Joining a fraternity is not a right. It’s a privilege. What that means is that you have the right to pledge a fraternity, but it is not a given that you will become a member. Just like everything else in this world, that should be earned. In the fall of 2013, Derek Elrod wanted to make that passage to become a fraternity member.
Elrod had transferred to the University Of North Texas where the brothers of Sigma Phi Epsilon had spent time with Derek and extended him a bid. Derek signed the card. What Derek did not anticipate was the process that would ensue. On bid day, the pledges were taken to the fraternity house to celebrate. According to Elrod, that’s when things turned south for him.
According to police reports obtained by ThinkProgress, Elrod called 911 around 3 p.m. to report hazing, telling UNT police that SigEp’s then-President, Richard Randall, forced pledges to drink straight vodka and, according to the report, “complete countless push-ups” in a room inside the fraternity house.
Seems pretty soft to be considered hazing, right? Elrod said he was in such mental and physical anguish that he could not get himself up. He managed to get himself up to sprint out of the house to call the cops. There is a dashcam video from the cops responding to the incident.
The fraternity’s president doesn’t do himself any favors by his choice of words; that’s for sure. Elrod was told days after the incident to turn in his SigEp shirt and not come back. The Dean of Students would investigate the issue and find that the fraternity was hazing. SigEp was put on a two-year probation as a result. The president was also removed of his position after Nationals had told him what he said did not align with the views of the national fraternity.
Elrod insisted that he was kicked out of the fraternity for reporting the hazing incident. He posted a status to his Facebook saying, “SigEp, a fraternity that claims to have a zero tolerance for hazing but then allows a pledge to get kicked out for reporting it.” This status came two months after he was given a no-contact order from the university telling him he cannot have any contact with SigEp members, their girlfriends, or employees of the SigEp nationals office.
The status prompted a call from the National Risk Management Director, Kathy Johnson.
“I don’t know every side to the story, but the national fraternity does have a zero tolerance for hazing,” she told Elrod in a phone call that was recorded and provided to ThinkProgress. “And we do not appreciate you posting things about the national fraternity, so if you do not stop doing that, we are gonna have to have our attorney, our general counsel, take some legal action. Because you are damaging the reputation of the fraternity.”
SigEp did not answer ThinkProgress when reached for comment.
SigEp actually did respond. Here is their response:
In September 2013, University of North Texas student Derek Elrod contacted Sigma Phi Epsilon Headquarters to report allegations of hazing. An investigation determined that the chapter had violated the Fraternity’s policies on hazing, but the specifics of Elrod’s allegations conflicted with other evidence the Fraternity received.
In late 2013 and early 2014, Fraternity staff received a number of complaints concerning Elrod’s alleged harassment of fraternity members at the University of North Texas Chapter. The Fraternity put the University on notice of these complaints in an attempt to work with the school and Elrod to resolve the issues.
As recently as April 2015, Elrod expressed satisfaction with the Fraternity’s responsive actions. Despite this, on July 12, 2015, Elrod issued a list of demands to the Fraternity including termination of a staff member and monetary compensation. He later worked with blog Thinkprogress.org to publish his version of the story.
In March 2015, the Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity was made aware of a 2013 video containing discriminatory comments made by a former member of the chapter. “This student clearly failed to understand the values of the Fraternity he joined,” said CEO Brian Warren. “His comments were appalling and are the antithesis of everything we teach our members. The fact that they were made nearly two years ago makes them no less hurtful.”
Members are admitted to Sigma Phi Epsilon without regard to race, color, religion, age, physical disability, ethnic background, sexual orientation, creed or national origin. The Fraternity proactively works to create more inclusive, diverse and accepting environments. Discrimination of any kind is not tolerated.
Timeline of events following allegations of hazing
On September 11, 2013, Derek Elrod contacted Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity Headquarters to report allegations of hazing he said he experienced at the University of North Texas. That same day, the chapter was asked to cease all operations until the allegations could be thoroughly investigated.
An investigation into Derek Elrod’s hazing allegations began the following day, and a member of the Fraternity’s staff traveled to Denton, Texas to interview other students who could substantiate his claims. Fraternity staff obtained a redacted police report but did not receive the police dash cam recording that was later posted to YouTube by Derek Elrod in March 2015.
Between September 11, 2013 and November 14, 2013, the University of North Texas Chapter remained under suspended operations. During this time, the Fraternity’s staff made several attempts to connect Derek Elrod, at his request, with university services and resources.
The investigation determined that the chapter had violated the Fraternity’s policies on hazing, but the specifics of Derek Elrod’s allegations conflicted with other evidence the Fraternity received.
Before the chapter was reopened, former chapter officer Richard Randall stepped down from office, and new risk management and member development programs were implemented with the assistance of University staff and chapter volunteers. The chapter was also placed on a two-year probation to remain in effect until October 2015.
In late 2013 and early 2014, Fraternity staff received a number of complaints concerning Derek Elrod’s alleged harassment of fraternity members at the University of North Texas Chapter. The Fraternity put the University on notice of these complaints in an attempt to work with the school and Derek Elrod to resolve the issues.
Despite the Fraternity’s repeated efforts to resolve the situation, Derek Elrod later published inflammatory comments concerning the Fraternity on social media. On April 8, 2014, Derek Elrod had a telephone conversation with a Fraternity staff member concerning those comments.
On March 12, 2015, Fraternity staff were informed by the University of a 2013 police recording that Derek Elrod had posted to YouTube. Derek Elrod later removed the video and requested a meeting with members of the University of North Texas Chapter.
Between April 2, 2015 and April 15, 2015, Derek Elrod requested multiple meetings with University staff and undergraduate members of the chapter. The Fraternity complied with each of these requests and participated in each meeting in good faith. During each of these meetings, Derek Elrod expressed satisfaction with the Fraternity’s responsive actions outlined above, and claimed he had not previously been made aware of those actions.
Despite this, on July 11, 2015, Derek Elrod called a member of the Fraternity’s staff at 10:24 p.m. The call was returned the following day. During the conversation, Derek Elrod shared that he had posted to YouTube a recording of the April 2014 phone conversation he had with a SigEp staff member. Derek Elrod issued a list of demands including termination of the staff member and monetary compensation.
We’ll keep you updated if anything comes of this, which hopefully should not happen..
Image via Facebook/UNT SigEp