have a membership review, disciplinary probation, a chapter reorganization plan, and monthly meetings/reports with the Dean of Students Office.
On the weekends of Feb. 13 and 20, SigEp members were under a membership review with an Alumni Advisory Council (the Council). The Council is set up by SigEp nationals who will decide the fate of the remaining brothers. The membership review was optional for the students, and out of 51 registered SigEp members in the fall, only 25 signed up for the review.
“They do an interview with a group of alumni to get back into the organization,” said Ryan O’Rourke, Greek Life coordinator. “[The Council] is people who don’t have a close connection to the chapter, and they will interview those members to see who meets the criteria to come back when the organization is allowed to return next January.”
According to O’Rourke, the Council asked for character references for each brother as well as information about each brother’s Greek Life office involvement, grades and conduct issues.
“I think they are trying to base it on a leadership component: whether they’ve done [community] service hours, what their grades look like, and [whether they've] been outstanding members of the FAU community,” said O’Rourke.
Once the Council decides who stays and who goes, they must send a roster list of the returning members to the Dean of Students Office to be approved.
If, at any point, the Dean of Students Office finds SigEp responsible for any other violations of the Code of Conduct during their suspension and probation period, they will increase the severity of the punishment.
If all goes as planned, SigEp might be back at FAU in spring 2011.
Epsilon (SigEp) was to be suspended from FAU’s campuses for a year because of hazing, the top members of the Greek Life organizations met for a meeting about hazing.
On Monday, Jan. 25, in the Boca Student Union, Charles Brown, senior vice president for Student Affairs, made it clear that hazing is not tolerated at FAU. Prompted by the recent SigEp suspension, Brown called a meeting for the executive officers and presidents of Greek Life to talk about the effects of hazing at FAU, the legal aspects and the university policies.
The meeting, held by Terry Mena, Audra Lazarus (lawyer), Corey King, Charles Brown and Sean O’Brien, began a half-hour late, starting at 5:30 p.m. instead of 5 p.m.
Mena began by giving the Greek Life executive board members a brief overview of the investigation against SigEp, their suspension and the repercussions they are facing.
“The only thing they should be doing is being students,” explained Mena, when explaining what SigEp brothers are allowed to do during the suspension period.
King then took the floor and clarified the definition of hazing, defined in the blue student handbook as: “I do not have the right to endanger others or myself.”
“SigEp may do nothing as a group,” intervened Lazarus. “The trouble you can get into at FAU is small compared to state and federal law.”
She explained any hazing activities are against the law, and organization members can face a third-degree felony.
The panel explained the incident with SigEp was the worst they had seen in three years, and any future hazing incidents will see harder repercussions.
“We will be very harsh when it comes to any form of hazing,” said Brown.
At the end of the meeting, Greek Life executive board members were able to ask the panel questions regarding the incident and to get clarifications on the guidelines for zero tolerance to hazing.
Some members of Greek Life made it clear that they were unhappy about the “light” punishment SigEp received.
Del Davis, president of Kappa Alpha Psi, said he thought SigEp was getting a slap on the wrist, and that if it was his fraternity, they would be booted off campus for good.
Lazarus replied, “It’s on an individual case.”
Davis later explained that other Kappa Alpha Psi chapters have a history of hazing on the national level. He feels that if it was his counsel in SigEp’s shoes, they wouldn’t have any chance of coming back.
“If it were a member of my national counsel, it would be a lot worse,” said Davis, a junior sociology major.
Other members asked why sports weren’t included in the hazing policy, and why there isn’t a change of policy for hazing since FAU administration is enforcing harsher punishments.
The panel reiterated that they would review each incident case-by-case.
Meet the panel:
-Charles Brown, Senior Vice President for Student Affairs
-Terry Mena, Associate Dean of Students
-Audra Lazarus, Associate General Counsel
-Corey King, Associate Vice President and Dean of Students
-Sean O’Brien, Greek Life Graduate Assistant
Familiar with hazing
The suspension of fraternities and hazing on college campuses is nothing new to Ryan O’Rourke
Ryan O’Rourke, FAU’s Greek Life coordinator, was the president of University of Central Florida’s Interfraternity Council and a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) when a car accident involving two trucks left Dustin Brown, a pledge member from SAE, in the hospital with his nose almost severed off.
The accident happened on Oct. 16, 2003, around midnight in a parking lot, where a Ford F-150 filled with SAE members and a Toyota pickup carrying pledge members collided. The pledges were in the back of the Toyota with their hands tied together.
Central Florida Future, UCF’s newspaper, called the accident a hazing that happened to go wrong. As originally reported by Central Florida Future, UCF Police Officer George Penvose spoke to the driver after the accident.
“He said that he swerved into the oncoming traffic just to play a trick on his pledge brothers, and when he swerved back into his lane, his cell phone fell into the floor of his truck,” said Penvose, according to Central Florida Future. “He said that when he reached down to pick the phone up, he looked back up and realized that he was still in the oncoming traffic lane, and that he hit the white Toyota head-on.”
The media reported that the men in the back of the truck fled the scene, and Brown was the only pledge to be severely injured in the accident.
Because of this hazing incident, SAE was suspended from UCF for a year, and O’Rourke stepped down from his position as president.
“While I am dedicated to the betterment of our entire Greek community, I have an obligation to my own chapter. I hope you will all understand that this is something my chapter needs, and that I need to be there supporting SAE in our time of crisis,” said O’Rourke, according to Central Florida Future.
Under the suspension, SAE was not allowed to participate in any university-related or fraternity activities, and could not have any on- or off-campus social events, but, with permission from UCF, they could participate in educational, philanthropic and fundraising events.
O’Rourke has been a member of SAE since the fall of 2000.
“We went into a similar process. We did a membership review as well,” said O’Rourke, comparing SAE’s suspension with SigEp’s.
Although O’Rourke stepped down as the president of the Interfraternity Council, he became SAE’s chapter president once the membership review was conducted.
“The unique situation was that I was also a part of the conversation that decided who stayed and who went. It was challenging as a student leader to make that call. There was a core group of people in my fraternity in college that was very into hazing, and it was one of those things that we didn’t properly address as students,” said O’Rourke.
“That’s part of the reason why I got into this profession. I saw how negative a fraternity experience could be, and I knew how positive it could be. I wanted to work with students to make them see the true benefit of what these organizations are.”
Since 2007, O’Rourke has assisted Greek Life organizations as the coordinator and helped students abide by their chapter goals.