Architecture fraternity suspended for hazing

Initiation rituals involved wine, blindfolds, a paddle, a coffin

Carpenter Hall on the Pullman campus of Washington State University, which houses the School of Design and Construction, seen Feb. 19, 2016.

PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State University cut ties with a fraternity of architecture students following a series of hazing allegations that involve wine, blindfolds, a paddle and a makeshift coffin.

The local chapter of Alpha Rho Chi — a national co-ed fraternity for architecture, design and engineering students — is banned from associating itself with the university for one semester. The group is accused of hazing new members during pledging and initiation rituals, following an investigation by WSU’s Office of Student Conduct.

“In this matter, the initiation practices had occurred for a number of years without any oversight or intervention,” reads the conduct board’s report. “This lends itself to the conclusion that the organization is responsible for individual behavior.”

Among the board’s findings:

  • Potential new members were threatened with a paddle and told they would be punished if they don’t “heed” the fraternity pledge.
  • Students were required to kneel while watching a play, during which one of the actors, a member of the fraternity, threw wine on them.
  • Students were blindfolded and led to a room where they were hoisted into a plywood coffin and “made to believe that they were going to be struck by an object.”
  • Students were made to sit outside in the cold “for an extended period of time” without proper clothing.

There is no indication that any student was injured as a result of these practices; no one was struck with a paddle or another object. But the board determined the fraternity’s rituals present a risk of physical, mental or emotional harm. The rituals are outlined by the national body and followed closely by individual chapters.

The chapter, which is named Sostratus after a third-century Greek architect, was suspended in November and will be allowed to reapply for university recognition in May. Until then, the chapter may not hold meetings on campus, use university property or services, participate as a group in intramural sports, or use the WSU name or logo.

Because the chapter has no house, initiation rituals took place at several locations, including members’ houses in Pullman and an adviser’s house in Colfax. New members were usually blindfolded while being shuttled to each location. The coffin ceremony took place at Daggy Hall, which houses WSU’s theater department.

Notes and a hand-drawn diagram of the arch used in Alpha Rho Chi’s initiation ceremony, from the conduct board’s investigation.

While students are in the coffin, other members place a plywood arch over them, according to the conduct board’s report. Then a “stone” made of foam falls toward the coffin, apparently intended to scare the student inside. It’s caught by a string and never makes contact with the student.

Fraternity representatives say it’s all in good fun.

“It’s a play,” said national president Laura Schmidt, a California-based architect. “At no point are students supposed to feel like they’ll have something fall on them.”

One member told the conduct board the chapter felt like “family” and the experience was “motivational.” The chapter had about a dozen members, held weekly meetings and participated in volunteering projects.

However, a former member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, described the initiation ritual as a daylong ordeal that fluctuates between entertaining and extremely stressful.

“For me, the main issue is throwing wine on me and freezing in a room for a long period of time and not being sure if I should eat the lunch they gave me,” the former member said. “People just seemed a little bit stubborn when it came to change. They also said people have definitely had issues with it in the past, and the issue has been talked about.”

The conduct board stipulated that the chapter must change its ritual to reapply for recognition. But that involves proposing amendments to be considered by national organizers. Schmidt, the national president, said the 102-year-old ritual has been amended only once, in 1922. She declined to discuss specific practices, referring to the ritual as an “esoteric document.” She said this is the first time she’s heard of hazing complaints.

The chapter’s faculty advisers, Ayad Rahmani and Carrie Vielle, declined to comment. Messages left for the chapter’s president, Lauren Peterson, were not returned.

Adam Jussel, director of the Office of Student Conduct, said the board accounted for the chapter’s lack of disciplinary history. One semester is a relatively short suspension; other WSU fraternities have been suspended for several years or more.

“We try to be proactive and educate these students and make sure they know what constitutes hazing,” Jussel said. “I hate to be as simple as ‘Don’t haze,’ but it really comes down to that.”

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