Carson Starkey’s parents talk about the loss of their son and their efforts to save lives
A fraternity-related hazing incident recently set a Cal Poly investigation into action for the fifth time over the past three years — and now details of the latest case are clear.
The university told The Tribune on Thursday the latest misconduct came when the Sigma Pi fraternity ordered new recruits to attach suitcases to their legs and shuffle around campus.
The university announced last week that Sigma Pi was being suspended until June 15, and the fraternity will be on probation through the spring of 2020.
The latest incident comes on the heels of the university issuing in October a two-year disaffiliation notice to Asian-interest fraternity Lambda Phi Epsilon. That fraternity ordered knuckle push-ups and late-night submersion in the ocean, a Cal Poly investigation found.
“Any number of hazing incidents in a year is too many,” said Kathleen McMahon, the university’s associate vice president of student affairs and dean of students. “... We have always disciplined (Greek organizations in confirmed cases of hazings).”
McMahon said discipline ranges from a suspension to disaffiliation, in which the university doesn’t recognize the organization any longer.
Three separate fraternity-related hazing incidents occurred in the 2016-17 school year involving Alpha Epsilon Pi, Tau Kappa Epsilon and Delta Tau Delta.
Greek hazing incidents can be reported to the university’s Fraternity and Sorority Life website.
“Students have the ability to report anonymously,” said McMahon, adding that’s how the administration typically learns of most incidents. “We want students to report hazing.”
Each case is considered separately
The university’s most tragic hazing incident occurred just over a decade ago when Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity leaders ordered pledge Carson Starkey and others to consume large amounts of alcohol. Starkey, an 18-year-old freshman, went to sleep and never woke up.
Keith Humphrey, Cal Poly’s vice president for student affairs, said that hazing isn’t always related to forced drinking or physical bullying. But it can include a variety of situations targeting pledges or recruits.
Less drastic situations might include when students are forced to wear certain types of clothing, even just a pin or flair, or be tasked to carry fraternity booklets around with them — perhaps facing fraternity rebuke if they don’t.
Humphrey said that “every situation is different” when it comes to the university’s handling of hazing.
Humphrey stressed that the health and safety risks associated with a fraternity’s hazing actions are carefully considered during the disciplinary process. Sanctions are designed to guide, as well as discipline, students who may make mistakes.
“Each case has nuance,” Humphrey said. “How we assess discipline is a judgment on the part of the staff.”
No zero tolerance
Cal Poly doesn’t have a zero-tolerance policy for hazing on its books, and Greek chapters can be offered the chance to regain good standing with the university once found in violation, depending on the severity of the offense, university officials said.
A suspension can revoke a chapter’s privileges, such as holding social events, including dances, or participating in philanthropy, though they can hold chapter meetings.
Disaffiliation can have a time limit or be permanent, school officials said.
McMahon said that suspensions of Greek chapters can last for as little as a quarter or two up to a year or more, depending on the nature of the violation and the fraternity’s cooperation of compliance with Cal Poly’s conditions for reinstatement, which might include a risk management strategy.
Like in other cases, Cal Poly has asked Sigma Pi’s national headquarters to conduct a review of the chapter’s membership, Lazier said.
Training remains ever-important
McMahon said that each year Greek organizations are exposed to trainings, including an online hazing prevention module, the Aware Awake Alive organization’s program on how to step up and intervene in unsafe situations, educational documentaries and a lecture by Gentry McCreary, a national expert in hazing prevention.
In addition to Aware Aware Alive, Starkey’s parents have started the national organization With Us, which encourages those who witness abusive or dangerous situations to take an active role in stopping them.
McMahon said a challenge in educating new students can be that they don’t think that a situation like Starkey’s ever could happen in their lives.
“Every year, we have new students and we have to start over again,” McMahon said.