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Special Report: MU's response to hazing and Greek sanctions

Special Report: MU's response to hazing

COLUMBIA, Mo. - Scenes of protest on the University of Missouri campus in November 2015 didn't stop Michael Zingale's son from deciding on the school when he started the next fall.

Zingale himself had considered MU 30 years ago. For his son, he liked its distance from home in Chicago, its proximity to what Columbia had to offer downtown and the size of the campus. In the first week, Zingale's son told his father he and his roommate were interested in joining a fraternity.

"We talked about, we said let's get the grades where they should be, and let's maybe look at a second semester. But he really pushed for the wanting to join, and we let in," Zingale said, who asked ABC 17 News to keep his son's name private. "We should have held down firmer.”

His son eventually pledged Kappa Alpha Order, a house at the corner of College and University Avenue. Zingale admits his son should have done more research when looking for a fraternity, but said and his wife didn't know much about Kappa Alpha before he started there.

September 27 made them aware.

"He never had a reason to say anything about ‘Here’s what’s going on, heres what I’m doing,’" Zingale said. It was just like a sucker punch coming out of Columbia, Missouri. It’s like, ‘Here’s your kid and he’s near death, and you better get here pretty quickly.’ And then here we come."

KA remains on suspension for what happened that night, while the Office of Student Conduct investigates it as a "hazing." Their son had been loaded into their ambulance that morning with a blood alcohol content of .45, five times the legal limit to drive, three breaths per minute and a cold touch to his skin. A Kappa Alpha Order incident report claims Zingale's son and other "pledges," the term used for potential new members of a fraternity, challenged each other to chug vodka in the house around 2 a.m. Members carried him to a room to sleep, but couldn't wake him the next morning. It makes no mention of the condition the Zingales say medics found him.

"That's really the problem that we have," Zingale told ABC 17 News. "Because he could have been dead on that floor, in that room, by himself, and we wouldn't know anything. And that's how he leaves this planet. And that's not fair."

At the time, Kappa Alpha was placed on probation for another alcohol-related incident at the house. Hard liquor is banned in Greek houses, an policy passed by the IFC in 2015. Another sanction from the school, such as having hard liquor, would lead to stricter penalties from the school, according to the University's policies.

Greek organizations face three levels of punishment: probation, suspension or withdrawal of recognition. Withdrawal means the school no longer considers that organization a student group, and revokes any use of school property or participation in school-sponsored activity, like Homecoming or Greek Week. Groups can often reapply in the future to become a student organization. Suspension carries the same punishment, until the school completes its disciplinary process with the group.

ABC 17 News went through nine school years' worth of sanctions to Greek organizations, and found at least two instances of "hazing" sanctions against fraternities already on probation or suspension, only to have those extended.

Kappa Sigma had its suspension extended by a semester when the University found it responsible for "hazing" in 2014.

In Spring 2013, Pi Kappa Alpha was sanctioned for "compliance" and "controlled substance at chapter house." It received probation, slated to end in May 2014. The following Fall semester, it was sanctioned for "hazing activities, endangering the welfare and safety of pledges, condoning physical abuse and compliance." The University extended its probation to December 2014, and revoked its ability to host "alcohol events" the next semester.

The Alpha Nu Chapter of the Pi Kappa Alpha International Fraternity was found in violation of Fraternity Standards in 2013," Brent Phillips, chief marketing officer for the Pi Kappa Alpha national organization. "The Chapter was issued conditions both punitive and educational by the International Fraternity. Since then, the Chapter fulfilled those conditions and is operating in good standing with the International Fraternity." Phillips did not specify what happened in 2013 to warrant the sanctions.

The University has only withdrawn recognition four times in nine school years, each for a fraternity. Three of them have since returned as active chapters, while Sigma Pi is in its first of four possible years of withdrawal, so long as it continues to work Greek Life, according to the university. Since Greek organizations own the houses near campus, the university no longer has "jurisdiction" over them. Members can continue to live in the house, without fear of Greek-specific sanctions.

MU spokesman Christian Basi said there is no "formula" for delivering sanctions - probation doesn't automatically lead to suspension or withdrawal of recognition. Each situation is determined "case-by-case," and "any discipline is determined based on the evidence gathered and any additional information provided by the organization."

Fraternities have been sanctioned for hazing 17 times since 2007. Kappa Alpha was last cited in Fall 2010, and placed on a year-long probation. It did not violate any policies in that year, but has amassed nine sanctions in nine school years. The university does not specifically list which student groups are on probation or suspension or which ones are under investigation. Zingale said that information would be useful for both prospective members and parents.

"There is nothing that's real time," he said. "It's like after a semester is over. Which is too late, in a situation like this."

When asked for comment on MU's administrative process, KA Assistant Executive Director for Advancement Jesse Lyons wrote, “Kappa Alpha Order respects the University of Missouri, its conduct process and the administrators on campus. Kappa Alpha Order has its own process and investigative procedures and works to collaborate with each university. For the particular allegations this fall, we took an extraordinary step of hiring an independent investigator. We also continued open communications with the family involved, law enforcement, and the university, on our investigation. Our chapter president was forthcoming and supportive to both the campus processes and ours. From the beginning, we partnered with the University in both this fact-finding process and hopefully in the outcome."

Zingale's son chose to leave the school in October. He said the school never offered any help to his son in that time, such as access to mental health services. He hopes the school would consider stiffer punishments for Greek groups that violate the "hard" alcohol policy to discourage binge drinking of liquor like vodka.

The last reported hazing death at the University of Missouri occurred in 1940 at an unrecognized fraternity. While Zingale's son lived, he said he's spent time trying to put himself in the shoes of other parents who lost their child.

"And I think about what those people are going through. So…I couldn't imagine that, I couldn't imagine the school and the system letting it go on," Zingale said.

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