PBE’s initiation process included pouring beer on pledges, according to one of the jurors from PBE’s Sept. 6 Judicial Committee hearing.
Though he did consider PBE’s actions hazing, the juror said he felt that expulsion was too harsh a punishment given what PBE had done. At the hearing, however, he was asked to focus on whether PBE had hazed, not whether the punishment (which is recommended in the Judicial Committee bylaws) was appropriate. He was not aware that the committee could issue an alternative punishment.
Some Interfraternity Council presidents also disagreed with PBE’s harsh penalty, and have moved to modify the Judicial Bylaws.
A juror speaks out
Anthony D. Merriman ’12, one of the jurors in PBE’s Judicial Committee hearing, said he does not agree with the punishment that PBE received as a result of being found responsible for hazing.
“Did the process follow the rules that are set forth for Judcomm hearings? Yes it did. Is the conclusion something that I think should have happened? No, I don’t believe so,” he said.
Merriman, who ended up voting against PBE, said that there was an initial vote of 2-to-2. He was one of the jurors who felt that PBE should not be expelled. He agreed that PBE hazed, but felt the punishment was too severe. Merriman later changed his vote when the jurors were told only to consider whether or not PBE had hazed.
“The first vote was fairly informal. It was more of a stance vote to see where people or how people felt about it. Garrett [The judicial committee chair] did not want to move forward with a 2-2 vote, so we continued discussing,” Merriman said.
During the discussion, jurors were told to first focus on whether or not what PBE did was hazing. They were told not to consider whether the violation merited the punishment (in this case, expulsion).
“As a JudComm member, you’re not supposed to consider the punishment or the consequence when determining responsibility for the act,” Merriman said.
The committee, which was composed of four representatives from fraternities and the Judicial Committee secretary, unanimously found that PBE had hazed its pledges. What followed from that decision was automatic expulsion.
Merriman said that he and the other jury members were not told that there were alternatives to expelling PBE — just the opposite, in fact. Merriman had suggested imposing some form of adult oversight (such as having a faculty adviser), but was told that that would not be sufficient and that expulsion was the only option they had.
“I learned after the fact that we did not have to expel PBE and that was not apparent to me during the JudComm hearing and I don’t believe that was apparent to the others either,” Merriman said. “Looking back on it, that was a mistake on my part. I didn’t know that and I should have stood up more for if I was correct, but I was told that that was an impossibility. Looking back on it, I don’t think this whole process was fair.”
“I really do not believe that the process is sufficient for what happened. I don’t think that JudComm should have the ability to expel people,” Merriman said.
Initiation document was misleading
The incriminating document that laid out PBE’s new member program exaggerated the severity of what PBE pledges were subjected to, some said.
“In many instances, the titles of the [new member program] events in question are derived from pop culture and differ greatly from what actually takes place. It is an internal reference only used by the brothers and never shared with the new members or outsiders so there is no need to name them appropriately or accurately,” said Arjun Naskar ’09, former president of PBE and a current director of the PBE alumni corporation. “A lot of the jurors looking at the document already had negative impressions based on the names of the events which made an uphill battle that we had to fight when we were asked about the specifics.”
According to Merriman, PBE admitted ownership of the document. “They admitted that the document was their initiation document, so in some sense, what was written down must have been factual. But basically every single point of contention, they argued against and said that ‘we don’t really do what is written here we do something else or even if though that might sound bad, it’s not really that bad we only do this instead,’” Merriman said.
“If everything in the document happened ... as it was described [in the document] then it was certainly hazing,” Merriman said.
A rumor around campus was that PBE had locked their pledges in a room with kegs of beer as part of their new member program. “The being locked in the room, that was part of the independent corroboration. I think Ryan Schoen had interviewed somebody who had depledged from the PBE pledge class recently and looking to see if he would corroborate any evidence that they had gotten,” said Merriman.
Merriman confirmed that one of PBE’s initiation activities involved pouring beer on pledges. “The initiation document was somewhat unclear. It just said that there were to be beers present and that they would be poured on the pledges as they went through the ritual…PBE explained to us that it was part of it was a metaphor for cleansing and it was a metaphor for cleansing and they had a whole ritual that went with it. It’s hard to exactly know what does or does not happen, but PBE’s sense of the ritual made it seem perhaps not as severe as it might have been,” Merriman said.
Merriman said, “I really hope that there is something that can be done because I think PBE is a very strong fraternity, and I don’t think what happened was fair.”
Fraternity new member programs
Since PBE’s suspension, some fraternities have been nervous about whether their new member programs are okay under MIT’s hazing policy. According to Marlena Martinez Love, the director of the Office of Fraternities, Sororities and Independent Living Groups (FSILG), fraternities can bring their programs to the FSILG office, the IFC, their national organizations, or their local alumni organizations.
“Every year, we have our entire new member program reviewed by members of the PBE Corporation as well as with the FSILG Office, specifically Deans Love and Miller,” Naskar said. “I’d be surprised and impressed if all members of the IFC did the same on an annual basis.”
It is unclear whether PBE brought the contents of the document stolen from their servers to the FSILG office for review last year.
The FSILG has no plans at the moment to create programs to inform other fraternities of the hazing policy or to make the definition of hazing more concrete. “There’s no specific policy or specific program being created yet. We’re trying to find the best way to approach it,” said Love.
Proposed Changes to the IFC Judicial Bylaws
A proposed change to the judicial bylaws was proposed at the Interfraternity Council (IFC) President’s Council meeting last Wednesday.
“There was some talk among the presidents. A few of the presidents were not pleased with the outcome or the process so they were looking into seeing what could be done to support PBE whether that means changing the way the judicial process works,” Schoen said.
Schoen declined to comment on the specifics of the proposed changes before the vote occurs.
“I think it’s fair to say that all of the attention on the judicial process has inspired the presidents to make it as fair as possible,” said Schoen.
The change will be voted on at the next President’s Council meeting in a week and a half. This change will not have any retroactive effect, so this will not affect their decision to suspend PBE.
According to Schoen, some presidents were worried that they were not “extremely involved in the process because it was handled by JudComm entirely. So there were a few presidents that thought that this case should have been heard by the presidents themselves.”
The IFC will not be able to take back their decision about PBE even if were to change its mind. “We received word from the administration that even in the event that the IFC wishes to re-recognize PBE as a fraternity, and that’s not saying that that’s the majority opinion, just if that were to occur, the MIT administration is not planning to grant recognition to PBE until the end of their four year suspension,” Schoen said.