Behind the suspension of the MIT Delta Upsilon fraternity
When MIT’s Technology Chapter of the Delta Upsilon fraternity was suspended this past April, there was no clear indication of the cause to outsiders. Other than the vague “inappropriate behavior” mentioned in a press release, neither Delta Upsilon International nor MIT explained why they were shutting down the chapter for two years.
That all changed with the chapter’s “Save MIT DU” campaign. In a surprisingly transparent move, brothers publicly released documents revealing their account of the chapter’s secret initiation rituals, their growing distance from their international fraternity, and the role MIT played in their suspension.
The documents described a DU International investigation that unearthed incidents of hazing, including sleep deprivation and “personal servitude.” Other allegations, such as “public nudity” and “urination on [new] members,” were left unconfirmed by the investigation.
Brothers of the chapter referred to many of these as “ridiculous, untrue allegations.” Although several agreed that their secret rituals violated DU and MIT’s hazing policies, they maintained that nothing was illegal. One brother said that “everyone was treated with dignity and honor.”
The investigation, prompted by an anonymous complaint against the fraternity, had turned into what the brothers called their “worst nightmare.”
The brothers appealed to their international fraternity in the summer, saying the investigation and punishment were unfair. A board of trustees heard the case, but denied their petition.
What follows is a look at the hazing investigations that took the DU chapter by surprise, and a rare glimpse into the traditions and inner workings of a 120-year-old MIT fraternity.
It started with a surprise visit by a former brother.
During the third week of the 2014 spring semester, Descartes A. Holland ’17 came into the chapter’s house visibly shaking. He had depledged from the chapter just weeks before, but now had something new to share.
MIT officials had contacted him for questioning regarding DU with an unsettling sense of urgency. They had called his phone twice when he didn’t pick up at first. Louis R. DeScioli ’14, the fall 2014 president of the chapter, recalled that they had even called Holland’s housemaster at MacGregor.
“It was extremely unprofessional what they did to me,” Holland told The Tech in an interview. He was told to immediately go to an administrative building for questioning. “I asked why, [but] they wouldn’t answer,” said Holland. “They said I had to come in immediately.”
Holland met with Adam McCready, then the assistant director of fraternities, sororities and independent living groups (FSILGs), and Kevin Kraft, the director of student citizenship. He was asked about the chapter’s pledge program, alcohol consumption, and the Help Week that new members participate in each year during IAP. As far as he remembers, Holland was left in the dark about what the administrators were investigating.
“It seemed like they were hiding or withholding how much they knew about the fraternity in general,” said Holland. “They were asking me very specific questions.”
Although the interview would be Holland’s last involvement in the investigation, MIT had just begun contacting brothers and pledges. The FSILG office reached out next to Nathan Min ’14, the chapter’s pledge trainer, and Guillaume G. Kugener ’15, the chapter’s president at the time.
MIT’s Kraft and McCready told the two not to talk about their meeting with the other brothers, according to the former president DeScioli. But they did.
DeScioli doesn’t feel they were wrong in doing so. “If [someone] accused a family of crime, you would still talk to your other family members,” he said. “MIT [was] going so far beyond what would be all right in an actual case in the real world.”
DeScioli met with the FSILG office himself a day later on Feb. 21. “It was really aggressive,” he said, comparing the experience to “being treated like a child.”
At the time, though, the brothers said they didn’t know why they were being questioned. Only later would they discover that the investigation had been prompted by an anonymous hazing complaint submitted to the FSILG office on Feb. 8.
An MIT spokesman declined to comment on the questioning to maintain the confidentiality of the process.
MIT reportedly told the chapter to notify the alumni corporation and their international fraternity of the investigation, but the chapter failed to comply. DeScioli said their first instinct was to handle it themselves: “We’re not going to tell our alumni president because there’s nothing here.”
DeScioli said it was “so stupid in hindsight” for them to not have informed their alumni president. When he found out about the investigation through MIT and not the brothers, the alumni president was understandably “really angry,” said DeScioli.
Kale T. Rogers ’16, another DU brother, agreed: “Our initial reaction, which was bad, I think, in the light of the administration’s eyes, [was that] we didn’t understand what was happening, so we kind of coiled in.”
On Feb. 26, MIT took its own action. McCready notified DU International of the ongoing investigation, concerning charges of “forced consumption of alcohol, forced water consumption, sleep deprivation, personal servitude, public nudity, and urination on [new] members,” according to a DU report that the chapter obtained and released as part of their “Save MIT DU” campaign.
That same day, Justin Kirk, the executive director of DU International, issued a temporary “emergency” suspension while an investigation was underway, citing “serious violations of the Fraternity’s Loss Prevention Policy,” which is a set of rules governing parties and fraternity events.
It had been eight days since Holland, the former pledge, was questioned.
DU International enters the picture
A day after DU International had learned of the allegations from MIT and responded with a temporary suspension, it formally notified the chapter of the alleged violations of its Loss Prevention Policy and requested a response within the next 36 hours.
Kugener responded on behalf of the chapter with a 10-page letter, including the timeline of events, a response to the alleged charges, and the chapter’s recommendations for the future, including making the house alcohol-free.
The brothers also denied most of the allegations, and said that they didn’t intentionally haze any members. Not knowing the exact incidents mentioned in the anonymous complaint, they kept their comments vague.
DU continued with its formal investigation, though, and from March 4 to 5, the Executive Director Kirk and the Associate Executive Karl Grindel visited MIT’s campus to interview the chapter’s newest members, its VP of recruitment, and its president, as well as several MIT administrators.
Kirk and Grindel conducted interviews in a room provided by MIT, according to an email from Dean for Student Life Chris Colombo. In the email, Colombo emphasized that MIT had no involvement in DU’s investigation other than sharing the initial complaint with them, which is standard MIT policy.
Kirk, on the other hand, told The Tech a slightly different story, in which DU had maintained “regular and consistent contact with the [FSILG] staff (including the Dean of Students, Chris Colombo).”
Following the investigation, Grindel filed a report for DU International on the findings, confirming several violations of their Loss Prevention Policy:
— allowing alcohol to be served to members under the age of 21
— participation in drinking games
— alcohol included in new members activities
— personal servitude
— sleep deprivation
— other hazing activities
The report included a plan for the chapter’s future, which outlined a suspension followed by a spring 2016 recolonization. Both DU and MIT agreed on the timeline, said Kirk.
In the report, DU also requested the alumni raise $30,000 for the recolonization, as well as an additional $150,000 for the DU Educational Foundation Legacy Plan. According to DU’s website, the money would go toward funding scholarships after the chapter’s recolonization.
The report was immediately shared with David Latham, the alumni president of the chapter. As instructed by DU, Latham did not share the report with the brothers.
The brothers would receive the report over four months later on July 10. According to Kirk, though, the international fraternity’s “due process was followed,” and it had been the first time the chapter had requested the report.
Secret rituals of initiation
“It’s a shit ton of fun,” said DeScioli.
For him, the initiation process was one that the chapter had built into a 70-year tradition unique to the Technology Chapter. DeScioli called it a “voluntary act” and a process that the brothers actively sought to improve each year through feedback.
The secret initiation happens during the last week of every IAP. In what the brothers call Help Week, new members live in the house and clean the common areas while setting their own work schedule.
In DU’s investigation, a majority of the new members confirmed that the condition of the house this year was “vile, with overflowing trash barrels, food debris, clogged toilets, beer cans, spray painted walls, [holes] in the walls, and other abnormal conditions.” Some interviewees said this was normal for the house during IAP, while others said it was the result of a party thrown the night before Help Week started.
Both DU and the chapter confirmed that a brother had spray-painted walls of the house the night before new members were to paint over the walls. Although the chapter allegedly held the brother accountable, Kugener admitted that they could have taken “more formal disciplinary steps.”
“While we did not believe there was any real harm done at the time since the walls were being painted,” wrote Kugener in the letter, “we now see how it could have looked and we regret giving the impression that we were trying to make the new members work harder during Help Week.”
An event called Larry Legend marks the end of Help Week and lasts approximately 20 hours. During the event, the house is kept pitch black, and the windows are covered with cardboard and tinfoil. The new members are escorted to a bedroom on the third floor, where they spend the night.
Both DU and the chapter agreed that cell phones and watches were taken away from the new members this year. Although DU considered this confiscation an “intentional disorientation of pledges,” it recognized that none of the pledges interviewed were reportedly disturbed by it.
That evening, new members were told to study for a pledge exam the next morning and write an essay about why they should be initiated into DU.
The new members also needed permission from two brothers standing outside the room if they wanted to use the bathroom or drink water.
The new members were then woken up at 6 a.m. for the pledge exam and to review their essays with the brothers. They were given several more hours to sleep that morning interspersed between other pledge activities, which included a seven-course meal put on by the brothers.
According to DU’s official pledge program, the new members were already brothers at this time, having already been initiated the past December.
“The Technology Chapter’s decision to hold a second, non-sanctioned, secret ritual was a clear violation of one of DU’s founding principles,” said DU’s Kirk. “Since its beginning, Delta Upsilon’s aims have been open, honest and direct and not shrouded in secrecy.”
MIT also requires all fraternities’ pledge programs last no longer than 12 weeks, ending on Dec. 4, as part of a policy introduced shortly before.
A closer look at the allegations
Throughout DU International’s investigation, a major question was the involvement of alcohol at initiation events.
Although Kugener and DeScioli originally admitted during a conference call with DU that the chapter had served alcohol at new member events, they later denied the allegations in their formal response, according to DU.
In the response, however, Kugener did admit that individual members of legal drinking age had served underage students with “alcohol purchased with their own money.”
The interviewees in DU’s investigation had varied accounts of alcohol consumption at pledge activities, but generally agreed that it had been available. Two members said that beer was served to some new members at the final initiation event, Larry Legend, and two others acknowledged the presence of wine during the event.
Through the investigations, DU also learned of an alcohol-related incident at an unregistered event at the chapter on Jan. 18 in which a new member “fell, hit his head, lost consciousness, and received a large laceration on his forehead.” Both the new member who was injured and another interviewee confirmed the injury.
The chapter did not contact MIT’s Emergency Medical Services at the time, although the new member was later diagnosed with a concussion.
DU also discovered that new members had participated in a day-long scavenger hunt around Boston during the fall, despite scavenger hunts being explicitly banned by DU.
Grindel further took the report as an opportunity to mention the disconnect between the chapter and the international fraternity.
“There is no understanding or connection to Delta Upsilon in the chapter experience,” wrote Grindel. “The Chapter President had never heard of the Chapter Excellence Plan,” a metric upon which all chapters are evaluated.
According to the report, the Technology Chapter had sent only one member to the DU’s educational programs in the previous 12 months, whereas the average chapter had sent 12. The chapter had also raised no money for DU’s Global Service Initiative.
“Part of why we appeared so negative is [that] we hadn’t taken a part as much in those programs, and it’s because we get more value from what MIT teaches us … rather than what [DU thinks] they’re offering their members,” said DeScioli.
In the report, Grindel also suggested that the chapter was less than cooperative during the investigation, saying there was “strong suspicion that the [new] associate members were coached on what to say [in the interviews].”
As set forth by DU, brothers of the chapter had the opportunity to defend themselves in person. On April 4, two members of the chapter went to Indianapolis to appear before the Board of Directors.
There, the brothers presented a plan for a complete transformation of the chapter — they would remove the pledge program, turn the chapter into an alcohol-free house, and build a stronger relationship with DU International.
After hearing the proposal, though, the Board of Directors immediately chose to suspend the chapter. The chapter was notified on April 16 of the two-year suspension, and all current members were placed on alumni status.
MIT subsequently withdrew its recognition of the chapter the same day and notified the undergraduates, parents, and alumni associated with the chapter. Students were given the opportunity to live in on-campus housing.
According to the chapter, their first meeting with either MIT or Delta Upsilon to discuss the suspension as an entire chapter didn’t happen until April 20. Bob Ferrara, Interim Director of the FSILG office, came to their house on behalf of MIT.
With nothing else to lose, the chapter chose to appeal DU’s decision “on grounds of lack of due process and disproportionally [sic] of the punishment,” according to their “Save MIT DU” website.
On July 31, the chapter sent 11 undergraduates and five alumni — the most they had ever sent — to the DU Leadership Institute in Kansas City, Missouri, where the appeal would be heard. With only two other appeals in the past decade, there was not much precedent to follow.
In preparation, the brothers had just days before published online all the documents that they had collected from the investigation, in what appeared to be an attempt to garner public support. MIT’s files from its investigation were notably missing from the website, as MIT had declined brothers’ requests to see them.
The website, which has since been taken down, was titled “Save MIT DU.”
In Kansas City, DeScioli laid out the chapter’s case before DU’s Board of Trustees, which consists of roughly 70 alumni representing all the chapters. The entire hearing took 50 minutes and included a presentation from the Board of Directors, who had made the original decision to suspend the chapter.
The trustees debated whether to overturn the suspension when MIT could act independently and possibly come back with even stricter sanctions, according to a recording of the hearing obtained by The Tech.
“We don’t necessarily believe that [leaving it up to MIT] will result in lesser sanctions,” said DeScioli, but he said the original investigations had had “a certain lack of justice” to their process and that a second investigation by MIT could allow them to have a fair trial.
Several trustees were uneasy about reversing the suspension and the effects of reopening the case. Since DeScioli had noted earlier that he thought other MIT fraternities had similar unsanctioned events, James Bell, a former member of DU’s Loss Prevention Committee, worried the chapter might “be made an example of” by MIT. “I do not feel that, given that court, we will get a fair shake,” he said.
The current chairman of the Loss Prevention Committee, Jordan Lotsoff, focused on the liability the chapter posed for DU, saying DU could “not turn a blind eye” on the chapter’s actions and that the possibility of a lawsuit was “one of the major things that the [Board of Directors] was aware of and took into account at the time” of the decision.
DeScioli maintained that DU should turn over the decision to MIT. Although he agreed that the outcome could possibly be worse for the chapter, he described it as a cause worth fighting for.
Despite the attempts of the Technology Chapter, the appeal was denied by a 43-to-9 vote, and the realities of the suspension have stuck with the brothers. They were forced to find new housing after this summer, and none of them will be allowed to return even once the chapter has recolonized.
DeScioli described the stress that the brothers faced last spring semester while trying to handle both school and the investigations. “Two of [the brothers] got F’s,” he said. “I think four or five of us got D’s.”
Rogers finds the situation especially unfortunate for the pledge class at the time of the investigation. “I feel very poorly, especially for the people who were considered hazed in this,” said Rogers. “And the fact that they are no longer allowed to live in the house and enjoy some of the benefits of DU that made them join in the first place … is something that, I think, really hurts all of us.”
Rogers, who served as the IFC events chair in addition to being a brother, recently joined the MIT Division of Student Life’s Hazing Prevention and Education Committee and hopes to increase transparency in future MIT investigations.
He said the school is actively looking to make changes to the process. There are already plans to have the FSILG office no longer conduct investigations itself, according to Rogers. Instead, the investigations will fall under a separate committee, allowing the FSILG office to focus more on being the advisor to living groups.
“It’s hard to be the advisor and the executioner,” quipped DeScioli.
MIT declined to comment on the investigation to The Tech, but Rogers said that a few administrators had “mentioned [to him that] it was a muddy process.”
Rogers believes that MIT is trying to learn from its investigation. “I very much think that these [FSILG] changes have come about because of the recognition that our process wasn’t handled in the best way, for either side.”
As it stands, the chapter is suspended for 18 months, or until October 2015. The recommended timeline is to have the chapter recolonize in spring 2016 with alumni raising $30,000 for an expansion.
MIT is guaranteeing the chapter’s return in spring 2016 provided that there are advisors to assist with the recolonization, according to a DU staff member.
Meanwhile, the brownstone at 526 Beacon Street has transformed from a lively fraternity into the home of a dozen MIT graduate students, mostly from Russia’s Skolkovo Tech. One even has a baby. “[It’s] kind of hilarious and slightly disturbing to think about a baby growing up in a fraternity house,” said DeScioli.