The Alpha Iota chapter of Alpha Tau Omega, the oldest fraternity established at Muhlenberg currently on campus, has been interimly suspended while the College investigates reports of potential hazing and incidents of “life safety violations” involving alcohol.
According to a FAQ about the investigation from the Office of Student Affairs, the current suspension is “part of an ongoing investigation and information regarding the source of reports cannot be shared publicly. However, at this time, I can share that we received multiple independent and credible reports of concern.”
Additionally, in a letter sent to members of the fraternity, Dean of Students Allison Gulati explained, “Interim suspension is imposed for a student group at the College when we have information that leads us to believe that the continued operation of the organization poses a substantial and immediate threat to the students and/or to others. This interim suspension is imposed pending your chapter’s appearance before the Student Conduct Hearing Board and receipt of my final decision.”
This is not ATO’s first time under investigation for hazing-related issues. In 2000, the college withdrew recognition from the fraternity and revoked their charter after investigations into hazing in 1999. This investigation occurred after Muhlenberg’s ATO chapter was featured in the controversial 1998 HBO documentary Frat House, directed by Todd Phillips, who recently directed Joker. In 1999, The Weekly reported on the ATO investigation, citing the controversy over the factuality of the hazing practices featured in the film. The fraternity members’ insistence that the film was a fictional recreation eventually led to the documentary not being aired, though it tied for the Sundance Documentary Grand Jury Prize in 1998.
“More information will be shared with the community once our investigation into this situation is complete”
The chapter was re-colonized at ‘Berg in 2009 and has remained on campus since.
Now, the fraternity members have been ordered to stop all chapter functions and may not have any contact between brothers aside from “1-1” conversation. However, ATO will be permitted to be represented in Interfraternity Council (IFC) meetings, and members who live in the fraternity’s house will be allowed to stay there during the suspension.
In her email to the College community about the suspension, Gulati explained when to expect further details about the investigation and encouraged anyone with information concerning the stated issues to contact the Dean of Students Office.
“More information will be shared with the community once our investigation into this situation is complete, however it is our practice not to comment on active student conduct investigations. I can share that I do not make these decisions lightly.” Gulati said.
This year, the College has added the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity and plans on reinstating Phi Kappa Tau next semester. With the Student Code of Conduct issues posed currently by ATO, the FAQ sheet defended the college’s decision to expand Greek life on campus.
“Muhlenberg has a long history of success with fraternities and sororities as part of college life … the College’s process to add additional organizations this year was undertaken to keep us at our historical level of engagement in fraternity and sorority life. Over the years, we have lost chapters due to membership issues as well as student conduct issues. As such, adding these organizations to campus brings us back to our typical level of involvement of approximately 18 percent of students.”
The Office of Student Affairs also commented on how details of the hazing report will be released.
“Over the years, we have lost chapters due to membership issues as well as student conduct issues”
“Information related to the conduct of organizations, groups and teams is not protected information. The college will be transparent and share information when it is able to regarding the status of this organization and the behaviors that led to this situation. This information will be posted to our student conduct website as part of the anti-hazing report (updated on January 1, 2019) and will be shared as appropriate with other individuals across campus.”
The Timothy Piazza Anti-Hazing law, which was passed in the Pennsylvania senate in 2018, requires colleges to publish a five-year institutional report listing any reports of hazing and details of the investigation. The law also states that “an institution shall update the report
biannually on January 1 and August 1 and shall post the updated report on its publicly accessible Internet website.”
Muhlenberg, however, did not update the report this past August. The last incident listed in the report was a hazing incident related to the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, which was removed from campus as a result.