Fraternity Phi Delta Theta Loses Recognition Due to Hazing

Fraternity Phi Delta Theta Loses Recognition Due to Hazing

By Cannon Barnett, Reporter

Jan. 13, 2023 – The Phi Delta Theta Washington Epsilon fraternity is no longer recognized by Eastern Washington University after being found responsible for hazing and related violations, according to an email that students received from the university.

In November 2022, an anonymous student reported to both EWU and the University Police Department that Phi Delta Theta had engaged in hazing. Hazing is considered a misdemeanor under Washington State law, and according to Sam Armstrong Ash, EWU’s Dean of Students is the only conduct code violation that results in an immediate loss of recognition.

The university began an investigation as soon as they received the report, Armstrong Ash said.

“When we receive [these] reports we take those extremely seriously. We look at all the different angles of who needs to be involved, what interim measures do we need to take, what supports do we need to provide a student, what information do we have, what information do we need,” she said.

The police report documenting the original hazing concern in November alleged that Phi Delta Theta had “18 students drink over 13 cases of beer in under 30 minutes, physical intimation while answering questions, and ‘wall sits’ for wrong answers.” The university has not provided more information on the allegations themselves to protect individuals’ privacy. At the time of the report, the reporting student did not wish to proceed with a criminal investigation. The police report is discussed in greater detail here.

Generally, if a university investigation uncovers evidence against a party, the university can proceed with a conduct hearing board or a one-on-one. Alternatively, the student or organization can opt to take responsibility for the allegations against them. Phi Delta Theta opted to take responsibility after the investigation, according to Armstrong Ash.

This concession means that the fraternity automatically has its recognition status suspended by the university for a period of time. They will no longer be able to participate in campus activities as a fraternity under this condition, nor will they have the support of student leadership. 

Currently, the fraternity is in an appeal period, which has the potential to influence how long it remains unrecognized. According to Stacey Reece, Director of Student Rights and Responsibilities, this period will be open until Jan. 31st, and if an appeal is submitted, the sanctions applied to the fraternity may change. Unless they appeal, Armstrong Ash has said they will have lost recognition through the end of the spring term.

Having lost the university’s recognition does not necessarily mean that the fraternity will shut down. It is up to the national Phi Delta Theta headquarters whether or not the local chapter in question will remain in operation, and whether or not any individuals will undergo a membership review. Armstrong Ash stresses the importance of the national organization’s approach to handling this for all students on campus.

“We really want to work closely with national organizations as much as possible because it is a risk to our students, and to the institution, to have unrecognized groups that we don’t have any authority over,” she said. “The minute they lose their recognition, I may have authority over you as an individual but I do not have any ability to address the group anymore, because [they’re] not recognized.”

The national headquarters for Phi Delta Theta did not immediately return The Easterner’s request for comment over the weekend. 

Armstrong Ash said that hazing is difficult to address at the college level because of the widespread acceptance of hazing behaviors in our society. She brings up the comparison of having a little sibling, and making them do chores in order to hang out with you — a behavior that would technically be hazing in the eyes of the university, but socially accepted.

“This is something in our society that we continue to grapple with. Like, how do we hit it from all different angles, because it’s not one thing that is going to solve this for us,” she said. “We’ve got to hit it legally. We’ve got to hit it with conduct. We’ve got to hit it with education. We’ve got to provide spaces where people are learning a lot of other ways to do things. How to engage in team building and not be lazy about it. How to use your voice.”

Armstrong Ash says that hazing in part stems from people’s lack of conversations surrounding consent, relationships, and boundaries.

“Oftentimes, the people doing the behavior are in the camp of  ‘oh, it didn’t matter to me, it was no big deal to me,’ well dang it, I need you to think about somebody else! We don’t all think the same. We don’t all operate the same. We don’t all have the same body chemistry. We don’t all have the same abilities. We have to start thinking about people other than ourselves,” She said.

Sam’s law, an anti-hazing law that grew out of the hazing-related death of 19-year-old Sam Martinez, has caused EWU to ramp up its hazing prevention efforts since its establishment in 2022. This includes education for the whole campus through a program called, “Get inclusive hazing prevention,” and what Armstrong Ash called “essentially mini-grants” to organizations for healthy team-building exercises, such as custom Epic Adventure trips, or hiring someone to come and play improv games with the group.

“There are incredible ways to build a team that don’t put someone in harm’s way,” Armstrong said.

This article has been updated to reflect that the university cannot take legal action through the conduct process.