Cal Poly fraternity waterboarded a member in a hazing incident, video shows

A Cal Poly fraternity hazed a member using a method that appears to resemble waterboarding, according to a video obtained by Mustang News.

The video shows a shirtless member of Beta Theta Pi lying on the ground underneath a water spigot spraying him in the face, which is covered with a cloth, Mustang News reported.

Mustang News obtained the video from Michael Trunko, an architectural engineering senior, who’s not a fraternity member but was friends with some of the members.

The waterboarding incident occurred at a satellite Beta Theta Pi house on Chaplin Lane in San Luis Obispo, according to Mustang News.

Cal Poly’s Beta Theta Pi chapter is not currently listed as being on sanction, according to the university’s sanctions and investigations page.

Matt Lazier, a Cal Poly spokesman, said the university is investigating the video.

“I can confirm that the university is aware of the video you mention and is investigating the matter right now,” Lazier said in an email. “As that investigation is ongoing, we have no additional information to provide at this time.”

The Tribune requested a statement from Cal Poly’s administration, but Lazier declined to provide one.

National office: Video not from ‘fraternity event’

In an emailed statement to The Tribune, representatives of Beta Theta Pi’s national office confirmed the organization has heard of the Cal Poly video and is working with university officials to investigate what happened.

The national office said the video originated in August or September 2018 “and involves a small number of men — none of whom were Beta Theta Pi pledges — acting as individuals and away from any related fraternity event.”

There’s some confusion over the specific timing of the incident captured on video. Trunko told Mustang News the incident occurred in spring 2019. (Trunko has not responded to a request for comment from The Tribune.)

“That being said, what’s depicted as part of a reported drinking game is certainly disappointing, unsafe and in no way aligns with the values of our organization,” read the statement. “We are in close contact with university officials, who are currently investigating the conduct of individual students related to this matter, and are fully cooperating as it relates to anyone associated with our chapter.”

The news comes at the start of Cal Poly’s Greek life recruitment season, when fraternities and sororities are attempting to attract new members.

Hazing at Cal Poly

Cal Poly defines hazing as a method of initiation or pre-initiation into a student organization or student body likely to cause serious bodily injury and “physical harm, personal degradation or disgrace resulting in physical or mental harm” to any former, current or prospective student.

Two other Greek chapters at Cal Poly — Sigma Pi are Kappa Sigma — are currently on sanction or under investigation for hazing-related violations of university policies.

The university banned two fraternities, Tau Kappa Epsilon and Lambda Phi Epsilon, during the 2018-2019 school year for hazing new recruits using unsafe activities, including knuckle push-ups, late-night ocean submersion and consumption of large amounts of alcohol.

Cal Poly also suspended its varsity track team in March, barring athletes from competing in seven meets for hazing new members through coerced drinking, forced exercising and a scavenger hunt for sexually explicit items.

Waterboarding House001
A hazing incident involving waterboarding took place at this Chaplin Street house in San Luis Obispo, according to Mustang News. Laura Dickinson

What is Beta Theta Pi?

Beta Theta Pi is a nationally recognized fraternity; founded in 1839 at Miami University in Ohio, it currently has about 142 chapters and colonies across the United States, encompassing about 10,119 students, according to its website.

The fraternity’s mission is “to develop men of principle for a principled life,” the site said.

Some of its notable alumni include a vice president, Canadian prime minister, senators, representatives, Congressional Medal of Honor winners, Olympic gold medalists, Nobel Prize winners and Pulitzer Prize winners, according to its website.

The organization has seen a couple of high-profile incidents involving hazing and alcohol use in recent years.

The University of Oregon Beta Theta Pi chapter was disbanded in 2016 amid reports of hazing and other high-risk behaviors; it has since been reinstated to that campus, according to University of Oregon student paper The Daily Emerald.

More notably, 28 members of the Penn State University chapter faced criminal charges this year after a 19-year-old student died in “an alcohol-fueled event” at the Beta Theta Pi fraternity house in 2017, CBS News reported. Several have since been sentenced to jail time.

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Lindsey Holden writes about housing, North County communities and everything in between for The Tribune in San Luis Obispo. She became a staff writer in 2016 after working for the Rockford Register Star in Illinois. Lindsey is a native Californian raised in the Midwest and earned degrees from DePaul and Northwestern universities.
Kaytlyn Leslie writes about business and development for The San Luis Obispo Tribune. Hailing from Nipomo, she also covers city governments and happenings in the South County region, including Arroyo Grande, Pismo Beach and Grover Beach. She joined The Tribune in 2013 after graduating from Cal Poly with her journalism degree.