Three former Penn State students have been charged with misdemeanor charges of simple assault and conspiracy related to alleged hazing activities involving an 18 year old Penn State freshman in April. The young woman was pledging “Omega Essence,” an auxiliary/little sister group connected to a graduate chapter of Omega Psi Phi in State College. Neither Omega Essence, nor Omega Psi Phi, were recognized by the University. (An undergraduate chapter of Omega Psi Phi had been recognized by Penn State in the past.)
At the time of the incident, it was described as “hot sauce on her face and repeatedly slapped and kicked her in the stomach, among other things, over the period of several hours.” That initial report also indicated that a male “dean” (member of Omega Psi Phi) was present and leading the process, although it implies that all of the actual hazing activities were done by members of Omega Essence.
Soon after the incident was reported, two staff members at Penn State (a residence hall coordinator and a graduate assistant – both members of Omega Psi Phi) resigned from their positions. The report indicates that at least one of these men was involved in the Omega Essence incident, and both were already under investigation for suspicion of hazing from a separate incident over Spring Break.
The three women charged have also been expelled from Penn State, and two of them have had their graduation withheld as a result of these actions.
UPDATE (8/9) – In reading an article posted to day with more information about this situation, I realized that one of the individuals charged was a male, undergraduate, member of Omega Psi Phi. He was also an All-American Track athlete at Penn State. He has been expelled, and his degree withheld.
The allegations reported in this case raise several problems for Omega Psi Phi. Little sister/auxiliary groups are officially NOT part of any fraternity. Any involvement in this area can potentially cause problems with the organization’s ability to operate as a single-gender group according to Title IX/IRS rules. The reports indicate involvement by members in this pledging process, which would likely indicate a crossing of that line.
Since both the graduate chapter, and Omega Essence, were not officially part of the Penn State community, it also underlines the challenges of addressing this type of hazing. It appears that Penn State has done what it could in charging and expelling these three women. However, it also appears that there were several other individuals who encouraged or helped facilitate these actions who were not charged.
Since these women were only charged with misdemeanor counts of assault and conspiracy, it also raises the question of what is covered by Pennsylvania hazing laws. Unless these laws are able to be applied in this type of scenario, they are really not that useful in combating hazing concerns on campus.
In looking up the Pennsylvania Hazing Law, I discovered that it only applies to “any organization operating under the sanction of or recognized as an organization by an institution of higher education.” Since these organizations were not recognized, the law does not apply. This is just another example of some of the weakness in many state hazing laws. Just curious – does Pennsylvania have hazing laws that cover high schools?