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A group calling itself Concerned Black Students criticized Duke Student Affairs and the student body for their “willful ignorance and complicity” of hazing in National Pan-Hellenic Council organizations at Duke.
Eight NPHC chapters, historically African American fraternities and sororities, currently exist at Duke, according to the Fraternity and Sorority Life website. Wednesday morning, Concerned Black Students sent a letter to Larry Moneta, vice president for student affairs, and other campus leaders about “the annual abuse of black students,” in reference to the pledging process of NPHC organizations.
“National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) organizations at Duke have had a long history of using mental, physical and emotional abuse as part of their pledging processes,” the letter stated. “Not only is this abuse illegal, it infringes on prohibitions on hazing set to protect all students at this university and contradicts everything we hold dear as an institution.”
The letter claimed that the University has attempted to cover up hazing in these organizations and requested that it instead serve sanctions to the organizations that commit hazing.
“If action is not taken, we are prepared to bring forth specific information on the practices of these organizations and the methods in which the University attempts to cover it up,” the letter stated.
Twenty minutes after the original letter was sent, Moneta refuted the group’s claims, stating in an email to the group that Duke has “no interest” in covering up hazing by any group. He added that the University has “always” taken hazing allegations seriously and cited past instances where student groups were held accountable.
“Nothing has changed and nothing will change,” Moneta wrote. “I regret that whomever you are, you felt need to use this communications method and have taken the position that Duke would rather hide evidence of hazing than take quick and decisive action.”
In a statement addressed to the “Black student community and the University,” senior Michael Ivory Jr., president of Black Student Alliance, wrote that he took the concerns seriously.
“There have indeed been reports of hazing on this campus that we cannot ignore and I do not turn a deaf ear to cries that we address these concerns,” he wrote. “It is more than not helpful, it is harmful to the present and futures of people we call our classmates, our friends and our students. We profess to offer every member of the Duke community a home, and we owe it to them to make good on this promise.”
Ivory added that he “adamantly and wholeheartedly” condemned hazing.
“If we will address the notions of trauma as it relates to Black identity honestly and productively, then this must be part of what we examine and handle,” he wrote.
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NPHC Executive Board President Taylor Ikner, a senior and another recipient of the letter, wrote that he recognizes the seriousness of the letter’s concerns. Ikner, a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc., wrote that NPHC will work with the University to address them.
‘Our community is suffering’
In a separate email to The Chronicle, Concerned Black Students wrote that secrecy and physical abuse plagues certain NPHC chapters. They called on the University community to “condemn the recruitment tactics” of these organizations in their letter.
The letter stated that whereas Interfraternity Council and Panhellenic Association chapters are complicit in hazing as well, hazing of black students is an “often ignored” but “badly kept secret” that “must be called out specifically.”
“It is spoken in hushed tones to maintain the high esteem in which these organizations are held not only at this campus but nationally,” the letter stated.
Concerned Black Students alleged in their email that covert hazing occurred in a number of NPHC chapters, including Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc., which released its newest members this weekend.
Senior Davan Bazil, second vice president of the NPHC executive board and a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc., could not be reached for comment at the time of publication.
Moneta wrote in his response that he knew of one NPHC chapter that was accused of hazing and that an investigation was underway “to hold accountable anyone found in violation of policies.”
Concerned Black Students noted in their email that Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., was under investigation. In a statement to The Chronicle Tuesday, the Duke chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. wrote that the sorority is not currently under investigation. Additionally, when The Chronicle contacted Moneta for confirmation and further comments on the group’s concerns, he declined to comment.
“I’m not going to comment at all on the letter,” Moneta wrote. “You saw my response. Allegations of hazing as of any violations of university policies is handled by the Office of Student Conduct.”
Stephen Bryan, associate dean of students and director of OSC, declined to comment. Azzie Conley, the advisor of Duke’s Delta Sigma Theta chapter, also had no comment to general inquiries about the sorority, which celebrated its 40th year on campus in 2015.
The letter called on administrators to further investigate hazing occurring in NPHC chapters as well as impose sanctions on chapters found to commit “violent methods of initiation.” Additionally, in an email to The Chronicle, Concerned Black Students wrote that “a full investigation of each organization is absolutely necessary.”
“Our peers are suffering. Our community is suffering. Our university is suffering and we are all complicit,” the letter stated.
Probates and probations
Unlike the IFC and Panhellenic Association intake processes, NPHC does not have a formal intake process, wrote Theresa Survillion, assistant director for Fraternity and Sorority Life, in an email.
Survillion, who is Fraternity and Sorority Life’s adviser for NPHC, noted that the public intake process begins with information sessions and NPHC Week, which includes NPHC 101, an event where prospective members are introduced to NPHC chapters.
Once a semester, each chapter has the opportunity to release a “line,” a term used to describe its new members. Chapters will hold a “probate” at the end of the process to publicly showcase their new members.
Any chapter interested in releasing a line has to attend a mandatory meeting with Survillion to go over University processes, timelines and expectations. She noted as part of the procedure, chapter advisers are required to sign paperwork, including grade releases and a timeline of events.
“Chapters are not required to do intake each semester but if they do, they have to meet with me and I walk them through policies and procedures,” Survillion wrote.
The timeline, she added, must include the dates for informational sessions, selection dates, the start date of a new member's official process and probate date. Furthermore, the entire process can last no longer than six weeks.
As part of each chapter’s intake approval process, Survillion wrote that chapter advisers are also required to sign an agreement to the hazing policy.
According to the Anti-Hazing Compliance Form, Level I hazing violations include line-ups, periods of silence, standing for a length of time and personal servitude. Level II violations of hazing include sleep deprivation, forced consumption of food and interruption or interference of academic commitments. Level III violations include paddling in any form.
“[Hazing is] any action taken or situation created, whether on or off University premises, that is harmful or potentially harmful to an individual’s physical, emotional or psychological well-being, regardless of an individual’s willingness to participate or its bearing on his/her membership status,” the form states.
Sanctions can be placed on members of the chapter and the chapter as a whole. Penalties include disciplinary probation, charter suspension, recruitment restrictions, removal of the individual from the organization, suspension and expulsion. Under North Carolina state law, hazing is also classified as a misdemeanor.
Despite current policies, Concerned Black Students felt that not enough University oversight was provided during the pledging process, prompting them to release the letter.
“We, concerned black students at Duke University, are shining a light on the physical, mental and emotional abuse of these pledging practices,” the letter stated. “What we have previously excused as secrecy we are now calling lethal silence, and what we continue to call hazing, we are now calling violence.”
Read the full letter from Concerned Black Students here:
Editor's note: This article was updated to include Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc.'s statement.