Hazing Tragedy Shakes Bay Area Greek Life

Lissette Vargas

A Cesar Chavez student center view of SF State's campus. Creative Commons photo by Librarygroover
A  view of SF State’s campus from the Cesar Chavez student center. Photo under Creative Commons by Librarygroover

Along Malcolm X Plaza, fraternities and sororities set up booths to advertise Fall “rush,” where prospective students participate in a recruitment period in hopes of gaining an invitation to the Greek organization of their choice.

Justin Lovell, 22, historian of SF State’s Pi Kappa Phi chapter, remembers when he pledged his fraternity. “It was honestly the best part of my college experience,” says Lovell. During his pledge, he participated in social networking events with sororities, did volunteer work, and learned about the organization’s long history.

SF State’s Pi Kappa Phi chapter is currently home to fifty-six active members. Lovell has been able to find the best friends he’s ever had and admires the strong sense of brotherhood within the fraternity.

But despite all the fond memories of his chapter, this year, the members of Pi Kappa Phi are haunted by the tragic death of an associate member.

In the midst of summer, Cal State Northridge student and Pi Kappa Phi pledge Armando Villa, 19, participated in SAW (Super Awesome Weekend), a 14-16 mile round trip hike along with other Pi Kappa Phi pledges and brothers. The fraternity-sponsored event in the Angeles National Forest quickly escalated into a disturbing scene when Villa was found by a Pi Kappa Phi brother in a ditch, where he lay in great distress, barefoot, and blistered. He was pulled out by frantic fraternity members who attempted to cool him down by sprinkling him with water. Villa was pronounced dead upon hospital arrival.

university investigation of the fraternity was conducted due to the accusations of hazing. In the investigations findings, it was discovered that the pledges were given one gallon of water each and had run out of water between one-third to three-quarters of the way through the hike. The pledges, showing signs of heat exhaustion, reported feeling disorientated and dizzy.

The condition of Villa’s feet was most likely due to his instruction by fraternity members to wear shoes that were too small for his feet while on the hike.

On Friday, the Zeta Mu Chapter at Cal State Northridge announced a permanent voluntary withdrawal and closure of the chapter.

“Although closing a chapter is never an easy decision, Pi Kappa Phi expects our students to uphold and abide by the fraternity’s risk management policy and standards of conduct. Hazing has no place in our fraternity,” says Chief Executive Officer Mark E. Timmes.

“They put all of us in a bad light; we don’t want to be seen as hazing douchebags,” says Lovell about the incident, aware of the organization’s strict no hazing policy. The SF State student defines hazing as making someone do something they don’t want to do. SF State University’s policy on hazing describes it as acts of physical abuse, excessive mental stress, and verbal abuse.

Lovell says SF State’s Pi Kappa Phi chapter takes anti-hazing education and prevention very seriously, which has resulted in a 20-year-long incident free streak at the university. The death of Villa now serves as a reminder of the dangers of hazing at SF State.