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ATO chapter cited for hazing, nothing more

On April 20, 2012

The DePauw University chapter of Alpha Tau Omega fraternity has been charged and punished for multiple counts of hazing by the university Community Standards Office but has not lost its charter despite speculation by many students.

Myrna Hernandez, director of the Campus Living and Community Development Office, said the university received a report on March 7 that ATO was hazing its new members and launched an investigation at that time. She said the individual who reported the hazing wasn't a member of the fraternity but couldn't remember if it was a student or how the incident had been witnessed.

"The initial report we got was about a single incident," Hernandez said. "Through our investigation, we discovered a few other things. So it wasn't one single incident, one isolated incident. It was a couple of different things that came out during our investigation."

Still, Hernandez said sanctions were all related to hazing and new member education.

"This is much to do about not much," said Wynn Smiley, Chief Executive Officer of Alpha Tau Omega national fraternity. "To characterize this as anything that we believe there are serious problems with the chapter, we certainly do not [believe that]."

Jason Edelman, president of the ATO chapter at DePauw, and other members of the chapter declined to comment when contacted by The DePauw.

Hernandez said the incidents of hazing for which the chapter was charged included acts of personal servitude such as requiring new members to perform certain tasks, demeaning new members through calling them names or blindfolding them to transport them to an undisclosed event at an undisclosed location and holding new member education activities outside of the approved timeframe, which is either during class time or any activity not listed on the new member education plan every fraternity chapter must submit to the greek life office at the beginning of the semester.

According to Hernandez, the Community Standards Office addressed a 10-part sanction with the chapter, to which she said the fraternity was cooperative. Meggan Johnston, director of the Community Standards Office, did not respond to calls and messages left for her.

ATO was placed on probation, issued a fine and asked to undergo a variety of educational programs.There were also regulations put in place on when the fraternity could continue its new member education program and initiate its most recent pledge class.

Those limitations were lifted around spring break.

Hernandez said she believes the fraternity has taken responsibility for its actions and the university investigation has been closed.

Smiley did not say whether the chapter would face any disciplinary action from the national headquarters but said he wasn't losing any sleep over the situation based on what he'd heard so far.

"We certainly don't have a tolerance for any kind of hazing from our members," Smiley said. "There are different levels of hazing. We don't tolerate any of it, but I think the response in any kind of sanction, or any kind of disciplinary action is a direct relation to the details of what exactly was being done."

According to Smiley, ATO follows the Fraternal Information and Programming Group risk management policy for hazing issues. That policy 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."

But Smiley doesn't think the hazing incidents were that serious when compared to other possibilities.

"While it's important to understand that we expect our members to not haze anybody, new member or initiated member or anybody, and the university certainly had reason to alert us to allegations. I think that on the continuum of hazing, this wouldn't be considered, certainly not anything that would be physically threatening or mentally rigorous or anything like that," he said. "But still, nevertheless, it is what it is, and that's why we're helping the chapter understand that that cannot continue."

Smiley said the ATO national headquarters has looked into the hazing allegations raised by the university but said he would not characterize it as anything that was morally acute.

"We understand that while this happens, our goal now is really to work with ATO to try to move them forward in a positive direction," Hernandez said.

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