Over Spring break, the Trinitonian received an 11 second video clip of Phi Sigma Chi orientation chairs Jake Spitz and Michael Hernandez inside of an off-campus garage with a lineup of blindfolded new active members. The university began an investigation into the potential hazing violation on Monday, March 20.
The video starts with a selfie shot of Jake Spitz and turns towards new active members Saul Malek, Brett Mahfood, Kiko Macias, Joshua Lee, Duncan Gary, Jason Francis, Zach Davis and Cameron Bibb. After the pan over, the camera focuses on Michael Hernandez and ends with another selfie shot of Spitz.
Most of the blindfolded new active members are singing and strumming to the song “You Never Even Called Me By My Name” by the country musician David Allan Coe. As the camera turns onto Hernandez he kicks a door behind him before audibly adding his voice to the chorus of new active members.
“This is just an orientation activity where they learn David Allen Coe,” said Jake Spitz, a senior business major and co-orientation chair of Phi Sigma Chi. “It’s a song that means a whole lot to the Phi Sigs.”
All individuals shown in the video were asked to provide comment for the story. Saul Malek, Kiko Macias, Joshua Lee, Duncan Gay, Zach Davis and Cameron Bibb were unavailable to comment.
“Immediately before the singing, like before the video, we present them with these optional blindfolds,” said Michael Hernandez, a senior biology major and co-orientation chair of Phi Sigma Chi. “The boys accept them if they feel like it. And then, we begin to sing. Spitz and I sing with them. Then they take off the blindfolds and they sing together as we sing with them. I jump in the line with them and I sing with them. And then after that they just go home.”
Trinity’s policies on hazing list “costuming and alteration of appearance,” “line-ups and berating” and “degrading games, activities or public stunts” as violations. In their interviews, Spitz and Hernandez offered two reasons for using blindfolds.
“It was so they could focus on the song,” Spitz said. “Stupid idea and we fully realize how it looks.”
Hernandez stated that the blindfolds were used to enhance an element of giddy surprise.
“We build the event up as a surprise, so like most of them want to be surprised,” Hernandez said. “It’s kind of just like an additional excitement to something being revealed to you. So they’ll put them on if they feel like it. They’re waiting for what their surprise is. We put the song on, and we’re like singing and stuff and they just kind of start to sing along. If they haven’t taken their blindfolds off, we’ll tell them, “˜Take that off, dude.'”
The arrangement of the lineup is purported to be in pledge-class order by Hernandez and Spitz. Pledge-Class Order, or PCO, is an alphabetical organization of the new active members.
“They line up so you memorize your guys, because you’re never supposed to forget your brothers,” Hernandez said. “You always want to remember the brothers you joined the organization with. And so we have them learn their order. They’re just in alphabetical order.”
“I think in the Trinity hazing policy, the examples of hazing say lineups and berating,” Spitz said. “We don’t berate people. In that policy list it says that this is not an all-inclusive list, but like I don’t feel like having people in pledge-class order is hazing.”
The video was filmed in the garage of the house on Bitters Rd. where several of the Phi Sigma Chi members live. New active members knew that it was the location of the orientation event being held that night.
“That night, some of my housemates had exams and stuff,” Hernandez said. “They can’t have guys singing in the house. So that night we went out to the garage […] Spitz let them know that he would probably record snippets of them practicing.”
Two of the new active members shown in the video responded to interview requests by the Trinitonian.
“They told us there was going to be a surprise, then they had the bandanas and said, “˜you guys can put these on as blindfolds if you want,'” said Brett Mahfood, an undeclared first-year member of Phi Sigma Chi. “[They said] you guys just go into the garage and put them on and we’re going to bring the surprise out for you guys, which ended up just being the speakers with music and them singing along with us.”
However, Mahfood said that he was unaware that he was being filmed due to the blindfold.
“We had blindfolds on and couldn’t see,” Mahfood said.
The other new active member who spoke with the Trinitonian emphasized that they were not forced to put on the blindfolds.
“We weren’t coerced to put on the blindfolds,” said Jason Francis, a first-year finance major and member of Phi Sigma Chi. “We were given the choice to put on the blindfolds.”
All those interviewed were asked whether or not they believed that the activities they participated in constituted as acts of hazing.
“I kinda heard stuff about frats and greek life hazing,” Francis said. “Coming to Phi Sig, they didn’t really do anything against my beliefs. My pet peeve is disrespect, and they never disrespected me once.”
“I can see where people from the outside may say this looks like hazing,” Mahfood said. “But in context, it was an activity I’m grateful to have experienced. I definitely think all the new pledge classes would love to experience this as well. It really brought us together in that moment.”
On March 20 the Office of Student Involvement released a statement to the Trinitonian which said “Student Involvement is aware of the video and we are currently in the process of collecting additional information.” Jeremy Allen, assistant director for fraternity & sorority life, affirmed that the investigation was one for a potential hazing violation.
“We’ve collected information, but we’re in the process of finalizing it,” Allen said. “Once that’s complete, then in the next couple weeks we’ll have our finalized approach as to whether policies were violated, and if so any steps that would be appropriate thereafter.”
The Greek Council Executive Board released a statement on March 21 that stated they were also looking into potentially inappropriate organizational orientation activity by Phi Sigma Chi.
“Greek Council Judicial Chair Caroline Hernandez, has collaborated with Student Involvement to conduct interviews and collect information regarding this incident. Together we will strive to seek appropriate measures that guarantee safety and respect for all active members of our community,” Allen said.