A former student at a Rhode Island university is claiming to be the victim of a fraternity hazing so brutal that he had to be hospitalized for a month and undergo multiple surgeries, including skin grafts and the removal of necrotized flesh.
Terrance Bennett is now suing his old fraternity, Tau Kappa Epsilon (TKE), and the members whom he says tortured him as a price of brotherhood.
In the fall semester of 2014, Bennett was attending Johnson & Wales University—a school that occupies a small campus in Providence, Rhode Island, and is best known for hospitality and restaurant management degrees. He was the sole remaining pledge out of three who had signed up to endure the weeks-long ritual of debasement required for fraternity membership, according to the complaint filed last week in Providence County Superior Court. Over the course of several weeks, the complaint states, Bennett’s would-be fraternity brothers in Tau Kappa Epsilon (fraternity motto: “Better Men for a Better World”) restrained and branded him, beat him repeatedly with wooden paddles, urinated on him, extinguished cigarettes on his skin, deprived him of sleep, pelted him with eggs and rotten food, and forced him to exercise, binge drink, and eat raw onions and sticks of butter until he got sick, only to shower him in his own vomit when he did. All the while, they called him a “bitch” and a “faggot.”
A number of scandals involving fraternity initiation practices have rocked the Greek world in recent years. Though gruesome, the allegations against Tau Kappa Epsilon are hardly original. Neither is this the first time a TKE chapter has been accused of hazing its pledges. In 2013 brothers at American University in Washington, D.C., allegedly forced pledges to binge drink and smoke marijuana, engage in boot camp-like exercise regimens, drink a gallon of milk in an hour or less, and eat jars of mayonnaise. (The chapter was later closed by the university due to the hazing activities.) Similar complaints were lodged at the Whitman College chapter in Walla Walla, Washington, in 2011.
Nearly a month of rush activities left Bennett fevered, jaundiced, swollen, bruised, and in so much pain that he could neither sit nor walk, according to the complaint. When a worried and sick Bennett talked to his “big brother,” who also happened to be TKE’s chapter president, Michael McAteer (a defendant in the case), McAteer allegedly told him not to go to the hospital “because people would ask questions,” and the fraternity would be in a lot of trouble. McAteer did not respond to requests for comment.
So Bennett stayed quiet and went back to his apartment. That’s where he lost consciousness and woke up in the intensive care unit, according to the complaint. He remained in the hospital for the next month.
Doctors treating him at the hospital immediately notified local police of Bennett’s injuries, according to the Providence Police Department, but when officers arrived to investigate what appeared to be an aggravated assault, Bennett wouldn’t cooperate. “He was reluctant to talk about how and why the incident occurred occurred,” Providence Police spokeswoman Lindsay Lague told The Daily Beast. “So that was it. No charges were ever filed.”
Lague also said there had been no other incidents of hazing reported to the police in recent years.
Campus Safety & Security sent out a community alert (PDF) in November notifying the community that TKE would be suspended until an investigation into the incident was complete.
When called for comment, Johnson & Wales released a statement to The Daily Beast: “Johnson & Wales University is aware that a complaint has been filed in Providence County Superior Court which alleges that a student suffered severe injuries as a result of hazing activities conducted by members of a fraternity that was recognized by the university. The university recognizes fraternities and sororities but does not provide or support housing for fraternities or sororities, and the activities described in the complaint are not alleged to have taken place on campus. Due to student privacy laws, the university is not in a position to comment on the facts alleged in the complaint.”
While “hazing or any other action or situation which endangers an individual’s mental or physical health and/or involves the forced consumption of alcohol or drugs” is a violation the school’s student code of conduct (PDF), the university refused to answer further questions about the result of the investigation or whether and how the alleged perpetrators had been disciplined.
The fraternity’s national chapter told The Daily Beast it was they who closed the Johnson & Wales University chapter for good. “After receiving allegations of hazing, we conducted an investigation into the Tau-Mu chapter of TKE. At the conclusion of the investigation, Tau Kappa Epsilon made the decision to close the chapter on February 2, 2015. The group is no longer recognized as an active chapter of Tau Kappa Epsilon and is not allowed to represent themselves as a student organization on campus,” Alex Baker, chief information officer for Tau Kappa Epsilon International Fraternity, wrote in a statement.
Repeated requests to Bennett’s attorney were not returned. None of the defendants outside of TKE’s national organization could be reached for comment. The defendants have 20 days after being served to respond to the complaint.