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University of Maryland administrator defends handling of fraternity hazing allegations

University of Maryland administrator defends handling of fraternity hazing allegations
University of Maryland administrator defends handling of fraternity hazing allegations 03:22

BALTIMORE -- A top University of Maryland administrator answered questions for the first time publicly about how the school handled allegations of dangerous hazing against fraternities and sororities on the College Park campus.

According to court records, pledges were beaten and burned, and some had to be taken to hospitals for alcohol poisoning as WJZ first reported last week.

The administrator, who heads student affairs, told WJZ that she stands by the decision to pause social activities involving drinking and recruitment for two weeks at all Greek-letter organizations. The move led to an ongoing federal lawsuit from some students who allege it violated their constitutional rights. 

"It was the right decision"

"I don't think there can be any Monday morning second-guessing. I mean, it was the right decision with the information we had in that moment," said Dr. Patty Perillo, the Vice President for Student Affairs at the University of Maryland College Park. "I know, in no uncertain terms, we made the absolute right decision for the safety and well-being of our students." 

"I've been doing this work for 35 years and have never ever done a move like this before," Perillo added. "But because the allegations came in over a six-day period, some of them were anonymous, so we couldn't identify specifically which chapters, we knew that we needed to…create the pause for all of them."

What are the hazing allegations at University of Maryland?

According to court documents, students were burned with torches and cigarettes, forced to stand outside in the cold, drink urine, and beaten with paddles. Several were taken to hospitals for alcohol poisoning. 

The university produced records showing a 224% increase in Greek-letter members seeking counseling between January and February and a 36% rise in visits to the University Health Center. 

"What I know on my campus, in no uncertain terms, there was uniform agreement from the leadership team that we needed to act steadfastly. We needed to move through the process quickly, and we will continue to engage in education and partnering with our students as we move forward," Perillo said.

Criticism for handling of Greek life suspension

The school initially told students no specific incident was behind their decision—and faced criticism for not immediately laying out the allegations. 

"[We said] please tell us what the allegations are and which chapter or chapters are allegedly involved, and the university basically sent us a letter back saying 'No. Exclamation point.'" Wynn Smiley of the Fraternity Forward Coalition said last week. 

Perillo acknowledged reaction was mixed.

"Many students appreciated what the university did, and many have struggled with what the university did. And I will tell you that any time a university or any leader makes a bold decision, there's going to be…some who fully support it and some who do not support it and others across the middle," she said. 

"But what I do believe is true and I know to be true for my students here at the University of Maryland, is that as we sit down and spend time with them and help them understand what we learned and what we discovered, they will understand the seriousness of it, and they will understand what needs to happen next."

"It felt like a moral imperative"

Perillo noted five chapters remain on a pause after an investigation uncovered possible abuses in their houses.

"While we don't often make…a one-size-fits-all decision. We knew in this particular situation we had to, until we learned more, because I want to underscore that nothing, nothing is more important for us than the safety and well-being of our students. And that's what drove this decision It felt like an imperative. It felt like a moral imperative. It is the responsibility of an institution to keep young people, to keep students safe. And it was that moral imperative that moved us to make this decision. So that's why we made the decision."

Model for the future

Perillo said hazing has no place on campus and the school is working with all fraternities and sororities to make sure it does not happen again. 

"I really do believe when all is said and done that we're going to set a model for what universities can and should do when they learn about allegations. They need to pause, even though it causes consternation and angst, they need to pause and learn more—always making sure they follow their institutional policies and practices, which we certainly did at the University of Maryland," Perillo said. 

You can read more about the university's response here.    

This is Perillo's open letter to campus.    

She said the school is committed to fraternity and sorority life, despite some calls for the university to abolish such organizations.

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