Does Sacramento State have a hazing problem in its Greek life? The school says no

News of a Sacramento State fraternity allegedly hazing its prospective members and abusing active members spread across the country last week.

The university started investigating Delta Chi after receiving a photo of four pledges doing a modified “elephant walk” – which typically involves men marching in a single-file line while holding the genitals of the man behind them – then sent the fraternity a cease-and-desist order after video of an active member bound to a wood table and gagged was shared with the media.

The allegations come a month after Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity was reinstated at Sacramento State. Pi Kappa Alpha was placed on probation in February 2018 after a Snapchat video surfaced of a pledge vomiting from intoxication and appearing to have a seizure, the student newspaper The State Hornet reported. Sacramento State then removed its recognition of the fraternity after its members violated their probation, only to reinstate the recognition in January with a probationary period running through May, university spokesman Brian Blomster said Wednesday.

Lambda Sigma Gamma, a sorority that focuses recruitment efforts on minority students, is also under investigation amid allegations it violated an undisclosed section of the university’s student organization handbook, Sacramento State interim director of student organizations and leadership Nicki Croly said.

The recent headlines are a change for Sacramento State’s Greek life, which doesn’t have the hard-partying image often associated with some other California universities.

“We’re not a party school,” said Beth Lesen, associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students. “If that’s what you’re looking for, I’m not sure that you’d wind up at Sac State to begin with. You’d probably pick some campus that has more of a reputation for being a party institution.”

About 1,400 Sacramento State students (roughly 4.7 percent of the student body) are involved with Greek life, a number that has barely fluctuated over the last five years, according to university statistics. For comparison, 12 percent of Chico State and 18 percent of California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo students belong to fraternities or sororities.

Sacramento State’s 16 fraternities and 21 sororities average 34 members per chapter, though some sororities have more than 100. There are no classic brick-and-ivy frat mansions; Alpha Phi sorority is the only Greek organization with a lettered house, a midtown Victorian.

Most students who join Sacramento State fraternities have fantasized about doing so before they even get to campus, Lesen said. That means they likely got their inspiration from hedonistic movies such as “Neighbors,” said David Easlick, a Michigan lawyer and hazing expert witness who served as executive director of Delta Kappa Epsilon for more than 20 years — the same fraternity that had nine Louisiana State University members arrested on hazing-related charges Thursday.

More than 95 percent of fraternities nationwide engage in practices that meet the Fraternal Information and Programming Group’s definition of hazing, Easlick estimated. That ranges from road trips and “engaging in public stunts and buffoonery” to physical shocks and forced alcohol consumption.

“It’s getting much, much, much worse ... it’s wanton servitude and so alcohol- and drug-imbued that I don’t even know how to deal with it sometimes,” Easlick said. “It’s gotta stop, or if it doesn’t stop that’s the end of the fraternities.”

Local fraternity Xi Phi Chi was suspended from Sacramento State in 2015 after school officials found pledges were tasked with completing a scavenger hunt including used women’s underwear, a large sex toy and a photo showing pledges drinking with “bums,” The State Hornet reported. Nationwide, 19 fraternity pledges have died from hazing in the last 10 years, including students at Fresno State and the University of Nevada, Reno.

Lesen and Croly defended Greek life’s role on Sacramento State’s campus, noting that its members combined to provide more than 31,000 hours of community service last year and raise nearly $200,000 for various charities. Members regularly develop lifelong friendships through fraternities and sororities, Lesen said, and turn to their chosen “brothers” and “sisters” to handle life’s curveballs.

“I would think that it’s worthwhile to keep them on campus just for the support they provide each other. That would be a good enough reason,” Lesen said. “But the 31,000 hours of community service is no joke. Our entire Sacramento community benefits from this group of people, and the money going to charity is a serious bonus.”

The Greek community could very well expand in years to come as Sacramento State tries to better engage students in campus life and veer away from its commuter school reputation. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been poured into seven new student housing complexes expected to open by summer 2021, which should provide an additional 4,000 beds around Folsom Boulevard and Highway 50.

Croly said she had no preference whether the Sacramento State’s Greek system grew or shrunk so long as it followed the student body’s natural course of interest. President Robert Nelsen, who has not yet publicly acknowledged the Delta Chi or Pi Kappa Alpha incidents, declined to comment about the university’s Greek life.

In its efforts to develop campus life, Sacramento State may want to consider a Greek row or Greek-only dorms — with resident advisers in every building, Easlick said. Such a decision would surely be met with pushback from members intent on keeping their chapter’s secrets, but hazing’s current frequency necessitates some sort of adult involvement, Easlick said.

Lesen, however, doesn’t see hazing as pervasive. Pledges are required to complete a standardized Sacramento State new member education program prior to initiation and can call (916) 278-6595 to report hazing violations. National organizations also often have ways to report hazing within specific chapters.

“We don’t have rampant hazing to my knowledge,” Lesen said. “I’m confident that when something happens, there’s a pretty high likelihood that someone’s going to come forward with it.”

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Benjy Egel covers local restaurants and bars for The Sacramento Bee as well as general breaking news and investigative projects. A Sacramento native, he previously covered business for the Amarillo Globe-News in Texas.