By Daniel Robillard || Investigative Reporter
The Delta Rho Chapter of Kappa Sigma fraternity at Franklin & Marshall College has been suspended for two years after the College received allegations that the organization hazed its new pledges in the Fall semester of 2019.
When Jacob Leoni entered F&M as a Sophomore transfer student in the Fall of 2019, he came in not knowing anyone. Leoni’s sister, an F&M alumnus, suggested that he join one of the College’s fraternities in order to meet new friends, and so he decided to rush Kappa Sigma fraternity.
Leoni, who spoke with The College Reporter in April, said that he knew there would be an initiation process before becoming a full member of the fraternity, but he didn’t quite know what to expect. “They originally said there would be some type of new member education,” Leoni told The College Reporter; however, they were also supposed to be formally initiated within two weeks after joining, he said.
“The first week wasn’t too bad. There was a lot of verbal yelling, mental banter,” Leoni said. Kappa Sigma brothers referred to their pledges as “routs,” and three fraternity brothers served as “pledge masters,” and ran most of the initiation process, although the entire fraternity was often present during and involved in the hazing process.
For the first couple of weeks, Leoni told The College Reporter, the pledges were made to do basic tasks, such as running errands, buying food, cigarettes, and Juul pods for brothers, and cleaning-up after parties held by the fraternity—at both their official fraternity house on College Avenue as well as the “unofficial” College Hill apartments of several Kappa Sigma brothers. In text messages shared with The College Reporter, pledges refer to the pledge masters as “sir” as they receive orders from them. “House needs cleaning be here 8:30 rout time,” one of the pledge masters texted the pledges.
However, after the first week or two, the hazing began to escalate beyond running errands and cleaning—although the pledges had to continue doing such tasks throughout the entire initiation process. “[Soon] it turned into physical work,” Leoni said. The pledges had to go into the attic or basement of Kappa Sigma’s fraternity house—which sits directly across the street from the College’s Shadek Fackenthal Library—and were made to lay on the floor with their hands at their sides and noses to the ground. The pledges were then forced to do sets of fifty pushups, “over and over and over again” for hours at a time, Leoni said.
Although physically demanding, it wasn’t for another couple of weeks that the fraternity’s hazing began to turn “quite uncomfortable,” Leoni told The College Reporter. The pledges would come to spend the cold fall nights in the basement of the fraternity house wearing just jeans and a white t-shirt, noses to the ground, doing sets of fifty pushups. “They have a hose down there and they just started putting that hose on us all night,” Leoni said. And while such nights in the Kappa basement were primarily orchestrated and carried out by the pledge masters, the entire fraternity would often be present as the pledges were being sprayed with the hose. “They’d spit on us, pour drinks on us,” Leoni told The College Reporter.
As the pledges would become increasingly fatigued from the long hours in the basement, the brothers from the fraternity’s previous pledge class would come hold the new pledges’ belts to keep them from hitting the ground. The pledge masters, Leoni said, also made one of the pledges wear a traffic cone on his head while they poured beer and spit chewing tobacco down it. Still, the worst of the hazing was yet to come.
“Then came hell-week,” Leoni told The College Reporter. “Then they really pushed the envelope.” Because they couldn’t make the pledges drink alcohol, the pledges were instead forced to race laps through the fraternity house and chug soda and milk in between, a combination which Leoni said was intended to cause the pledges to eventually vomit repeatedly. At one point, the pledge masters made a pledge get into a trashcan and forced the other pledges to vomit on top of him while most of the fraternity watched, Leoni said.
The initiation process for Kappa Sigma’s new pledges consumed most of their fall semester. Pledges could be “called out” at any time and would be expected to arrive immediately—whether it was to go get dinner for a pledge master or for another long night of pushups in the Kappa basement. In one group message shared with The College Reporter, a pledge master threatened the pledges with another set of fifty pushups for every minute one of their fellow pledges was late to arrive.
For most of the initiation process, pledges would often not return to their dorms from the fraternity house until well past 2:00 A.M. Previously an A/B student, Leoni said he ended up having to retake one of his early morning courses from the fall semester because he frequently missed class after spending long nights in the Kappa basement or attic.
Leoni described his experience enduring the fraternity’s hazing as being emotionally, physically, and psychologically draining, even traumatic at times. On several occasions during the process, Leoni said, some pledges broke down crying and almost gave up. Throughout the semester Leoni said that everyone would say after going through the pledging process you would come out the other side as part of a brotherhood with friends for life. “I didn’t realize how bad it was because I thought I was going to have friends from it,” Leoni told The College Reporter.
Instead, Leoni and his fraternity brothers eventually grew at odds; at one point, the fraternity suspended him due to an incident following a party and he wasn’t allowed to go to Kappa Sigma parties for several weeks after. Leoni said that he also increasingly felt that the fraternity brothers just wanted him for his money. Leoni told The College Reporter that seeing that there wasn’t a place for him in Kappa Sigma anymore led him to realize how significant the hazing had been during his fall semester as a pledge, and compelled him to go to the College with his allegations.
When he first went to the College with his allegations, they seemed to really care and expressed their sincere concerns, Leoni said. His College House Dean was especially supportive when he first came to her and they talked frequently. However, once the case shifted from his House Dean to the Office of Fraternity & Sorority Life and the Office of Student Affairs, Leoni felt like the College was only concerned about getting information from him and protecting their own liability and image. “They used me and then left me in the dark,” Leoni said.
Several College officials had already been aware of a potential hazing allegation coming up after the Delta Rho Chapter’s Executive Board gave them an advanced heads up about the possible allegation. After receiving the formal allegation of hazing, the College issued the Chapter a cease and desist letter, putting a pause on all of Kappa Sigma’s activities until the allegations could be further investigated. After completing several weeks of investigations—including a walk-through of the house by the Office of Fraternity & Sorority Life and F&M’s Department of Public Safety—the fraternity had their official hearing with the Office of Student Affairs and were issued a two-year suspension. Dean of Student Affairs Margaret Hazlett upheld the suspension after the fraternity submitted an appeal at the end of the spring semester.
“This was a pretty serious hazing incident,” Dean of Students Colette Shaw told The College Reporter. Shaw confirmed that the allegations of hazing against the fraternity included forced eating and drinking intended to cause pledges to vomit, having pledges vomit on other people, forced calisthenics, exposure to extreme temperatures, forced confinement in the fraternity house for long hours, and harassment of individuals, among other actions. During the investigation process, the fraternity confirmed to the College that the allegations of hazing during the fall 2019 semester had indeed taken place.
Two recent F&M alumni who were members of Kappa Sigma during the fall 2019 semester confirmed that the hazing described by Leoni took place and said that they had also gone through similar and even worse hazing when they were pledges. The alumni asked The College Reporter to remain anonymous as they are still close with many current members of the fraternity.
Shaw emphasized that the current Kappa Sigma Executive Board had been cooperative throughout the investigation process and had demonstrated their seriousness about eliminating hazing from the culture of their organization.
“When the allegations were brought to our attention the executive board and I decided unanimously that full cooperation with the school was the precedent that we wished to set, and as such, we committed to an honest and open approach in our discussions with the administration,” Kappa Sigma President Benjamin Cavalier told The College Reporter in an email on Saturday. “It was not a decision made in the interest of self-preservation; the behaviors alleged did not implicate current members and were not ongoing in our organization.”
Cavalier said that, by engaging transparently with the school, the fraternity hoped “to set the standard and lay the foundation for an environment in both Greek life and the greater F&M community where difficult topics and problematic behaviors can be discussed openly; an environment where problems can be addressed appropriately through preventative and constructive measures.”
Asked if the two-year suspension seemed relatively lenient in comparison to other suspensions, such as the Zeta Chapter of Chi Phi’s five-year suspension in 2019, Shaw pointed to the fact that Kappa Sigma’s alleged hazing occurred in the Fall of 2019. This means the class of fraternity members who experienced the hazing will have all graduated by the time the fraternity is eligible to return to campus—a benchmark the College uses in considering disciplinary actions for hazing, as members who experienced hazing are more likely to commit hazing themselves.
“The resulting two-year suspension following months of proactive discussion speaks for itself regarding Franklin and Marshall’s faith in student-led culture change, and we do not feel that the length or caliber of the outcome we received was warranted,” Cavalier said in his email. “We will take this time to continue improving as a chapter, and we look forward to returning to campus as a positive force in the student community.”
“I am optimistic about the chapter’s ability to do the work necessary to come back in good standing,” Shaw said after the College upheld the two-year suspension following an appeal to that suspension made by the fraternity.
When the hazing occurred, Kappa Sigma was still under disciplinary probation and required to have an adult advisor living in the house following a May 2018 Administrative Hearing that found the fraternity responsible for numerous violations of the F&M Student Code, including the F&M hazing policy.
Senior Daniel Robillard is an Investigative Reporter. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.