Photo and video evidence allegedly depicting rituals of the Fall 2014 and Fall 2015 pledge processes for the Sigma Pi fraternity at Hofstra University show pledging members were made to chug milk and vomit on one another, stay locked in a small cage and kneel blindfolded while their bodies were covered in hot sauce, among other hazing rituals performed at an off-campus residence.
The Grand Council of Sigma Pi Fraternity International revoked the charter for Hofstra’s Eta-Gamma chapter of the organization effective March 1, 2016, according to a letter dated March 2. A semester-long investigation by The Chronicle has uncovered evidence of a culture of hazing within Hofstra’s chapter that spans three semesters (Fall 2014, Spring 2015 and Fall 2015) and includes forced favors, a merit and demerit system and anti-Semitic imagery.
The letter sent by the national organization said, “The Executive Office suspended chapter operations upon receiving evidence of violations of both Fraternity and FIPG [Fraternal Information and Programming Group] risk management policies. The University followed with a suspension of the Chapter through the University as well. After an investigation, Eta-Gamma Chapter was found to be in violation of Sigma Pi’s standards.”
A former student and member of Sigma Pi’s Spring 2015 Beta-Alpha class, Syed Ali John Mehdi, sent an email to national Sigma Pi Executive Director Jason Walker, and Director of Business Operations Jen Wyatt on March 1, according to a record of the transaction. Included in the email is a brief description of the “extreme hazing” Mehdi claimed he faced, as well as several photos and videos depicting certain rituals.
The charter was revoked the next day; however, Walker did not confirm that he received this correspondence or that this was the reason for the decision of the Grand Council. “I’m unaware, I’m not sure about any email,” Walker said. “I don’t recall receiving any email on that day about that stuff.”
The University issued a statement to The Chronicle that read, in part, "In March 2016, the university received notice that the Grand Council of Sigma Pi Fraternity International revoked the charter of the Eta-Gamma Chapter at Hofstra University for unspecified violations. As a result, the University immediately suspended the chapter, and requested more information from the Grand Council, which declined to provide any additional information. The university also made inquiries of several members of the chapter about the revocation. None provided any information or raised concerns about new member education. Prior to the suspension, there were no complaints of hazing against the organization in recent years."
Hofstra University defines hazing as “any actions or situations that occur for the purpose of initiation, affiliation or continued members (whether recognized by the University or not) that: a) Endangers mental/physical health, or involves the forced or encouraged consumption of alcohol, drugs, food, beverages, or any other substances. b) Causes or may cause mental, physical, or emotional intimidation, harm or danger. c) Involves mistreatment by playing stunts or practicing abusive, humiliating, repetitive, or ridiculous tricks that subject an individual to personal indignity. d) Requires an individual to perform unnecessary, disagreeable, or difficult acts that are harassing in nature, and/or creates an environment of ridicule or criticism,” according to the Fraternity and Sorority Life New Member Packet.
The email sent to the administrators of the national fraternity included attachments of three photographs and three videos. One of the photos allegedly depicts three members of the Fall 2015 pledge class lying on the ground while covered in flour.
Another photo appears to show a different member of that class locked in a small cage. Mehdi claims the smallest member of that class was left in the cage for indefinite periods of time – which were extended in the event a fellow pledging student could not correctly answer a question about Sigma Pi history or the initiated members.
The third photo shows an individual kneeling in front of a wall while covered in what appears to be hot sauce. “We had this thing called ‘Hell Night.’ They’d throw hot sauce all over our body and we’d have to sit there for hours all throughout the night,” Mehdi said.
He claimed the hazing brothers used ghost pepper sauce and this was the most painful act pledges had to endure. Mehdi said the brothers would put the hot sauce on the pledges’ genitals as well.
GroupMe messages obtained by The Chronicle appear to show an initiated brother reference this on March 17, 2015, when Mehdi’s class was still going through the pledge process. This brother wrote in a chat appearing to include the 12 members of Mehdi’s class and an executive board member, “If you say anything to me I will make sure your balls feel the wrath of satan himself.”
In the context of the conversation, it is unclear if the threat was real or what the brother’s intentions were. However, Mehdi said this ritual was a regular occurrence throughout the pledge process.
The person in the third photo is also blindfolded with a purple bandana – the signature color of Sigma Pi – and behind him, on the wall, is a swastika made from duct tape.
The Chronicle reached out to many students and alumni who were members of Sigma Pi during the semesters in question, but received few responses. One initiated brother – who is still a Hofstra student – spoke to The Chronicle under the condition of anonymity.
The student explained from their end, they had little knowledge of why Sigma Pi’s charter was revoked. “All that happened on our end was our organization took away our charter and we were given little to no explanation,” the initiated brother said.
When shown the photo evidence included in the email, the source said they would “rather not” comment. When asked if what was depicted in the photos was part of the process to become a member of the organization, they said, “No, we didn’t have a pledge process.”
Later in the interview the source offered comment on the swastika in one of the photos. “None of us are bigots or in any sense racist,” they said. “For you to associate that picture that is not of us, there’s no proof in that picture of us besides a person telling you that it was us.”
The Chronicle spent several months reviewing the evidence collected throughout this investigation. Mehdi openly disclosed that he sent this information to the national organization after being barred from Greek life at Hofstra. He was then expelled from the University after being found responsible of “Sexual Assault_Non-Consensual Sexual Contact” by the Administrative Conduct Board after he allegedly “engaged in sexual touching of the complainant in this matter by pushing [his] groin against her buttocks while dancing, without her affirmative consent,” according to a letter Mehdi received from the Dean of Students Office.
Despite his expulsion and turbulent history within the university, The Chronicle determined, both through Mehdi’s testimony and internal review, that the individuals in the photos do appear to be individuals who went through Sigma Pi’s pledge process in the alleged semesters.
However the identities of the victims have not been confirmed by themselves or anyone else who was in the fraternity besides Mehdi. The apparent victims’ identities have been concealed to the best of The Chronicle’s ability to avoid any further harm or humiliation that could come.
The email Mehdi sent to Sigma Pi’s national organization also contained three videos all allegedly depicting students chugging gallons of milk and forcing themselves to vomit on one another in the basement of an off-campus residence.
Mehdi alleges these events occurred at an off-campus house on Meadowbrook Road, known to members of Sigma Pi as the “Salmon” for its pink color. Members of the fraternity no longer live at this residence, according to the source.
Some members can be easily identified in the roughly 10 second long videos – one wearing a Sigma Pi shirt. They can be heard egging the victims on and cheering when the victims purge their stomachs onto anothers’ back, chest or head. Brothers can be heard saying, “Keep drinking” and “This is how we do this boys.”
“The safety and health of Hofstra students is our highest priority,” said Vice President for Student Affairs W. Houston Dougharty in the official University statement. “In recent years we have re-doubled our efforts to educate all members of student organizations about the zero-tolerance stance that Hofstra has for any mistreatment of or harm to students, including any acts that could be considered hazing,” he said.
Further analysis of group messages allegedly sent during Mehdi’s pledging process in the spring of 2015 portray a culture of servitude instilled in pledges.
Brothers who had already been initiated asked for favors from those pledging that usually included doing laundry, cleaning or getting food. Pledges appear to have been awarded merits for successfully performing tasks, and demerits for failing to do so.
It appears the pledges were in several group chats with different executive board members as well as initiated brothers. In one group chat, an initiated brother wrote on March 3, “Just make sure my stuff on the wash is folded neatly on my bed, and my bed is made. Person will get 10 merits.”
Someone appearing to be the vice president of Sigma Pi at the time, wrote on March 20, “Hey I need someone to step up and pick up my girlfriend from her room at 7:30 and bring her to my house, who can do that?”
After a pledge replied “I don’t have a car,” the brother responded, “I promise whoever does it i wont harm at all tonight.”
The same initiated brother, who appeared to go by the nickname “Butt plug” also wrote lyrics for a chant pledges were supposed to learn. On Feb. 25 he wrote, “I dont know what ive been told” [...] “Butt plugs gonna rock our souls” [...] “And when he does it will feel right” [...] “Butt plugs not our friend tonight.”
On March 15, a different initiated brother wrote in a separate group chat, “You guys are so fucked,” continuing, “Get this shit off my lawn by 12:30 or your night will be the worst of your insignificant lives.” The brother went on, “I don’t care who does it. Just take care of it before 5 or God help all of you tonight.”
Mehdi outlined a host of other accusations of hazing that The Chronicle has not been able to independently verify. He claims pledges were forced to drink concoctions of things like chicken feet and hot sauce, and they were paddled repeatedly. “When we get initiated – actually when we get into the brotherhood, everyone in your tree has to paddle you. They try to get alumni to come back so we can get paddled by every single person,” he said.
He also said pledges were made to do planks on their elbows while bottle caps were placed between their elbows and the floor. Similar accusations against the Sigma Pi chapter at Elon University were reported by Elon Local News in the Fall 2014 semester.
Walker, the executive director of the organization, said, “Hazing is always the forefront of every fraternal organization and eliminating it from our membership.”
Walker cited: seminars twice a year, a mid-year leadership conference in January and education and training throughout the year from regional directors and staff, as ways the national organization attempts to curb hazing. “The safety of our membership is always forefront on all of those conversations,” he said.
In response to Sigma Pi’s charter being revoked, the existing members created a club on campus, called “The Adventure Club.” The club gained recognition from the Office of Student Leadership and Engagement (OSLE) and is described in the student organization database, GetInvolvedHU, as “an organization dedicated to being active both inside and outside of the Hofstra Community, promoting active participation in exploring the world around us.”
The Adventure Club, which notably features the Greek letters of Sigma Pi in the name (Adv-ΣΠ-ture), has reportedly operated as any other OSLE recognized organization. They have continued to participate in events like the Fall Festival Float Parade and the seasonal holiday painting done in the Sondra and David S. Mack Student Center.
Rumor has spread that the eight members of the club who pledged in the Spring 2016 semester, but were never officially initiated because the charter was revoked before they could be, will be joining another fraternity, Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi).
Rob Pelaez, the president of AEPi, confirmed this is true. “They came up to us at the end of the spring semester right after they got kicked off,” he said. “We knew we needed numbers so we talked to our nationals and they said as long as they weren’t initiated by their nationals, they’re basically like a free-agent; not in.”
Pelaez said the decision to include these former Sigma Pi pledges was encouraged from within OSLE, specifically from Sara Diem, the assistant director that oversees much of Greek life. “She was even all for it as well,” he said. “Having us take these eight guys because if we’re able to take them, she wanted them to find a place.”
Diem did not comment on her role – if any – in the creation of the Adventure Club or the integration of those eight members into AEPi. However a university official stated the club went through the regular process to gain recognition.
Pelaez says AEPi has no intention of affiliating with Sigma Pi in any way. “These eight guys are a part of AEPi and that’s what it is,” he said.
The president of AEPi is happy to offer those members another path through Greek life at Hofstra. “They’re really hard-working and motivated guys and I’m extremely glad that they joined us and are already contributing very nicely.”
He said he did not have any specific details about why Sigma Pi had its charter revoked and it didn’t matter much to him. Pelaez doesn’t see a future for Sigma Pi at Hofstra, however Walker did not take that off the table.
“The chapter has the opportunity to return when we see fit,” the executive director said. Walker continued, “We work with the university on the expansion process. The alumni gather and we can come up with a mutually beneficial time for Sigma Pi, the alumni and the university to bring the chapter back.”
The official University statement said, "Hazing is a violation of the law, as well as the regulations of the University, and any allegations of such activity are taken very seriously. The university promptly investigates any and all reports of hazing and takes whatever action is appropriate against any organizations or individuals found responsible, which can include temporary or permanent separation from the university.”
The Chronicle encourages students who have knowledge of or have personally experienced hazing in any organization on campus to come forward with their stories and any proof they may have. Information can be emailed anonymously to firstname.lastname@example.org.