Boston University and its Police Department are investigating whether some 20 members and pledges of the Sigma Delta Tau sorority and members of an unrecognized, off-campus fraternity engaged in hazing, a violation of college rules and the law, by forcing or encouraging underage women to drink, even to the point of hospitalization.
On March 3, BU police stopped three male students carrying women down an Allston street. They called an ambulance for the women, at least one of whom was heavily intoxicated.
The school has temporarily suspended the sorority while it investigates. Kenn Elmore, the dean of students, said the college was also investigating “about seven current sorority members, the same number of new members, and five to seven fraternity members’’ as individuals, either for hazing or underage drinking.
“We have an accusation and a quick judgment that there may have been some hazing,’’ Elmore said Wednesday. “We want to give people the opportunity to be heard. But in the meantime, we just don’t want this organization to continue operating before getting to a final conclusion.’’
Elmore added: “These students have to be held accountable, even if, in the end, we determine that some of them were forced to do some things they didn’t want to do. We still need to ask them, in essence, ‘What were you thinking?’ ’’
The hazing allegation follows several student scandals at BU in recent months. Two members of the hockey team have been arrested on sexual assault charges, a development that led to the students’ suspension and the formation of a task force. Female students have also reported peeping toms in dormitory showers three times since January.
But hazing has not been a major issue on campus or at least one that has drawn the attention of administrators. The school has not disciplined a student group for hazing in more than a decade, Elmore said.
“What’s especially disappointing is that back in January, I met with all the presidents of our fraternities and sororities - and the captains of our athletic teams, and the heads of the social groups - to talk specifically about hazing,’’ he said. “We had what I thought was a good and candid conversation. I think I used the words ‘human dignity’ more than I’ve ever used them in my life.’’
Hazing is prohibited by BU’s student conduct policy and Massachusetts law, and BU spokesman Colin Riley said a police investigation is now underway.
Sigma Delta Tau’s national organization also prohibits hazing and has notified BU that it will consider disciplinary action against the school’s chapter. The organization’s executive director, Ann Braly, said in a statement: “Sigma Delta Tau National Sorority does not tolerate hazing of any kind. . . . The alleged actions do not reflect Sigma Delta Tau’s mission and values and are not representative of our membership.’’
BU’s governing body for sororities e-mailed members March 8 to note the sorority’s suspension.
“This is a serious issue, and the Panhellenic Council is not treating this matter lightly, and neither should any of you,’’ the e-mail read.
The alleged incident at BU is not as severe as recent accounts of hazing at other schools.
In November, a student in the Florida A&M University marching band died after being hazed. In December, two Andover high school students were expelled, and at least five others were kicked off the basketball team after reports of a hazing incident in which two underclassmen were forced to play a humiliating game involving a bodily fluid.
Hazing has also been the talk of the campus at Dartmouth College in recent weeks. The school is investigating graphic allegations made by a former fraternity member, tales so extreme that some faculty members have called for the dissolution of single-sex Greek organizations altogether, even with fraternity members insisting the accusations are overblown.
In comparison, student reaction to the allegations at BU has been relatively muted so far. Some students who took to Twitter over the issue expressed only mild exasperation.
One questioned whether the incident signified anything larger about the campus. “I think BU does a great job keeping hazing to a minimum,’’ wrote one graduate student.Mary Carmichael can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.