Just a year after the death of a pledge led to the expulsion of a fraternity, Bowling Green State University has permanently banned a sorority for severe hazing activities on its campus.
Sigma Gamma Rho, a Black sorority whose mission is “to enhance the quality of life for women and their families in the U.S. and globally through community service, civil and social action,” was expelled for multiple policy violations that university officials said put its members at risk of serious injury. “BGSU also discovered a history of deception in this chapter, with many steps taken to actively hide the hazing and threats made to maintain the secrecy of the acts,” said Alex Solis, deputy chief of staff. “Hazing has no place at BGSU.”
The incidents at Sigma Gamma Rho occurred over the span of at least an academic year starting in fall 2020 but were reported to officials at the end of 2021, several months after the university took measures to try to prevent hazing on campus after the death of sophomore Stone Foltz, a pledge at the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity. Bowling Green expelled that fraternity and issued a series of statements urging its community to be vigilant in identifying similar activity.
“We are grateful for the individuals who leveraged reporting systems already in place to ensure a tragedy like the death of student Stone Foltz never happens again,” Solis said.
More from UB: How Ohio presidents are trying to stop hazing
While fraternities at campuses across the nation have been shut down, it is extremely rare for a sorority to have its recognition revoked by a college or university. Individual members of sororities at some institutions have been punished—Alpha Phi at the University of Alabama booted its president and a member for a hateful text message last December, and Delta Sigma Theta kicked out five members at various institutions for participating in a controversial VH1 show in 2015—but the removal of an entire Greek Life group is extremely rare.
“BGSU has continued to work to serve and better support our students of color, and we recognize the seriousness and impact of expelling a historically Black sorority,” Solis said. “However, after community reports in late 2021, a thorough and fair investigation, and careful consideration of the evidence presented during the conduct hearing, BGSU cannot and will not support any group that has caused a substantial risk of serious physical harm to members of the campus community from hazing.”
The investigation by the Office of the Dean of Students turned up alarming details of activities occurring during fall 2020 and spring 2021, a period also marked by heightened concerns over COVID-19. That included “high-risk drinking” and forcing members to steal alcohol or marijuana if they did not have the money to purchase the items. Members were “repeatedly struck in the face” or asked to “inflict harm on themselves until seriously bruised.” They were also coerced into removing any evidence of these acts that existed on phones and were told that if they reported any incidents they would be “jumped” by other members.
“Even with clearly communicated anti-hazing policies and education in place, the chapter knowingly and intentionally engaged in activities that were unsafe, high-risk and strictly prohibited by the university and the law,” Solis said.
History of hazing … and help
The death of Foltz, which came after he consumed large amounts of alcohol at a party he was required to attend, prompted the indictment of eight individuals at Pi Kappa Alpha who were charged with manslaughter or hazing. It also moved Ohio legislators to enact Collin’s Law, named for a pledge who died in a hazing incident in 2018 at Ohio University that makes hazing a felony in the state and requires institutions to address it more seriously on campuses. Members at Sigma Gamma Rho face potential criminal charges, and the university said it has turned its investigation over to city police.
In spring of 2021 and after Collin’s Law, Bowling Green President Rodney Rogers enacted a Working Group on Anti-Hazing Efforts, which made several recommendations, including reporting and response to incidents and education. Bowling Green and many universities have zero tolerance policies for hazing, though rampant incidents have occurred throughout the pandemic, especially at fraternities. Virginia Commonwealth University expelled the Delta Chi fraternity in December after a pledge died from alcohol poisoning, and several other institutions have suspended frats for multiple years in recent months, including Clemson University, the University of Mississippi and the University of Iowa.
According to a study done by Eastern Kentucky University, the majority of hazing incidents (38%) involve drinking, but there are other activities that can be considered coercive or demeaning to members, including forcing individuals to disassociate with certain individuals, depriving students of sleep and yelling or cursing at prospective members. While Greek organizations are among the highest violators, athletic team members are also subject to as many hazing rituals. Performing arts and even academic and honors clubs see their share of hazing, too.
While the dynamic at every campus is different, Eastern Kentucky researchers say there are four ways colleges can proactively get in front of hazing:
- Define and articulate what hazing is and spell out the punishments that may occur if any member of the campus community is involved in it.
- Display statements and resources on websites is great, but colleges must frequently send updates to communities and the importance of bystander reporting across social media channels and in emails and texts to students. They can also promote and host public seminars on the topic on campus to spread awareness on hazing.
- Pull together a task force on campus of various stakeholders, including students and Greek Life, that can discuss various strategies to prevent hazing
- Meet with campus groups to not only define to them the university’s expectations on behavior and hazing but to come up with further solutions to stop it.