By Jeff Balke
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Almost 30 members reapplied, and those who had demonstrated a pattern of bad behavior -- low grades, misconduct, failure to pay dues -- were either expelled or granted alumni status and put on two-year probation. Those facing sanctions were notified on August 4. It was then that allegations of hazing first surfaced.
In the letter James Parker wrote to an alumnus overseeing the discipline of the fraternity, which he signed with a fake name, Parker claimed to speak on behalf of the expelled and suspended group of students. The letter was a bid to "scare" the alumni into letting them back in -- or else they would go public with damning information about the fraternity. "Everyone's goal in doing this was trying to get back in the fraternity," says Matan Ben-David, who was expelled. The five-page missive details hazing and violations of the fraternity's risk-management policy and finishes with a threat to use their numerous connections in the media to end the fraternity. Parker admits that the letter contains numerous exaggerations -- the media contacts, for one -- and was written while he was angry. He also acknowledges that not everyone who was suspended or expelled took part in writing the note. But along with two other students, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, he stands by the hazing allegations.
According to Parker, members of his 2001 pledge class were forced to stand in their underwear while rotten food was heaped on them. He says full beer bottles were thrown at them, and they had to do exercises all night. One pledge cut his hand on broken glass while doing push-ups. In one "ritual," Parker says, he was blindfolded and forced to eat a peanut-butter-covered banana out of a toilet while real dogshit surrounded the can. Another student says pledges in 2004 were forced to eat raw onions, chug water until they puked and endure verbal assaults. One active peed on the ground and forced them to clean it up. They also had to hold lit matches and recite the Greek alphabet without error while the entire group yelled at them, according to Parker and others.
"The stated rule that we tried to follow is that you're never allowed to touch a pledge," Parker says. They also almost never forced pledges to drink, knowing that physical abuse and forced drinking were usually the downfall of fraternities. If the hazing allegations are true, Phi Kappa Theta won't be the only fraternity at UH to face those charges. In 2004, the university sanctioned and put on probation both Sigma Chi and Sigma Pi for one year. According to Parker, the worst hazing was often done by alumni, something that doesn't surprise UH Assistant Dean of Students Heidi Kennedy. "Where you come up with problems is where there is an old culture of alums influencing the actives," she says.
Zinnante says it's exactly that culture that they're trying to change. "Most good young men will respond to structure," he says. But then he adds, "We are not professional social workers." Since the story began to break, someone forwarded a copy of Parker's letter to the UH Police Department. A UH spokesman says, "the allegations raised in that letter are being investigated." A spokesman for the national fraternity says they take hazing seriously as well.
Tom Tupa was one of the members granted alumni status but placed on probation. He doesn't want to comment on the hazing allegations but says he was upset by the alumni's process. "I feel like some of us really have been mistreated," says Tupa, who owed nearly $800 to the fraternity at the time of his suspension. "If you give me alumni status and suspend me from the active chapter, that's saying leave fucking nicely."
There are now only 16 active members in Phi Kappa Theta, and those contacted for this story say they are working to move forward. All refused to speak about the hazing allegations, emphasizing the progress they've made. After the spring semester, the fraternity had the second-highest average fraternity GPA on campus and several members active in the Student Government Association. Kyle Lavender, one of the founding fathers when the group was restarted in 1992 after a brief hiatus from campus, says he and the other alumni are hopeful for the future. "There's a number of young men worth saving," he says.
Freshmen at UH thinking about going Greek probably hope so, too. Rush is happening now.