On Tuesday afternoon, University of Houston President Renu Khator announced that officials have suspended the school's chapter of the Sigma Chi fraternity after what she called "disturbing allegations of hazing within the fraternity" surfaced.
"I am shocked, dismayed and deeply disappointed that allegations of this nature have arisen on our campus," Khator said in a statement. UH hasn't offered any specifics other than to say that five students accused of hazing have also been suspended. In her statement, Khator says UH police are continuing to investigate the incident and have already started turning over their findings to the Harris County District Attorney's Office.
"[I]f the allegations prove true, those responsible will be subject to immediate disciplinary action, up to and including expulsion," she said.
If the evidence is damning enough, the students could face criminal prosecution. In Texas, hazing is a class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail. If someone's seriously injured in the hazing, that maximum penalty doubles to a year behind bars.
"Let me be clear, hazing is a criminal act, and consent is not a defense," Khator said.
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The national organization of Sigma Chi released a statement Tuesday evening saying it got word of "alleged inappropriate pledging activities" at UH on January 20. The next day, according to the statement, the national organization suspended the UH chapter, notified university officials and launched its own investigation. According to the Sigma Chi statement, UHPD launched an investigation into criminal hazing activities on February 19.
The national chapter says its inquiry is on hold while the criminal investigation plays out. The organization's president, Michael Greenberg, issued this statement: "Hazing, in all of its ugly forms, will be eliminated from Sigma Chi. The bedrock of our Fraternity is to be men of character and leaders within our communities. Hazing is so far removed from the principles we believe in that we cannot, and will not, allow it to continue. Those who engage in this vile tactic will be held accountable."
The allegations at UH add to what has already been a terrible month for fraternities. Last week a video surfaced showing University of Oklahoma members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon gleefully chanting: "You can hang him from a tree, but he'll never sign with me. There will never be a nigger at SAE." The chant, sung to the tune of "If You're Happy and You Know It," was apparently led by a Dallas Jesuit grad named Parker Rice; a graduate of Dallas' elite public Highland Park High School, Levi Pettit, also shows up on the video.
The video brought other recent events into sharp focus. Like the "border patrol" party University of Texas' chapter of Phi Gamma Delta (called "Fiji") threw last month, complete with students wearing faux military garb and ponchos, sombreros and construction hard hats. Or the Phi Delta Theta fraternity at Texas Tech University, which has since been suspended, that last year threw a party with the sign "No Means Yes, Yes Means Anal."