By Kinsey Grant
Commonwealth’s Attorney Bucky Joyce says his office will not pursue a criminal investigation into a hazing incident that led to the suspension of a Washington and Lee University fraternity unless the victim is willing to cooperate.
“Unless the victim comes forward … then I’m not going to direct anyone to do anything,” Joyce said Thursday. He said he does not know the victim’s identity.
Washington and Lee President Ken Ruscio suspended the Phi Kappa Psi chapter for three years last week after an anonymous complaint that a fraternity member had used a stun gun on one new member and intimidated others with the weapon.
The university also alerted the Commonwealth’s Attorney, as required by law.
“W&L complied with their obligation,” Joyce said. He said hazing is a Class I misdemeanor in Virginia, punishable by up to 12 months in jail or up to a $2,500 fine.
A national issue
Ruscio reported the suspension as a number of recent incidents involving fraternities nationwide made headlines. In the most widely reported, members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon at the University of Oklahoma appear in a video leaked March 8 singing a racist chant that included threats of lynching. The fraternity’s national chapter condemned the behavior, and two students have been expelled.
Washington and Lee’s own SAE chapter was suspended in January 2014 after sponsoring an off-campus party after which a 21-year-old senior died. Kelsey Durkin was killed when the overloaded SUV she was riding in overturned on the way back to town. The driver, Nicholas Hansel, pleaded guilty in January to aggravated involuntary manslaughter, maiming while under the influence and driving under the influence. Hansel is currently is serving a three-year prison sentence.
Penn State’s chapter of Kappa Delta Rho was suspended for a year Tuesday after a former member tipped police to an invitation-only Facebook group that included photos of naked women – some passed out or sleeping – along with evidence of hazing and drug sales.
After the Phi Kappa Psi incident at W&L, Ruscio released a statement calling hazing “antithetical to this university’s principles and to the ethic of respect and dignity we afford to all members of this community.” Ruscio said officials at Phi Kappa Psi’s national headquarters supported his decision. It suspended the chapter’s charter until, it said, the group can return to campus with the trust and confidence of the university and community.
Before Ruscio’s action, Washington and Lee’s Interfraternity Council voted to suspend the fraternity for one and a half years. Ruscio said he doubled the punishment for the men after conversations with Phi Kappa Psi national officials.
Students react to decision
But Ruscio’s decision to override the Interfraternity Council, the student-run organization that represents fraternities and polices behavior, upset some students.
“I think that President Ruscio overextended his power by suspending them for three years instead of the one and a half years that the IFC decided on,” Washington and Lee sophomore Lucy Duet said.
Duet said she thinks Greek life will remain prevalent on campus regardless of the suspension. But she said she and other students sense a trend among administrators.
“I think it’s obvious that the school itself is trying to make a movement toward making Greek life less … of the social scene at Washington and Lee,” Duet said.
Interfraternity Council President Moody Heard, a junior, refused to comment specifically on the Phi Kappa Psi suspension or the SAE incident at Oklahoma. But he was willing to make a general observation.
“Most of the hazing allegations that we do receive are the result of an individual chapter member making a foolish decision,” Heard said in an email. “Unfortunately, the actions of single individuals can and often do affect the larger group.”