‘I live in constant fear’: Fraternity suspended after UC Davis student alleges hazing

Sean Tran, a first-year UC Davis student, began to blossom as he threw himself into campus culture. He experienced college life with a core group of friends and loved his environmental sciences degree program.

To further his career opportunities, Tran pledged Alpha Kappa Psi, a co-ed professional business fraternity, one of the more than 50 on campus. AKPsi attracted him, in part he said, because it boasted many minority members — just like him — who billed themselves as hard-working people.

But the pledging process turned dangerous after he experienced a series of hazing events across two weeks, one of which sent him to the emergency room, Tran said. He suffered crippling anxiety, a panic attack and an asthma attack, he said.

“I thought I was going to die that night, to be honest,” he said in a phone interview. “I have never had ... any feeling like that before.”

Alpha Kappa Psi and some of its members have been temporarily suspended from participating in Greek life after University of California, Davis, officials and the national fraternity’s chapter launched an investigation into the allegations just days before the school’s 110th Picnic Day.

Bill Kisliuk, a UC Davis spokesman, said the university takes all allegations of hazing seriously and expects students to abide by the school’s standard codes of conduct. The Office of Student Support and Judicial Affairs will be conducting an investigation, he said.

“This incident is under review, and the student organization has been required to cease operations until the review is complete,” Kisliuk said.

The alleged hazing

Starting from the beginning of April, Tran alleged a series of incidents in which fraternity members dehumanized and humiliated students.

It involved fraternity members yelling at recruits incessantly because they didn’t know information such as each of the 59 fraternity brothers’ names. Work piled onto AKPsi hopefuls barely allowed time to eat or attend lectures, Tran said.

“We didn’t know what they were going to yell at us for,” Tran said.

UC Davis’ Alpha Kappa Psi chapter president Jocelyn Chern declined to comment Thursday, and referred questions to Brian Parker, the executive director and chief operating officer of the fraternity’s national branch.

Parker said the national branch received a complaint of the allegations on Sunday, which started their standard internal chapter conduct review process. The suspensions are effective until the investigation is concluded, he said.

“Our overall goal is a safe and healthy environment for all students, alumni, and guests, for all (Alpha Kappa Psi) events and activities,” Parker said. “This process can take several weeks, depending on the complexity of a conduct review and number of people who may be involved.”

The Irvine-area native said he stayed with the pledging process for two weeks because he paid $190 as part of a recruitment fee, and he enjoyed his peers pledging alongside him. And, he hoped, the process would become easier as time went on.

His perspective changed April 10 after a pledging event at Nugget Hill, a soccer field managed by the Davis AYSO chapter, left him debilitated.

Fraternity members shined flashlights on recruits’ faces for three hours as they lined up after dark on Nugget Field. The recruits were forced to list the Greek alphabet and Founding Fathers, Tran wrote in the letter describing the events and provided to The Sacramento Bee.

“Each mistake a pledge brother made was followed by yelling or demeaning comments from the active brothers,” he wrote.

The incident sparked the medical trauma, according to Tran. He told The Bee in his letter that he was hyperventilating and dry heaving after the incident. He said he also suffered spasms and other symptoms during the ordeal that night.

But for one hour, recruits and fraternity members stood by and watched him suffer. A sensation of pins and needles spread throughout his limbs before he was taken to a hospital emergency room, he said.

The 19-year-old was diagnosed with anxiety disorder, a “state of emotional shock and stress, unspecified” and other “specified problems related to psychosocial circumstances,” according to a patient clinical summary provided by Tran.

“Physically, client reports some weakness from not eating properly over the last two weeks, but reports immediately feeling better as a result of deciding to drop pledging,” according to the ER report he provided to The Bee. “Still, he is worried that others in the fraternity will decide to come after him to encourage him not to report.”

Shame and embarrassment flooded Tran as he grappled with the fraternity’s treatment, he said.

“It was just ... this group of people were willing to dehumanize you and humiliate you for ... their own gain with like … no meaningful intention behind it,” he said.

He dropped pledging for Alpha Kappa Psi after he returned from the ER and said he doesn’t think he will participate in future Greek life events, one of the biggest being this weekend with Picnic Day, a larger community celebration and open house dating back to 1909.

While Picnic Day activities attract families on campus during the day and generally remain calm, the weekend has been marred in some years by off-campus parties that involved excessive drinking, rowdiness and fights in the downtown area. The low point came in 2011 when a UC Davis graduate died at an off-campus party.

“I am constantly hyperaware and paranoid about being watched by active brothers,” Tran said. “I live in constant fear of being yelled at by active brothers.”

Tran said he wants an apology from the fraternity — as well as his medical bills paid.

“Really, I am more angry,” he said. “I still haven’t received any apology from any member at all.”

All fraternities and sororities must abide by university policies, which ban hazing. Hazing includes activities causing physical harm, depriving students of sleep, hosting activities interfering with academic efforts and subjecting pledges to “cruel or unusual psychological conditions,” according to UC Davis’ community policies for campus Greek life.

The hospital report said Tran has a history of anxiety attacks that he says had been resolved in prior years. Those attacks were less severe when he was in high school, and not as bad as the one resulting from the alleged hazing.

Students are encouraged to report hazing through the campus’ online reporting form, Kisliuk said.

Tran said he wants justice for his case, and is trying not to let this one experience define his time in college.

“If it was not me, it was going to be the next person,” he said. “I didn’t want this to happen to someone else.”