Education

University of Iowa fraternity deregistered after high-risk hazing, forced drinking, verbal assaults

'One left school in the 2-4 days following bid night'

The Old Capitol Museum is seen with its grounds cleaned up from most evidence of storm damage at the University of Iowa
The Old Capitol Museum is seen with its grounds cleaned up from most evidence of storm damage at the University of Iowa in Iowa City on Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — The University of Iowa has suspended — effectively deregistering — its Acacia Fraternity for high-risk hazing and a long list of violations, like berating new members for “religious, political beliefs, or racial/ethnic identity,” including during an initiation ceremony at the Masonic Temple of Iowa City.

“All new members were berated and called demeaning and misogynistic names at various times during Initiation Week,” according to a lengthy investigative report provided to The Gazette following a public records request. “Although the fall new members experienced a great deal of concerning treatment during their pledging process, the reporting parties were ‘really concerned’ about things happening to new members in the spring.”

Spring 2020 accusations against the 5-year-old UI chapter include ordering new members into the house attic “until they consumed the alcohol that was provided for them” — reportedly 60 to 90 cans of beer, two to three handles of vodka, and a gallon of Jungle Juice, according to the UI documents.

“The new members went into the attic around 7/7:30 p.m. and ‘those that could still walk came out around 11/11:30 p.m.’,” according to a summary Assistant Dean of Students and Office of Student Accountability Director Angela Ibrahim-Olin provided the fraternity. “The new members were very intoxicated, several probably needed medical attention (in the opinion of the reporting parties), many became ill and ‘the whole house smelled like vomit.’”

Although many likely needed medical help, according to those reporting the violations, active Acacia members wouldn’t “allow them to be taken to the hospital to be checked out.”

Some spring pledges were drunk when they signed to join the fraternity, according to the allegations. But, the documents report, three to four new members dropped the fraternity.

“And one left school in the 2-4 days following bid night.”

Acacia’s violations — which were investigated this fall but relate to last fall and spring 2020 — occurred while the fraternity was on probation for alcohol and other violations in December 2018.

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They also come amid a flurry of investigations and sanctions against other Greek chapters this fall and last academic year for both hazing, alcohol, and COVID-19-related violations. And they occur in light of strict alcohol and event policies and regulations UI Fraternity and Sorority Life imposed years ago after a freshman died during an off-campus formal.

Acacia Iowa — which on its chapter website dates its history back to April 1909 but reports re-foudning on campus in 2015 — also faced two reports of COVID-19 violations in August. But UI officials limited their response to a “reminder letter” so they could focus on the hazing investigation.

As a result of the findings Acacia violated hazing, alcohol, organizational property, and other policies — despite denials from chapter leadership and active members — the chapter has been suspended from campus through fall 2024.

Once the chapter returns, it will be on probationary status for two more semesters.

Local chapter representatives did not immediately respond to The Gazette’s request for comment. They’ve appealed the findings on grounds they’re “unreasonably harsh” and “arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable, or constituted an abuse of discretion.”

Michael S. Weber, assistant executive director for the national Acacia Fraternity, provided The Gazette with a statement vowing to “take these allegations very seriously.”

“The health and safety of students is the top priority for Acacia Fraternity, and there is no tolerance for the actions reported,” he wrote. “We believe any individuals found guilty of these acts should be held accountable. The fraternity is continuing to evaluate the chapter and has yet to make a final decision on the future of the chapter at the University of Iowa.”

Those former Iowa Acacia members who reported the hazing allegations acknowledged risking repercussions and harassment, according to UI investigators, who found them increasingly credible witnesses.

“The reporting parties provided significant details about what took place, and the parties were consistent with one another and other new members’ testimony,” according to UI documents. “They kept their membership in the fraternity last year because they wanted to belong and they wanted friends.

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“However, time away due to COVID-19 and classes going virtual, as well as frustration over their inability to break their lease, provided an opportunity for deep reflection about their experience.”

In summarizing their concerns, the former members pulled back the curtain on toxic fraternal interactions between Acacia alumni, active members, and pledges — starting with a typical “college party” to kick off Fall 2019 “with Jungle Juice, loud music in the basement, with at least 300 girls.”

Below are their allegations.

Initiation week, day 1

New members arrived at the house at 202 Ellis Ave. and were told to shotgun two to three beers. They then walked in freezing temperatures to a nearby park while passing around a 60- to 70-pound “pet” cinder block nicknamed “Rodney” while members taunted them and called them “misogynistic names.”

At the park, the new members ran through a series of sprints and other physical exercises for 30 to 45 minutes before returning home, where new members received more beer while doing “wall sits” and learning the fraternity song. Those who failed were mocked.

Everyone eventually was sent to the basement to sleep. Those who didn’t bring bedding slept on the floor.

Day 2

New members came to the house with a swimsuit, were blindfolded, and led to a room where they were placed on a tarp — while hearing loud bands.

“In the room, active members threw or whipped wet rags (that smelled like apple cider vinegar) and sand on the new members,” according to the report, after which members laid on the tarp and “were hoisted up by the actives and swayed and jostled.”

They were told to drink an unknown liquid that made at least one person feel ill.

“This activity was referred to as ‘the journey’ or ‘travels’ and was intended to symbolize Pythagoras’s journey to Egypt through the use of water, sand, and ‘snakes’ (the whipping towels).”

They were told to learn the Greek alphabet and prove their knowledge at a final the next morning.

“New members were offered an opportunity to obtain a ‘cheat sheet’ for the exam,” per the UI report. “If they could ‘beat the actives in a drinking game’ (games such as beer pong, beer die and baseball) they could get the cheat sheet.”

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“The new members were successful in being able to use a cheat sheet” and continued studying in the frigid attic all night, which some described as “dangerously cold.”

“Requests for socks or other clothing items were denied,” according to the report. “The attic is not insulated, and the outside temperature was below 20 degrees that night.”

Day 3

New members began taking the pledge exam around 5 a.m.

“While they were taking the exam, actives created distractions by verbally assaulting the new members,” according to the UI documents. “Some new members had UI class exams on Friday and were told they could not study for anything else but the pledge exam the night prior and therefore ‘bombed [their] test’ that day.”

New members returned that night for a “Caves” activity that involved being blindfolded, toured through a series of rooms to the backdrop of “eerie” music, and shown objects while active members shouted, “What does it mean?”

“This was a confusing activity … because the objects were ‘really random and didn’t mean anything’,” according to those reporting.

Objects included apparent drugs, “powdery substance on table, pills, and drug paraphernalia (needles, pipes, ‘something to snort with’);” pornography; an air soft gun; shot of alcohol; and triangle.

New members then were driven to the Masonic Temple in Iowa City for an initiation ceremony that involved “videos about conspiracy theories” and demands they explain the Pythagorean theorem in under a minute.

“When they couldn’t do so, they were yelled at by actives about being stupid” and other derogatory terms, according to the reports. “At least one new member (while still blindfolded) was handed a bottle and told to drink. They later realized it was probably Fireball whiskey. The new member became intoxicated to the point of falling down, outside, and needed assistance from others to walk.”

Other concerning reports

New members were told to “make sure they had a fake ID so they could all go downtown after initiation;”

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“Pledge dads” gave “pledge sons” gifts they had to keep on them at all times, like a “dildo,” jar of mayonnaise, small bottles of alcohol, handles of vodka, bag of flour, and a pumpkin.

When ordered via the chapter’s Slack channel, new members had to “produce the item either in person to an active or via photograph.”

“This included meeting an active on campus to provide the item they were told to carry (cigarettes, Chex mix, shots of alcohol, purchase a coffee, etc.) at any time (including leaving class to do so),” according the investigative report.

New members also often served as designated drivers at parties.

“The chapter risk manager would identify underclassmen to serve in this role near the beginning of a party, but it appeared ‘even the designated drivers were not sober.’”

Those who’ve reported said they’ve received some backlash, including via threats like, “You get Acacia, we’ll get you.”

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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