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University of Florida suspends fraternity for 'serious physical hazing incident'

From John Couwels, CNN
updated 5:29 AM EST, Thu February 9, 2012
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Apha Phi Alpha fraternity says it will investigate the incident and condemns hazing
  • A university official says no one was hospitalized from a recent hazing incident
  • The incident happened off campus several weeks ago, the university says
  • Another Florida university was recently at the center of a hazing scandal

Gainesville, Florida (CNN) -- The University of Florida has temporarily suspended its chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity after learning about a hazing incident involving fraternity members, a university spokeswoman said.

University President Bernie Machen, in an e-mail to students, called it a "serious physical hazing incident." University authorities learned about the incident on Saturday, school spokeswoman Janine Sikes said Tuesday.

"We believe the incident took place several weeks prior," she said. "The hazing incident is currently under investigation with the University of Florida police."

Dave Kratzer, Florida's vice president for student affairs, said, "This was not a case that we know of that anyone went to the hospital -- thank goodness."

"It's not in the realm of seriousness on the far end of things, when you think about what could have occurred with hazing, and we want to stop it now," Kratzer told CNN.

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When contacted by CNN, Alpha Phi Alpha referred all questions to the university.

Later Wednesday, a statement released by the executive director of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. said it issued a cease-and-desist order against the local chapter and will investigate the incident cited by the university and cooperate with police on any criminal investigation that may occur.

"We recognize that hazing is a persistent social scourge that has proven time and time again to be difficult to eradicate and too dangerous to tolerate," the statement said. "Alpha Phi Alpha does not condone hazing! Alpha Phi Alpha has embraced programs, which provide leadership tools to recognize, prevent and address hazing."

The statement concluded with declarations in capital letters: "We cannot say this enough: HAZING IS DANGEROUS and ILLEGAL and must STOP! Alpha Phi Alpha has no place in its membership for the violence and brutality that accompanies hazing. HAZING IS ILLEGAL!"

The historically black fraternity dates back to 1906, when it was founded at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. According to its website, Alpha Phi Alpha "has a zero tolerance level in regards to hazing/pledging and strongly prohibits these illegal activities in any form."

The alleged hazing incident happened off campus, according to Machen's e-mail to students, obtained by CNN.

"As that investigation proceeds, I want to reinforce the university's prohibition against all forms of hazing -- and ask each of you to help us guard against this dangerous and destructive behavior," Machen wrote. "Hazing is specifically prohibited by UF regulations, and it is also classified as a crime in Florida. We cannot tolerate hazing on our campus or in our university community, and anyone found responsible will face the gravest possible consequences, including expulsion and criminal penalties."

Machen did not provide any specifics about the incident, and he urged anyone who has experienced or witnessed any hazing incidents to contact campus police.

Kratzer said there had been no previous reports of hazing incidents involving the fraternity. The Florida chapter has only a small organization at the university and no house, he said.

An e-mail from the university's Office of Sorority and Fraternity Affairs sent to the university's fraternity and sorority members said Alpha Phi Alpha would be placed "on interim suspension pending the outcome of a formal hearing."

"Alpha Phi Alpha has been a strong member of the Florida Greek Community for many years," the e-mail stated. "While we are all disappointed to learn of such allegations, we all need to respectfully allow our Greek Conduct process to take place before making decisions or speculations of the fraternity's responsibility in this matter. We will share information with the community as and when that is appropriate."

The incident comes less than a month after four students at Florida A&M University were arrested after the hazing-related death of the school's drum major in November. Robert Champion's death prompted FAMU's board of trustees to approve a three-part plan to tackle the issue of hazing on campus, including an independent investigation panel. FAMU is located in Tallahassee.

The FAMU incident prompted Florida Gov. Rick Scott to order all state universities to examine their hazing and harassment policies in December. Scott also asked all university presidents to remind their students, faculty and staff "how detrimental hazing can be."

Kratzer said University of Florida authorities have worked for some time to eliminate hazing, and there has been a "heightened concern" since the death at FAMU.

"I would like to stress this is not the norm for us, and we want to educate all our students that the world has changed -- don't allow anyone to do this to you," he said.

However, students at the university said hazing still occurs at fraternities and sororities.

"You know fraternities are still going to do this. It's part of their culture, its imbedded in what they do in their initiation process and it's still wrong," said sophomore Jenny Rivero. "You can't escape it."

Cece Benitez, also a sophomore, said hazing has become a cyclical activity.

"I know a lot of fraternity brothers who would say that why they do it is because it was done to them," Benitez said. "And people who get hazed, for now (it) kind of sucks, but they are going to do it to the ones that come in later on, and I feel that should not be part of the initiation process for becoming a brother or sister."

CNN's John Branch and Melanie Whitley contributed to this report.

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