University of Maryland suspends Greek life after hazing allegations; fraternities and a sorority sue

The University of Maryland | Source: Flickr

Students from fraternities and sororities at the University of Maryland (UMD) claimed their First Amendment rights were breached when the university suspended their ability to hold social events. After four fraternities filed a lawsuit, university leaders lifted the suspension for all but five chapters. Despite the suspension’s lifting, a sorority also filed a lawsuit, claiming university officials “trampled on the constitutional rights of all the women who are members of sororities.”

Key Players

Fraternity Forward, a national coalition of fraternities, “promotes the shared positive values of Greek life, encourages safe and healthy behaviors among its undergraduate members and advocates aggressively and passionately for student and fraternal organization rights.”

Kappa Alpha Theta, a UMD sorority, sued the university after the suspension was lifted, alleging the school forced students to undergo mandatory interrogations during the university’s investigation into hazing allegations.

James Bond, the director of student conduct at the UMD, suspended the operation of the 21 fraternities associated with the Interfraternity Council and all 16 sororities associated with the Panhellenic Association. 

James McShay, the interim director of fraternity and sorority life at the UMD, co-signed the suspension order. 

Further Details


On March 1, 2024, Bond and McShay sent a cease and desist letter to all Interfraternity and Panhellenic Association chapters, informing them that all fraternities and sororities were suspended as the university investigated hazing allegations. 

Chapters were forbidden from contacting any new or prospective members in person, over the phone, or on social media. All social events with alcohol on- and off-campus were prohibited. Only five historically Black fraternities and sororities were exempted from the suspension. 

The suspension came after the student conduct office received multiple allegations of hazing, including hitting new members with paddles, burning them with cigarettes, forcing acts of public humiliation, forceful consumption of nonedible items, and physical assault. Notably, on the morning of March 1, two students were transported to hospitals off campus for alcohol-related illnesses, Inside Higher Ed reported. 

On March 13, the UMD chapters of Theta Chi, Kappa Alpha Order, Alpha Sigma Phi, and Alpha Tau Omega filed a federal lawsuit against the university, alleging administrators violated their First and and 14th Amendment rights. The four fraternities also filed a motion for a temporary restraining order that would lift the suspension.

The lawsuit focused on the suspension’s prevention of contacting new and prospective members. The suing parties asserted that this ban stymied their right to “engage with particular members of the University community.” 

Outcome

UMD lifts suspension for some 

Two days later, UMD lifted the suspension for all sororities and every fraternity, except for the UMD chapters of Lambda Chi Alpha, Phi Sigma Kappa, Sigma Nu, Zeta Beta Tau, and Kappa Alpha Order. 

“These chapters will continue to be subject to limited restrictions on their activities while the investigation continues,” Patricia Perillo, UMD’s vice president for student affairs, said. “In addition, individual students will also be referred to the Office of Student Conduct for potential violations of the Code of Student Conduct.”

While the suing fraternities withdrew the motion for a temporary restraining order, they maintained the lawsuit. In response, state Attorney General Anthony Brown (D) filed a memorandum opposing the plaintiffs’ claims. 

Brown stressed that UMD had every right to suspend Greek life temporarily, especially considering the multitude of hazing accusations, as well as threats to health and safety. 

Sorority files suit

Legal troubles did not end for UMD. 

On April 4, six members of Kappa Alpha Theta filed a federal lawsuit, alleging the university had violated their First and 14th Amendment rights. 

“For two weeks, the University of Maryland trampled on the constitutional rights of all the women who are members of sororities,” Micah Kamrass, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs, stated. “Without justification, they prohibited sorority women from speaking with their friends and forced them to participate in an interrogation.” 

Kamrass noted that UMD admitted during the investigation that it did not suspect Kappa Alpha Theta of wrongdoing. 

As of May 6, 2024, there were no further developments.