Illegal Fraternities May Have More Power Than Colleges

In this Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012 photo, a person walks on the University at Buffalo campus in Buffalo, N.Y. The New York Poli
In this Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2012 photo, a person walks on the University at Buffalo campus in Buffalo, N.Y. The New York Police Department monitored Muslim college students far more broadly than previously known, at schools far beyond the city limits, including the University at Buffalo, the Ivy League colleges of Yale and the University of Pennsylvania, The Associated Press has learned. (AP Photo/David Duprey)

A fraternity at the University at Buffalo dumped a pledge at the door of a medical center after he started to convulse during a hazing incident, and the school couldn't do anything to punish the frat responsible, according to a report from school newspaper, The Spectrum.

The reason, as a lengthy piece in the Spectrum explains, is that the fraternity, Sigma Alpha Mu, isn't recognized by the university. Once the pledge found out he was accepted as a brother of the frat, according to the report, he also recanted what he told police about the hazing.

The Spectrum laid out how, despite official bans, undergraduate fraternities continue to exist. While individual students could still face consequences for violating UB's code of conduct, if the university doesn't recognize the frat as an official Greek organization, it loses a lot of its authority to discipline the group as a whole, which becomes especially relevant around hazing.

According to the Spectrum, some houses at UB forced underage pledges to drink, doused pledges with hot sauce and spray paint, forced them to stay outside in cold temperatures with little to no clothing, to eat cat food, and to physically fight during hazing activities. But again, if it takes place at an underground fraternity, the school could only punish individuals it caught, not the entire fraternity.

UB is far from the only school facing this dilemma.

One of this year’s most talked about underground fraternities was Epsilon Iota at American University. Students have referred to the unrecognized frat as “rapey," and in April, AU students petitioned and protested for EI members to be punished, after a series of damaging emails leaked.

Some private colleges are making an effort to actually fight illegal fraternities by making student involvement a punishable offense.

In 2013, Lafayette College prohibited student association with off-campus fraternities following the alcohol-related death of freshman Everett Glenn, who had attended recruiting events that were organized by unrecognized fraternities.

Last month, Amherst College similarly announced its decision to forbid students from joining Greek organizations, which had been banned for three decades. Violations could result in expulsion from the school.

However, as Joshua Sheffer of Washington D.C. legal firm School Hazing Law put it to the Spectrum, "A lot of the times, unfortunately, nothing really happens until somebody gets really hurt."

Which seems to be the conclusion Lisa Khoury, the author of the Spectrum article, has about the underground frat situation.

"I was also shocked after interviewing officials from [the headquarters of] all five of the illegal [fraternities at UB]," Khoury told the College Media Matters blog. "They were very defensive and each pointed the finger at why the University at Buffalo should be the one to shut down these groups. And then when I spoke to UB, they pointed the finger at the headquarters. There was a clear disconnect: Nobody was taking it upon themselves to take an aggressive approach and shut these groups down."