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Fraternity gets five-year suspension

The Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity will be absent from Western Carolina University’s roster of Greek life opportunities until 2020, following a February incident in which a PKA pledge claimed to be waterboarded by his fraternity brothers.

According to a report from university police, the victim — privacy laws prevent WCU from naming him or any of the other students involved — was at the apartment of one of the fraternity brothers at 2 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 21, when one of the students, who had been drinking, broke a chair and then instructed the victim to put it back together. The student “got in [the victim’s] face,” according to the report, cussing, yelling and then instructing him to do push-ups after slapping him across the face. 

That next Thursday at 11 p.m., the victim was at another apartment complex to participate in fraternity events with his brothers, according to the police report. There, one of the brothers took the water hose from the sink, put it in the victim’s mouth, and told him to recite the fraternity’s preamble while the water was running. Another pledge who was present was made to do the same thing. A fraternity brother was holding one of the pledge’s faces so that he couldn’t turn away, the police report said, keeping it up until the pledge was struggling to recite the words — which, incidentally, are heavy on talk of  “the promotion of brotherly love and kind feeling” and “the establishment of friendship.”

It wasn’t until the next day that the victim contacted police. That’s when the victim had gone to the fraternity house on Edgewater Road to speak with the fraternity brother who had been involved in the previous night’s events. The student apologized, the report said. 

“[The victim] was attempting to leave when an unknown alumni sat down in the passenger seat of his vehicle,” the report said. “The alumni asked him, ‘Who the hell do you think you are?’ As he was attempting to drive away, the unknown alumni kept grabbing the gear shift of the car and knocking it out of gear.”

The victim said he had no physical signs of injury and declined to press charges. But the university took action of its own. 

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“The behaviors exhibited by members of the Zeta Xi chapter of Pi Kappa Alpha are not in any way indicative of the values of Western Carolina University,” said Chancellor David O. Belcher in a written statement. “While we appreciate the many positive contributions that Greek-letter organizations add to campus life, we absolutely will not tolerate behaviors that put the health and safety of students at risk.”

As long it retains support from the national organization, the chapter can still continue to operate at its off-campus house. But for the next five years, it will have to do so without university support. 

“When a fraternity or sorority chapter is not recognized, the organization is prohibited from participating in university activities and using resources,” explained university spokesman Bill Studenc. “For example, an unrecognized chapter cannot reserve meeting rooms, does not get to participate on the chapter’s governing council, intramural programs, university-coordinated recruitment activities [called ‘rush’] or the services provided by the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life.”

Unrecognized chapters also are ineligible for funding from the Student Government Association. 

This is not the first time that PKA has gotten in trouble at WCU. In April 2010, the chapter was found guilty of violating the university’s code of conduct on multiple counts, including violation of a probation sanction, social event policies, recruitment policies and GPA requirements, Studenc said. 

“The university removed recognition of the chapter for two years, recommended a brotherhood review and directed a plan for success be updated,” Studenc said. 

The chapter reapplied for recognition in the fall of 2012 but was denied because it did not fully comply with the sanctions. But in 2014, the chapter applied once again. Because much of its membership had turned over since 2010, it could no longer comply with the outstanding sanctions and the suspension was lifted. 

According to Brent Phillips, the national organization’s marketing officer, the fraternity had not received any complaints about the Zeta Xi chapter until now. The organization is also not yet prepared to make a statement about the recent suspension. 

“Details of the alleged incident have not been disclosed to the international fraternity, so we do not have a basis for support or defense of the university’s decision,” he said. 

Once all the information comes in, he said, the board of directors will make a “long-term” decision about the chapter’s status in the organization, though he did not have an estimate of when such a decision might take place. 

“It really depends on the circumstances,” he said of the timeline.

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