Investigative report released on underground fraternities

On Aug. 15, 2019 Dean of the College Karlene Burrell-McRae `94 sent an official notice to campus regarding underground fraternities and secret societies. The email explained the proceedings of an independent investigation put forth by the College in the spring of 2019 in order to examine underground fraternity activity at Colby. 

The probe began as a result of several allegations made during the 2018-2019 school year. One such allegation was a post to the Civil Discourse community forum, describing a series of events in which a Colby student claimed to have been recruited for an underground fraternity, Erosophian Adelphi (EA). 

Private Investigator Jon Goodman interviewed a total of 37 witnesses, including students, faculty, staff and alumni of the College. He described his methods and findings in a 21-page report, which was included in the official notice sent out by Burrell-McRae. 

The report began by describing the set of criteria used to identify fraternities within the investigation. Since the College’s student handbook does not provide such criteria, Goodman created these guidelines based on the characteristics which the College administration had described as antithetical to its values. These characteristics are exclusivity, recruitment and secrecy. The report confirmed a number of underground fraternities on campus according to these standards, including EA, Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) and PHI. 

Goodman interviewed multiple students who admitted to their involvement in EA and confirmed the details about hazing and recruitment from the Civil Discourse allegation. He found that members of EA considered themselves “anti-frat,” but Goodman challenged this idea. He stated in the report: “When confronted, however, with their secrecy, ritualistic initiation practices and exclusion of women, they conceded the hypocrisy and said that tension over the secrecy and exclusion of women was what led to the ultimate demise of EA.”

Goodman also confirmed the existence of DKE and PHI through his interviews with students. Unlike EA, activities in these societies were centered around partying and drinking culture. Recruits were invited by senior members into the frat typically during their first year.

Goodman also reported that both groups considered disbanding within the past year due to the negative attitude toward fraternities on campus. He found evidence for the disbanding of DKE in the Fall of 2018 but believes there are still active members of PHI on Colby’s campus. 

Another alleged fraternity (ZETA) was mentioned in the report, but Goodman found no evidence of its existence. He also stated that he found no evidence of any underground sororities at Colby. For the remainder of the report, Goodman attempts to dispel what he believes are inaccurate perceptions of fraternity activity at Colby. 

According to his evidence, he believes fraternity activity is much less common on campus than “gossip” suggests. He claims that there is no evidence to support the idea that underground fraternities at Colby engage in partying more than the average Colby student. Goodman also discredits claims of severe hazing within the fraternities. Finally, he reports that he found no evidence for discrimination on the basis of race, economic status or athletic membership in the fraternities. He did, however, confirm that all groups excluded members on the basis of sex. 

Although the report attempts to refute several rumors about fraternity involvement and activity, many students continue to believe that there could be some truth in the unsupported allegations. When asked about his opinion on the report, Spencer Hewson `20, an area resident director at Colby, described his disappointment at Goodman’s findings.

“I think it was difficult for me because I understand where the investigator was coming from, and he approached it like a legal situation where he needed actual evidence,” Hewson said in a recent interview with the Echo. “The part that disappointed me was that his wording in the report made it seem like just because he didn’t have factual evidence, he could count out things that a lot of people have been really adamant about saying.”

While Hewson was glad that the school hired Goodman in the first place, he still felt the investigation was insufficient.

“I’m happy that the school took the action that they did to hire him, and I do think he did the best that he could in finding anything, but I think the people who are part of those secret societies are smart enough to not make it easy to find,” Hewson said.

Since the release of the report, Goodman has spoken to several groups of student leaders at Colby. During these meetings he summarized the findings of the report, answered questions and encouraged anyone with additional information to contact him as the investigation goes on. Joseph Savage `22, a community advisor at Colby, felt that Goodman made a good point about factual evidence in his report.

“I guess it showed that we kind of need to be careful about our language and what we’re saying. Maybe we’re not as good at telling who’s in a frat or not. Maybe it’s just a matter of them engaging in a negative party atmosphere. Yeah it’s negative, but it may not be a frat,” Savage said in a recent interview with the Echo.

During first-year orientation, conversations continued about secret societies through a panel and debriefing session with orientation leaders. The discussion largely focused on how to build inclusive communities at Colby and emphasized the exclusive nature of secret societies on campus. Savage also attended these sessions and felt they were an improvement from previous years.

“We had the same talk last year, but it was a lot different I felt. It was much more anti-frat and more upfront. But this year it really felt like they were talking more about the community instead of focusing on the frats the way they did my first year,” Savage said. 

There will also be a series of opportunities for members of the campus to meet with Goodman and ask him questions about the report. The dates of these meetings have yet to be announced.

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