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Frat disbanded by national organization

WCUWestern Carolina University’s chapter of Pi Kappa Alpha has had its share of troubles this year, and a recent decision from the national fraternity’s board of directors adds suspension — and a recommendation to eventually revoke the chapter’s charter — to the list.

“It was in relation to just general activities,” said Brent Phillips, senior marketing officer for the fraternity. “I won’t comment on specific incidents. However, the operations of the chapter in total were reviewed.”

A June 24 letter to the university said the suspension was due to violation of fraternity “standards,” and while Phillips wouldn’t talk about the specifics of the board’s decision, it’s safe to say that it likely had something to do with a pair of unrelated incidents during the spring semester that resulted in the university suspending the chapter for five years and assault charges filed against two PKA members. 

The first incident, which took place in February, involved a pledge who claimed that his fraternity brothers threatened him and forced him to recite the frat’s preamble while holding a running water hose to his mouth. 

As a result of an investigation into the incident — which did not result in any criminal charges — the university decided April 16 to pull its recognition of the chapter for five years. That meant that PKA could not participate in university events, have an on-campus house, use university facilities for events or generally access any university resources typically available to student organizations. But the frat still had the recognition of the national organization and so could operate off-campus. 

PKA came into the spotlight once more when, two days after the suspension, multiple frat brothers allegedly ganged up on freshman Zachary Denson, who was not a member of the frat, giving him a severe concussion, a nose broken in two places and numerous other injuries. According to Zach’s father Robert, he had come sober to the off-campus party straight from photography class to pick up a friend who needed a ride and was on his way out of the house when he accidentally knocked another student’s beer. In moments, four guys were allegedly on top of him. Two of them — Walter Conger and Blake Pierce — have been charged with assault. The others were not charged because he couldn’t prove their identity, Robert said. 

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PKA member Fran Carelli, meanwhile, said that Denson was intoxicated and had thrown the first punch, contending that PKA should not be held responsible for the incident as the alleged assault was the actions of “a few bad apples” and not even at an official PKA function. 

On April 20, the national fraternity handed the chapter a temporary suspension, prohibiting them from getting together except for official meetings. 

According to the fraternity’s constitution, more permanent suspensions can be given only at the board of director’s quarterly meetings, and a chapter’s charter can be revoked only at its biennial convention. The next convention is scheduled for summer 2016, with the board already recommending a revocation according to a letter the fraternity sent WCU. 

The chapter will remain inactive until further notice. Its members will show up as alumni on the national fraternity’s rolls, and the chapter won’t be able to meet for anything associated with PKA or use its brand marks. They won’t be covered under the fraternity’s liability insurance and will lose their status as a nonprofit. 

But PKA won’t necessarily be forever gone from Cullowhee. According to student dean Kevin Koett, WCU has “affirmed our support” of allowing the chapter to one day reform under “mutually agreed upon conditions.”

“We want to celebrate the positive contributions of our Greek communities while holding them accountable for behaviors that are inconsistent with our tenants and that give Greek life a negative reputation,” Koett said in a written statement. 

It’s been an eventful year for PKA at WCU, but 2015 is not the first time that the fraternity has had trouble in Cullowhee. The university also suspended the chapter in 2010, finding it guilty of violating social event and recruitment policies, GPA requirements and a probation sanction. The chapter finally got its status back in spring 2014, just a year before losing it again. 

But that doesn’t necessarily point to any systemic problem with the fraternity, Phillips said. 

“That’s a whole generation of undergraduates that had cycled through there (between 2010 and 2014),” Phillips said. “Conditions change.”

It’s rare for the fraternity to suspend one of its chapters, Phillips said, and the majority of PKA’s 220 chapters and colonies are “doing very well and living up to our standards.”

“Really our purpose here is to help develop young men into leaders,” he said. “When we go back in, we want to make sure we have conditions set where they’re going to have the best opportunity for success.”

According to Robert Denson, however, both the frat and the university have their work cut out for them. 

“When you’ve got these thugs waterboarding initiants and torturing young students, you’ve had an out-of-control deal for a long time,” he said. “Your charter was suspended in 2010, you just got it back, and you’re up to the same crap already.”

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