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IOWA CITY - The University of Iowa this semester has investigated, or is continuing to investigate, more allegations of hazing at two of its fraternities - one of which nearly faced additional reprimand for hosting a gathering 'at which llamas were present.”
The UI Sigma Pi chapter - which in recent years faced reprimand for alcohol and arrest violations - on Feb. 1 was notified of the UI Office of Student Accountability's investigation into allegations it hazed a new member on or around Jan. 31.
According to a UI letter to Sigma Pi - which The Gazette obtained through a public records request but came heavily redacted - investigators suspected the chapter 'directed, encouraged, or approved” of a new member engaging in 'dangerous physical activity.”
The university redacted pages of detail about what the behavior involved, and a UI records custodian explained the blacked-out material could identify the student or students involved.
The few unredacted details indicate the alleged hazing involved a new member assignment - like 'food,” 'driver,” or 'beer pledge” - and the new member's related dangerous behavior, which was recorded on video and posted online.
A chapter member, according to UI documents, told investigators, 'He was shocked when he saw the video and said, ‘I had kind of wondered - who was involved? Were members there? Was he forced? Was he alone?'”
That member, whose name was redacted, 'strongly stated” his fraternity does 'not assign roles such as that to the new members, stating, ‘We don't supply any new members with roles. Their role is a new member.'”
He told UI investigators the student they're accused of hazing 'is loved.”
'We love (the alleged student),” he told UI administrators, according to the documents. 'We'd never do anything to put him in harm's way.”
But, 'due to the gravity of the report,” the chapter was placed on immediate interim suspension.
The following week, UI learned of a possible violation of that suspension - involving a pair of llamas the chapter identified as 'our house dogs Ollie and Willy.”
On Feb. 9, Sigma Pi posted on social media photos of two llamas in the chapter house, along with 'what appeared to be a gathering of students with the llamas” - prompting UI accountability officers to launch an investigation into a subsequent offense.
Students explaining to UI officials that a member's mom had ordered the llamas as a surprise for Valentine's Day.
'We are not responsible for the purchase of the two Llama's, nor were we expecting this to happen on a Tuesday morning,” a chapter member wrote to UI administrators via email. 'I hope we can put this to rest so we may focus on more pressing matters going on within our community.”
During a meeting to explain the situation further, a chapter member said the student targeted by the llamma-gram - who lives in the house - received a text from his mom 'just as the llamas were arriving at the chapter house.”
'As one video seen in social media shows, the member is on his phone as he walks to the front door,” the student told UI investigators. 'He opens the door and sees the two llamas and two women (i.e. the llama handlers) and invites them in.”
Other men in the house heard the commotion and came to the door, where the llamas stayed in the house for 10 to 15 minutes 'while members took photos and interacted with them.”
The Sigma Pi member stressed his chapter wasn't involved in planning any event and said no outside guests were invited to llama surprise.
Separate from their llama concerns, according to UI documents, officials spotted in the background of the animal video 'a construction road sign.”
'We discussed the importance of the fraternity not keeping the sign in their possession,” according to UI documents, 'and he stated that it had been at the chapter house for a ‘couple of years' and he would resolve this issue.”
After concluding its investigation of both the hazing and llama allegations, UI administrators determined Sigma Pi didn't violate any policies.
To the hazing accusations, specifically, investigators said they found no evidence the new member 'was expected to perform this dangerous act.”
'Because other members of the chapter did not know about alleged student's actions until after the video was posted, we have determined that this act was not performed for the purpose of initiation into, affiliation with, or as a continued membership in his fraternity.”
Instead, UI officials said the actions amounted to 'independent poor decision making on the part of the member.”
Although Sigma Pi's interim suspension is over, and the chapter has been freed from responsibility for the llama episode, UI administrators rebuked the fraternity for its culture.
'Although determined to not be a chapter-related matter, the behaviors described in this leave me very concerned about the individual students in your chapter,” Assistant Dean and Director of Student Accountability Angela Ibrahim-Olin wrote to the fraternity.
'It should be noted that many chapter members posted messages to social media approving or making light of the behaviors observed in the videos posted to social media. Regardless of chapter involvement, I am concerned about a climate that approves of or encourages dangerous behavior.”
The day after UI notified Sigma Pi about its hazing investigation, the UI Office of Student Accountability sent a letter to Pi Kappa Alpha alerting it to reports the chapter violated several policies - including those against hazing and alcohol.
'Our office has received reports that over the last week your chapter allegedly engaged in activities that include in-person social events, that included alcohol for attendees in the chapter facility, as well as activities with new members that posed a risk to their health and safety,” according to the letter from Ibrahim-Olin.
'These reports bear similarity to reports that were investigated last fall involving gatherings at the chapter house, as well as a report involving the mistreatment of new members.”
Pi Kappa Alpha in the fall was among several UI fraternities investigated for violating COVID and alcohol restrictions by - among other things - hosting a 'spring breakers/80s in Aspen” themed event at which they covered chapter windows and served alcohol.
In October, the fraternity was placed on disciplinary probation through the end of this year.
Ibrahim-Olin in her recent letter said last fall's reports of member mistreatment didn't include enough specific information for a UI finding of a violation.
Few details of Pi Kappa Alpha's current investigation have been made public - given it's ongoing. Until resolution, the chapter will remain on interim suspension.
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