High-profile coverage not new to Rider frats

By Jeff Frankel and Olivia Tattory

The alleged hazing incident involving drinking that occurred late Wednesday night into the early morning hours of Thursday is not the first time that a Rider fraternity has made national headlines for an unwise decision.

On Jan. 4, 1993, members of Phi Kappa Psi (Phi Psi) Fraternity attending the Interim Semester Program held a “nigger night” and told the potential pledges to dress and speak in a way that was demeaning to African Americans, according to Don Brown, director of multicultural affairs.

The fraternity was suspended by its national organization indefinitely, and the school brought disciplinary charges against a total of 10 members. Five were charged with hazing and indecent
conduct and one was suspended for a year.

The pledges were told to wear baggy 1930s clothing and wear hats with the capital letter X, and were told to speak like black entertainer “Stepin Fetchit” as they cleaned the fraternity house. The house had about 35 members, but no African Americans, The Star Ledger reported.

The combination of hazing and racism produced a perfect storm of negative national publicity, including coverage on The CBS Evening News with Dan Rather. A press conference conducted by then-President J. Barton Luedeke in the Student Center Theater drew a dozen TV crews.

The incident came to light when reported by two students, freshman Hagen Scherberger and sophomore Louis J. Colombo. They said they received their fair share of both praise and criticism for blowing the whistle on the fraternity’s actions.

“The criticism is not to your face,” Scherberger told The Rider News at the time. “Nobody will come up and face you.”

“Except for when they yell out from an upstairs window,” added Colombo.

The two students, along with four others, distributed a letter throughout campus describing the pledge event.

“We didn’t do it to go frat-bashing,” said Colombo. “We didn’t do it because of a personal vendetta against Phi Psi. We did it because we felt something was wrong.”

Students and faculty attended the judicial hearing held in the Student Center and a lottery system was used to fill seats. The campus news media were not allowed to attend.

The pledgemaster of Phi Psi, identified as John Guerriero, was suspended for one-year from the University, was ordered to pay $100 to the relatively new Multicultural Center, make a formal apology and complete 30 hours of community service under Brown.

A representative of the National Organization of Phi Psi attended the hearing and determined members of the fraternity attempted to cover up the incident. Luedeke received a memo from the representative.

“He [the national rep] concluded that members of the fraternity had been dishonest in their original accounts of the incidents,” Luedeke said.

The event angered members of the Black Student Union (BSU) and in a New York Times article published Jan. 30, 1993, Rick Robinson, a spokesman for BSU, said: “This issue touched all people regardless of race.”

The Rider News was subject to harsh criticism over its coverage of the incident. In a letter to the editor, senior Kevin Mooney accused the paper of vicious slander and blatant bias toward the
brothers of Phi Psi.

“The Rider News became an accomplice to this sorry legacy of unprofessional reporting,” he said.

However, it was pointed out by Pedro de La Torre ’92 in another letter to the editor that Mooney was in fact a brother of the same fraternity.

“Knowledge of this would make a difference on how one considers the validity of Kevin’s arguments,” he said.

To deal with the reality of race relations sensitivity, the Communications Department held “Reach-Out Day” to talk about cultural differences. The event evolved into the campus-wide Unity Day held every October by the Multicultural Center.

“We offer educational programs to the University through a wide variety of initiatives, including freshman orientation, continuing education for our Greek community and through residence hall programs throughout the year,” said Rozanski in response to yesterday’s
incident.

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