Friday, November 11, 2011

A university fraternity that exhibits characteristics of a cult

Among the characteristics typically found in cults are sleep deprivation, isolation, paddling, and perverse initiation rituals for prospective members. Another item from the backlog--as reported by Alexandria Eldridge in The Gateway, October 21, 2010:

The Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity at the University of Alberta tells pledges to eat their own vomit, deprives them of sleep, and closes them in a plywood box as part of a four-day initiation process, according to video footage from January 2010 obtained by The Gateway.

According to the DKE International Risk Management Policy posted on their website, hazing by any chapter, student, or alumnus is prohibited. Having the permission of a person being hazed is not a defence.

DKE International defines hazing as:

"Any action taken or situation created, intentionally, whether on or off fraternity premises, to produce mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment, or ridicule. Such activities may include but are not limited to the following: use of alcohol; paddling in any form; creation of excessive fatigue; physical and psychological shocks [… and] morally degrading or humiliating games and activities."

A DKE (Deke) alumnus, who wished to remain anonymous to protect his identity, and who will be referred to as Joe, described his experience during initiation as traumatic.

"[Pledges are] not told what happens. There's very little care actually done for them. They're stolen from, they're taken advantage of, they're yelled at [...], they're not told when it will end," Joe said. "They're definitely hurt mentally and physically at the end of it."

According to Joe, the initiation weekend took place last year near the end of January. Pledges arrive at the Deke house on Thursday and do not leave until Sunday, except to go to class on Friday.

During check-in, when pledges arrive at the house, the initiated Deke brothers, who are active members or alumni, put the food and alcohol each pledge brings into the communal fridge.

One of the videos shows a pledge being yelled at by at least five of the active members or alumni during check-in because he brought two small cans of beans instead of one large can.

"Do you have a problem following instructions? Because if you do, your life is going to become extremely difficult […] Do you have a learning disability? Are you retarded?"

The video also shows the pledges being told to do wall sits, being pressured into taking a bite out of a raw onion, and being pressured into eating raw eggs, to which one brother says, "go salmonella."

Video footage also shows pledges attending an off-campus dinner, where they eat food that is intentionally disgusting and then smoke a cigar as quickly as possible after eating. Joe explained that for these reasons, some pledges vomit and then eat their vomit.

"As far as I know, no chemical is added to the food, and there's always a percentage of the people that just eat it," Joe said. "But here are the instructions — get him to eat as much as possible, get him to puke; when he pukes, try to get him to clean up his plate. His plate should be empty, including his vomit."

Over the weekend, the brothers also hold extended exercise drills for the pledges called "circles." One alumnus, called the circle master, stands in the middle of a group of pledges, who are surrounded by active members and alumni. The pledges must do and say whatever the circle master tells them to, including sit-ups and push-ups, while being yelled at by their surrounding brothers.

Multiple times over the weekend, pledges also go into "the Hilton," a plywood box that Joe described as being a confined space. He said that the brothers alter the size by putting desks and chairs inside of it.

"I'm guessing you could possibly stuff 30 people in there, but if you've got a class of 15, you just close off half. You couldn't stand in it."

Joe said that often, someone will squirt ketchup or throw food into the Hilton, or urinate inside before the pledges enter. The pledges usually won't stay in the Hilton for any more than 15 minutes, and Joe said that anyone who is claustrophobic is not forced in.

According to a sample list obtained by The Gateway, pledges are also instructed to bring wooden paddles to the initiation weekend. According to Joe, brothers are never, under any circumstances, allowed to actually hit pledges with the paddles. However, Joe said pledges are never told that they will not be paddled and thinks the paddles add to the atmosphere of intimidation.

Many hours over the weekend are also spent in "meditations." Pledges are instructed to sit upright facing the wall, but are not allowed to sleep. The alumni play extremely loud, repetitive music. After a few hours, Joe said many people start to hallucinate.

According to Joe, during the final stage of initiation, all of the pledges individually appear before a tribunal of active members and alumni and are told they did not make it into the fraternity. Then they all come together in a ritual where a brother will ask anyone who did not make it into the fraternity to step forward. Everybody steps forward.

The video indicates that over the course of the weekend, the personal property of the pledges is often stolen. At one point on the video, one brother says to another, "we steal their shit." Joe added that other things are simply ruined because pledges' belongings are kept in the basement, where circles occur, so things are often trampled.

Joe added that the pledges get no substantial time to sleep. According to schedules obtained by The Gateway, the pledges are only allotted time to sleep for a half hour on Friday night and for five 15-minute intervals and one half-hour interval on Saturday night.

In addition to sleep deprivation, Joe said the pledges are also encouraged to drink large amounts of alcohol throughout the weekend, but this is not mandatory.

"I've always wondered if it's better to get drunk or not. Because the alcohol dehydrates you, but the alcohol definitely helps deal with the trauma. If you're hammered through the whole thing, you're going to have a lot less nightmares than if you're sober the whole time," Joe said.

After Friday night, pledges are not allowed to leave the initiations. On the video, a group of alumni discuss the basic rule that once someone starts on Friday, they can't leave until Sunday unless it's a special circumstance.

Joe explained that some of the pledges actually enjoy the challenge of initiations, and many of the brothers enjoy it as well, but he feels it's unfair that pledges do not know what to expect from initiations before they begin.

"I'd call it hazing, I call it abuse. I think the better word is abuse. You get abused, absolutely."

A second Deke alumnus, who also wished to remain anonymous, confirmed the information listed above.

Mike Siebert, President of the Interfraternity Council (IFC), the governing body of fraternities on the U of A campus, did not respond to specific allegations, but said that the IFC has a zero-tolerance policy towards hazing...

...DKE International did not respond to request for comment as of press time. A spokesperson for the DKE alumni association denied the allegations.

"We never would do anything to offend the honour of any of our own guys or any potential member either," the spokesperson said.

According to a sidebar The Gateway, the DKE initiation schedule was as follows (based on documents obtained by The Gateway):

Thursday
Check-in: Pledges bring food and alcohol to be put into the communal fridge
Dinner: Pledges are taken to an off-campus location for a dinner where they often vomit.
International Exam: Pledges take an exam about the history of DKE.

Friday
"Rude Awakening" and Run: Pledges are woken up after half an hour of sleep and taken on a run under the High Level Bridge
Classes or Cleaning: Pledges who have class can attend, accompanied by their big brothers, while those left behind clean the house.
Dinner: Pledges are taken to a restaurant for dinner, where they are encouraged, but not mandated, to drink heavily.
Beta's Charge: Pledges are told they are on probation with DKE and that initiations have begun. At this point, pledges cannot leave initiations.

Saturday
The Hilton: Pledges are introduced to "the Hilton," where they wait while the basement is set up for circles.
Circles: Pledges participate in an extended exercise drill where they are required to do physical activity.
Meditations: Pledges listen to repetitive music for hours and are not allowed to sleep.

Sunday
The Final Stage: Pledges are driven off-campus for the final stage of initiations.
Kickouts: Pledges individually appear before a tribunal and are told they did not make it into the fraternity.
Initiations end: One brother tells all the pledges that whoever didn't make it into the fraternity should step forward. Everybody steps forward, signalling the end of initiations.



There was considerable fallout from the story. On December 10, 2010, DKE International provisionally suspended the University of Alberta chapter for three years, and on January 27, 2011, U of A Dean of Students Frank Robinson announced that the U of A chapter of Delta Kappa Epsilon was being suspended from affiliation with the university for five years.

That hasn't been the end of the story. On September 20, 2011, University of Alberta Protective Services confirmed that they had opened an investigation into a complaint that members of DKE had been seen recruiting on campus during student orientation, which would be a violation of the terms of the fraternity's suspension. According to a News in Brief item from The Gateway, November 9, 2011:

Four members of the Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) fraternity have been charged for attempting to recruit students on campus, violating the five-year suspension imposed on the fraternity last January following allegations of hazing.

UAPS Director Bill Mowbray said the four students were charged under the code of student behaviour, which was handled by the Office of Judicial Affairs. A decision was then rendered by the office’s discipline officer.

The office was unable to comment on the nature of the discipline imposed, citing confidentiality for all cases.

The investigation took about two weeks to conduct, according to Mowbray. The case was forwarded to Mowbray for investigation by the Office of the Dean of Students, who received a video of DKE members engaging in recruitment activities during orientation.

The incident was recorded by several students aware of the DKE’s suspension, who subsequently complained to the Office of the Dean of Students.

Dean of Students Frank Robinson said he was unable to comment now that the investigation has closed. However, he said the office is looking to add an official definition of hazing in the U of A’s code of student behaviour, which it’s currently lacking.

Interfraternity Council (IFC) President Kevin Thomas said it’s important to note that the DKE members were violating more than just their suspension.

“It wasn’t just that they weren’t supposed to be doing what they were doing. It’s that they were doing something that no student group is allowed to do, which is soliciting on campus,” Thomas said.

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