A former UCSB student who claims he was hazed while pledging the Phi Gamma Delta (FIJI) fraternity last fall is suing the fraternity.
The lawsuit alleges that, as part of his pledging process in Fall 2002, Jason Belsky, a freshman at the time, was physically and verbally abused, was forced to consume large amounts of alcohol and was put into unsanitary conditions.
As a result of these allegations, the university no longer recognizes the local chapter. According to the complaint, Belsky was hospitalized as a result of acts committed against him by FIJI.
Belsky’s complaint alleges that, as part of the pledging process, he and his eight fellow pledges were required to go on a “pledge retreat.” After arriving at the fraternity house with sleeping bags and warm clothes, as they were instructed, they were blindfolded and escorted into cars. Upon arriving at their destination, an isolated location near a beach, the fraternity members took their keys, wallets, cell phones and all other forms of identification from them. If caught or questioned by police, the pledges were instructed to identify themselves as members of the Santa Barbara City College water polo team. They were also instructed to consume several 30-packs of beer. The actives then left the pledges for the night.
The actives said they would pick up the pledges at 4 a.m. and again at 7 a.m. so the pledges would be on time to athletic practice and midterms, according to the complaint. The members missed the 4 a.m. pickup time, and Belsky and another pledge walked to a hotel for help. After the hotel staff refused to help the pledges, they walked several miles back to the fraternity house. The members never returned to pick up the other pledges, who eventually hitchhiked back to the house.
The complaint states that another portion of initiation consisted of two “poker nights.” At these events, pledges were forced to stand in physically strenuous positions and to answer questions about the fraternity. In the lawsuit, Belsky said he was forced to consume large amounts of alcohol: approximately a pint of Jagermeister and several beers in 10 to 20 minutes. In the second poker night, he was forced to consume two whole onions with his fellow pledges. Most pledges were sick afterward and vomited.
The complaint also alleges that, as part of the pledge period, the pledges were required to hoist the FIJI flag every morning. One night in November, after a pledge raised the flag upside down, the entire pledge class was forced to sit vigil at the base of the flag in retribution. The vigil lasted from 9 p.m. until 6:48 a.m, during which time the pledges had to keep a flashlight trained on the flag at all times and were not allowed to sleep. Over the course of the night, “the actives ridiculed [them], spraying them with water hoses, and threw hundreds of water balloons and buckets of freezing water at them.”
During the final stage of the pledging process, Belsky and the other pledges were forced to live in a small storage closet known by the fraternity as “The Cage,” according to the complaint. During “Hell Week,” if the pledges “were not in class or involved in a fraternity event, they were expected to be in The Cage.” The cage contained two buckets: one for urination and one for defecation. At one point, one of the cage walls was smeared with raw meat, which the pledges were not allowed to clean up. Inside the cage a stereo “continuously played the song ‘Wild Honeypie’ by the Beatles at extremely loud volumes.”
The complaint states that, as part of Hell Week, the pledges were forced to race around the house on all fours as the fraternity brothers hit them with cushions in what were known as “rat races.” The pledges were also allegedly forced to perform strenuous exercises in the ocean and then to run nearly two hours to return to the house. They were also sent on a scavenger hunt in which they allegedly had to, among other things, steal a FIJI sign in Los Angeles, go to a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in Compton, and “engage in public acts of humiliation at Universal Studios and Union Station.” On his final day of initiation, Belsky said in the lawsuit, he was beat with a paddle by members of FIJI.
Belsky also said in the lawsuit that other events over the course of Hell Week included meals consisting entirely of food covered in hot sauces and spices, carrying sand from the beach in the middle of the night to add to the volleyball court at the house, and strenuous calisthenics.
The complaint alleges that, as a result of his initiation, Belsky became ill with a viral infection, a bacterial infection, mononucleosis and tonsillitis. His liver and spleen were also “inflamed and significantly enlarged.” He withdrew from school to recover from his illness, during which time his parents wrote letters of complaint to the school and the local and international chapters of FIJI. In a response to these letters, the president of the local chapter wrote back, “Since our first pledge class 11 years ago, every man has endured the same,” according to the suit.
Upon Belsky’s return to UCSB, FIJI member and then-President of the Interfraternity Council Andrew Re “told Jason that he was ‘unwelc ome’ at the fraternity house.”
Current FIJI President Andrew Nicolai was reticent to comment on the lawsuit
“Personally, I don’t believe that any physical harm is done to the pledges. Nobody is doing anybody any physical harm nor wants to,” Nicolai said.
The complaint was filed Sept. 23, but Nicolai, who was named in the suit, said he had not seen it or heard anything about a lawsuit until Oct. 2.
Nicolai refused to comment on the hazing allegations.
UCSB attempted to convince the international chapter to revoke the local charter last spring when the university withdrew its recognition of the house, according to Director of Greek Affairs Stephan Franklin. The national chapter put FIJI on suspension, which means that the local chapter should not be recruiting, holding meetings that are not informational in purpose, or holding events, Franklin said.
On Sept. 27, FIJI held a concert at their house that they advertised as their “Fall Kickoff.”
“They haven’t only defied the university, but also their national headquarters,” Franklin said.
Nicolai refused to comment on the concert.
J.B. Goll, the director of Chapter Services at FIJI International Headquarters, confirmed that the local chapter was still recognized but on suspension and under investigation.
“They are on temporary suspension based on hazing allegations,” Goll said.
Nicolai refused to comment on the suspension.
FIJI will be eligible to reapply for university recognition in four years; however, the university will not start the four-year wait until the fraternity removes its Greek letters from its house.
“As long as FIJI calls themselves [an] operating chapter, they’re not going to be considered for reinstatement. They decide when the four-year process starts when they become compliant,” Franklin said. “The process will begin then and no sooner.”
On Sept. 22, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Michael Young sent out a campuswide e-mail warning students from participating in an “unauthorized” rush sponsored by FIJI. In the e-mail he wrote that the fraternity had been “associated with illegal hazing, underage drinking and behavior counter to student health and safety.”
FIJI members said on their International Headquarters’ advice they had not held a rush this quarter.
— Daniel Haier also contributed to this story. Read the full text of the lawsuit.