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Nelson explains UA’s decision to cancel pledgeship

Stephen N. Dethrage

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In a press conference held on the steps of Rose Administration Building Vice President for Student Affairs Mark Nelson said it was not the number of calls to the hazing hotline this year that resulted in this afternoon’s suspension of pledgeship in IFC fraternities, but the specificity of the anonymous allegations made in the last week. “It is very difficult to investigate cases of hazing that are reported through anonymous sources that are vague,” Nelson said. “The sources that have come in this week have been very specific and have enabled us to take swifter action.” Nelson also clarified that this was not a temporary suspension of pledgeship for those fraternities, but a permanent one for this year. “It’s not a suspension for fraternity pledging, pledgeship is now over for this year,” Nelson said. “Those fraternities that can induct base on their national guidelines are instructed now to induct and initiate, and those that need to wait for grades will be waiting for grades.” When asked if the people involved in hazing will face criminal charges, Nelson said the investigations are ongoing, and that local law enforcement would make that decision. Nelson also said the University was ready to take extreme measures against IFC fraternities that continued pledgeship underground or retaliated against their pledges. “We’ve made it very clear and sent a very strong message that retaliation will not be tolerated,” Nelson said. “Any retaliation will be met with the full force of the University.” Nelson added that the people who came forward and whose reports led to investigations of allegations of hazing did it out of concern for their health and safety reasons. The health of students, Nelson said, was the University’s first priority. “It’s difficult to say whether [the suspension and investigations] gives a black eye to the system,” Nelson said. “What I do want to make clear is that we are coming forward with these investigations and trying to be as transparent as possible because the safety and security of our students is our number one priority.” When asked if pledges in IFC fraternities had signed up to be hazed when they pledged those chapters, Nelson said they had not. “I don’t know anyone who wants to put their life in danger, and I’ll leave it at that,” he said. He added that the details of hazing allegations would remain confidential until the conclusion of the investigations into them. “It’s important that we keep the investigations confidential while they are ongoing, to protect the integrity of the investigation, and also to protect the safety of the students involved.” Nelson said the University would not change its hazing policies, because the policies in place were what allowed the administration to act as they did today. “The policies that were in place are the policies that have brought us to this point,” Nelson said. “The same policies that were in place under Dr. Witt’s administration and are carrying through under Dr. Bailey’s administration. ” Chancellor Robert Witt weighed in through an emailed statement, in which he said the suspension of pledgeship was necessary for the University. “I fully support the actions the University of Alabama has taken in suspending the pledge program,” Witt said in the statement. “This is necessary in order to fully investigate the allegations that have come in this week. I’m pleased that the procedures we put in place during my years as president continued to serve the institution well.” Jake Morrow, the rush chair of DKE, addressed those at the press conference after Nelson finished taking comments. “I thought it was a little ridiculous to be honest,” he said of today’s suspension. “I felt like having exercises, as the Vice President for student affairs said– our football team does exercises, I did exercises, I still do exercises, I feel like all students do exercises. I feel like for that to be considered hazing is absurd. I haven’t heard of any lightbulbs, bottlecaps or any of that with bows and toes.” Morrow also called into question any report that came into UA’s hazing hotline. “I also heard that the hazing hotline is all anonymous,” Morrow said. “I don’t understand somebody could, technically – anybody could call on the hazing hotline. Doesn’t have to be a greek member, could be anybody. I don’t see how that gives the credibility to say anything on the hazing hotline.” Morrow said the people who are really hurt by the end of the pledge program are the pledges themselves. “I’m not upset about not having pledgeship for my sake, I’m upset for the pledges,” Morrow said. “Basically, for my fraternity and I know a lot of others, is basically to get the pledge class together, have a brotherhood, that kind of thing, and I feel like it’s a little ridiculous that they’re taking that away from them. Morrow said at his chapter, no hazing took place. “There’s no hazing,” he said. “What we do is we like to teach DKE history. You learn the 20 chapters, you learn the years, you learn the founders, you learn certain things like that and you learn more about the house that you joined.” He added that activities like “bows and toes,” build brotherhood in a pledge class. “You just graduated high school, so you come to college, you’re a little immature, you got to learn new things, got to learn to do certain things,” he said. “When I was a newboy, I was very immature, my grades were terrible, I didn’t care about school, didn’t care about getting involved with internships and whatnot, and what doing certain things like that, which weren’t to the extent that was said, that’s something that you just experiences with your pledge brothers.” Morrow said he wanted to see the pledge class come back next year. “If they want to suspend it for the rest of the year that’s fine,” Morrow said. “I know for my newboys at least they all want to sign a letter saying that they want to do pledgeship anyway. There’s a lot of parents that still want them to go through pledgeship, there’s a lot of alumni that really want them to go through pledgeship.” Morrow chose not comment on whether or not DKE would change their initiation date in response to the end of pledgeship. He said he knew hazing in all forms was illegal. He also said accusations of alcohol-related hazing were unfounded. “I would say that the majority of people, if you’re in a fraternity, even if you’re not in a fraternity, it doesn’t matter. Nobody forces anybody to drink alcohol, you have your right to say no,” Morrow said. “We don’t provide alcohol to them”

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Nelson explains UA’s decision to cancel pledgeship