Mere hours after being cleared of hazing charges, the fraternity Tau Kappa Epsilon (TKE) found out they were suspended again. TKE has been suspended through the 2017 spring semester for violating the terms of the temporary suspension that were in place as the University investigated the organization for the hazing allegations.
According to Andrew Garcia, the president of TKE, the organization was found “responsible” by the Office of Student Leadership and Engagement (OSLE) for hosting two unsanctioned events. This violated the suspension active at the time the Department of Public Safety was investigating the allegations.
Jack Ferrell, a sophomore who was a member of TKE’s fall 2015 pledge class, allegedly accused the organization of hazing him as he went through the process of becoming a member.
According to Garcia, Ferrell depledged suddenly five days into the process. “After the process was done, and everything was finished, he came out with hazing allegations against us,” Garcia said. “He had a lot of claims against us but he really had nothing to back them up with.”
The allegations initiated just before Thanksgiving break and that is when the temporary suspension was issued. The investigation was conducted, and a hearing was held in mid-February. TKE maintained innocence and defended themselves at the proceedings. Since there was a lack of evidence to support Ferrell’s claims, the organization was found not responsible for the charges against them.
“Since he really had nothing to back up his claims, we won the hearing pretty easily because it was everyone’s word against his own and he didn’t have any evidence of what he was saying,” Garcia said.
Ferrell declined to comment, and asked that The Chronicle refrain from contacting him again.
Just as the members of TKE were celebrating, hours after receiving the verdict, they received a troubling email from Sara Diem, the assistant director for OSLE. “Chapter Presidents,” the email states, “Please be aware that as of today, February 12, 2016, no fraternity or sorority may co-host an event with or attend an event hosted by Tau Kappa Epsilon Fraternity. Enjoy your weekend.”
Garcia was shocked, “We got hit with that email with no context at all and then of course everyone started freaking out about it,” he said.
He then emailed Diem to find out why this email had been sent to all Greek life presidents. Diem informed him that he should have received an email previously from Nestor Melendez, the assistant dean of students and director of OSLE; an email Garcia says he didn’t get.
“She had to send it to me because I wasn’t cc’d in the original email,” Garcia said. “Basically it was an email saying that we were back on temporary suspension for violating our previous suspension.”
Although the organization was not found responsible for hazing, they were found to have had two social events during the time of the investigation, a clear violation of the suspension in place.
“As the semester went on, we knew that these hazing allegations were not true,” Issac LeSage, TKE’s historian, said. “We knew we were going to beat that case, at least we were fairly certain. So we had a mixer with Danceworks and someone uploaded a picture and [Ferrell] caught it.”
TKE admitted to having these events while they were suspended, something they say they regret. However, how this came to light is just another twist in the story.
False evidence allegedly provided to OSLE in case against TKE
The day after Garcia learned TKE had been placed on suspension yet again, he woke up to another concerning email signed by someone calling themselves Brian Pena. “In the email – it was also sent to Sara Diem and Sofia Pertuz, the dean of students – it said that he had sent in accusations about a bunch of things of us violating our previous suspension, and also accusations of more hazing,” Garcia said. “It said he made all this stuff up, sent it in to OSLE and that this kid Jack Ferrell told him to make it all up. He also said Brian Pena is an anonymous email so Brian Pena is not even a real person.”
In the email, the individual (who from hereon will be referred to as “Pena”) expressed deep regret for his actions and asked that the information not be used against TKE.
It is unclear when “Pena” initially submitted the information to OSLE; however, this is the first time TKE members were made aware of this development.
“I am saying the information I had reported was false. I had no evidence of anything because Jack Farrell just made up lies and told me to send them in,” “Pena” wrote. “This organization is being wrongfully punished because of lies and the e-mails I sent which had wrong dates and wrong names that were not true,” it continued, “This is legally punishable by law to use a false report from an anonymous e-mail and I will take legal action if the school uses my e-mails in anyway to punish any organization. Please disregard my report and my previous e-mails.”
Pertuz responded, saying the information had been received and is being investigated. “If you have nothing new to report, there is no need to send any other communication,” she wrote.
The emails that “Pena” originally sent to OSLE contained pictures of the unsanctioned events, with the names and ages of the people allegedly in the photos.
To clarify, Brian “Pena” is a pseudonym that an unidentified person created in order to send apparently false evidence to OSLE. The person explained to Garcia via email that he was a friend of Ferrell’s and Ferrell asked him to send those emails.
“I sent them two pictures of pregames TKE had while not on suspension in December and told them that the pregames were during the suspension (with random made up dates) which was a lie. I also said they had alcohol in their cups… they did not. I said they were hazing their pledges… they were not. I do not live with them and I do not even know them. Everything I e-mailed the school is false and fabricated,” “Pena” wrote.
However, TKE was in fact suspended in December. The legitimacy of these claims, or lack thereof, did not seem to affect OSLE’s decision.
According to Garcia, the governing body followed through with the investigation and after speaking with several people from other organizations involved in the events, found them to be responsible.
OSLE will not comment on the details of any investigation they perform, however OSLE administrators explained, “[TKE] violated a section of their temporary suspension, that was communicated to their organization in the letter sent.”
The Dean of Students Office released a statement that said, “The Office of Student Leadership and Engagement (OSLE) is committed to supporting all of our fraternities and sororities in their endeavors. To provide this support, we’ve worked towards creating a baseline for chapter performance for each of our recognized organizations. We do this in many ways, one of which is through our Letters with Pride Assessment program. The program is designed to hold chapters accountable in a variety of areas, including: Academic Achievement, Membership Development, Recruitment and Retention, Chapter Management, and Campus and Community Involvement.”
TKE hopes to have sentence reduced after long process
Although “Pena” recanted the accusations, TKE did admit to violating their suspension, and were found responsible of doing so. However, they feel the punishment, especially considering how the evidence came about, was unfair.
“To finish out this semester suspended for doing that would have made sense,” LeSage said. “I would have said, ‘Yeah we broke the rules.’ But the fact that spring semester 2017 we still can’t come back, I mean it does kind of cripple us.”
TKE’s punishment was a year-long suspension, however they have been suspended for this entire semester due to the previous hazing allegations of which they were cleared. In total, if the sentencing stands, they will have been suspended for three semesters. They are currently trying to reach a compromise with OSLE.
“We’re hoping we can get the sentence shortened so that it’s this semester and next semester,” Garcia said. “When I talked to them I think some part of them realized it’s not really fair. We did break their code of conduct, but I think they did realize that it’s a little bit harsh.”
According to OSLE, “As was outlined in the letter to TKE, no appeal process would be granted should any of the sections be violated.”
Although initially TKE was angry with OSLE, they feel that now they just need to work with them. “No matter what, I know they’re just doing their job,” LeSage said. “Of course initially when it happens you get really angry at the person who’s punishing you. At the same time, if they do have this rule where they have to do a blanket year-long suspension, they do have to do that. I can’t actually get angry at that. But what I can get angry at is the fact that this never should’ve happened in the first place.”
Garcia and LeSage do feel the way OSLE handled the case was questionable. Garcia claims he continuously asked to see what “Pena” sent to OSLE, to little avail.
“We were still trying to see what he sent because at that point the investigation should have been over so there’s no point in not showing us,” he said. “They told us to come into the office to pick up whatever they had for us and then they gave us the two pictures of the social events. Those two pictures should have been included in the email that we got before, and that’s what we had been asking for a long time.”
The Chronicle attempted to reach Assistant Dean Melendez, to find out if it’s common practice to resist disclosing evidence to those being investigated – and if that was indeed done in this case – but did not receive a response by the time of publication.
More than anything, Garcia and LeSage, a junior and senior respectively, are worried about the future of their organization.
Tau Kappa Epsilon can now be found on a list of unrecognized Greek organizations at Hofstra. The list is accompanied with the following statement, “For your own well-being, you should not affiliate with any unrecognized Greek or other student organizations. Hofstra University does not advise or control the actions of any unrecognized groups.”
Although the list clarifies that TKE is suspended through spring 2017, Garcia feels this greatly damages their reputation. “This is a list of organizations that are literally illegal to exist,” he said. “They’re considered gangs, they can’t exist and we’re just thrown on this list. What are people supposed to think when they see us on there?”
The two expect to have about five members left in the organization by the time they can accept new members. “It doesn’t list a reason, it doesn’t say what happened,” LeSage said. “People just assume the worst. We’re supposed to come back with five guys and add that stigma now.”
Neither leader knows what motivated Ferrell to make the hazing allegations that led to the original investigation. “The last interaction I had with Jack was when he decided to depledge,” Garcia said. “I shook his hand, I gave him a hug because we’ve known the kid for so long and I was like, ‘We’ll still be friends, we’ll still chill after this.’”
LeSage says this relationship has been tarnished forever. “I don’t think he deserves to come back to Hofstra,” LeSage said. “From the fact that he lied and somehow still won. He’s not going to get punished; he’s never going to get punished.”
OSLE explained that if they do anything to violate their suspension, it will be extended for another five years.
“We’re just trying to work with them at this point,” LeSage said. “We still want to come back to Hofstra at the end of the day.”