Ex-PSU student sues school over fraternity allegations
James Vivenzio says he thought pledging a fraternity at Pennsylvania State University would mean brotherhood and honor. Instead, the 21-year-old from Great Falls, Va., says, he was force-fed buckets of liquor mixed with urine, vomit, and hot sauce; made to guzzle hard alcohol until he vomited; burned on the chest with a cigarette; and once was beaten by a member of Kappa Delta Rho after he failed to participate in a ritual.
James Vivenzio says he thought pledging a fraternity at Pennsylvania State University would mean brotherhood and honor.
Instead, the 21-year-old from Great Falls, Va., says, he was force-fed buckets of liquor mixed with urine, vomit, and hot sauce; made to guzzle hard alcohol until he vomited; burned on the chest with a cigarette; and once was beaten by a member of Kappa Delta Rho after he failed to participate in a ritual.
And the university, he contends in a lawsuit filed Monday in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court, failed to act after he reported the abuse more than a year ago, including his telling the school about the existence of private Facebook pages fraternity members allegedly used to post revealing photos of females who may have been aware they were being photographed.
"It is not an understatement to say that I was afraid somebody could die unless the abuse, the Facebook . . . and all that was going on, were shut down permanently," Vivenzio said Monday, reading from a statement at a news conference in his lawyer's office in Center City. "I'm no hero and I'm certainly no martyr."
The filing came the same day that Kappa Delta Rho's national office announced it had expelled 38 of the 100 or so members of its Penn State chapter and put the rest on alumni status. Penn State last month suspended the chapter for three years after a university investigation found evidence of hazing, underage drinking, and sexual harassment.
The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages and names the university, the fraternity, and the fraternity's national office as defendants.
On Monday afternoon, Penn State issued a statement asserting that it "strongly disputes the allegations" in Vivenzio's lawsuit.
"Neither [Vivenzio] nor his family were willing to file a complaint, provide documentation, speak with State College police [at that time], or participate in pursuing the formal disciplinary process available to them, despite repeated encouragement from university staff," the university said.
Vivenzio also did not reveal the existence of the private Facebook pages at that time, the school said.
Penn State, according to spokeswoman Lisa Powers, learned of the pages in February from State College police after Vivenzio shared them.
That prompted an immediate rebuttal from Vivenzio's lawyer, Aaron J. Freiwald, who said the university was aware of the Facebook pages because Vivenzio told Danny Shaha, then a senior investigator in Penn State's Student Conduct office, during a meeting at Vivenzio's home in April 2014.
Vivenzio also shared "printouts of group text messages and photos from the site that provided clear evidence of the unlawful and dangerous hazing activities at KDR, and repeated acts of sexual harassment and abuse at the fraternity," according to the complaint.
Shaha did not return a call Monday.
The fraternity's national office declined to comment on the lawsuit.
Vivenzio enrolled at Penn State in August 2012 and pledged the fraternity that fall. A couple of high school friends had become members of Kappa Delta Rho and talked highly of it.
His first indication of a problem, he said, was a pledging ritual known as "lineups," in which pledges were ordered to the basement, often in the middle of the night, and made to drink large quantities of alcohol while doing sit-ups and push-ups. He said he continued to participate, hoping that each activity would be the last.
Eventually, he said, his studies suffered. He flunked all but one class his first semester and all his classes the next semester.
Vivenzio took a year off and got treatment for alcohol and post-traumatic stress due to the hazing, Freiwald said. He returned to the school in fall 2014 but left before the semester ended, and was hospitalized in early 2015 because of stress due to hazing, his lawyer said.
The student took his complaint to State College police in January, and two months later their investigation became public. Police are continuing that investigation but they have been unable to identify a woman who appears unconscious in the bedroom of the fraternity. They say several other women are unsure if they want to press charges.
The university said it found that some of the frat members engaged in hazing, such as forcing pledges to run errands, clean the fraternity house, and participate in boxing matches. Pledges also were forced to hold up the weight of their bodies on their arms with bottle caps attached under their elbows, the university found.
Penn State's investigation also determined that pledges were required to create stories with pornographic images and a "sex position of the day," and found the fraternity environment was degrading and disrespectful toward women.
Asked why Vivenzio didn't just leave the frat when the hazing started, Freiwald said, "There were many times he wanted to," but that leaving was harder than it might seem.
Vivenzio is no longer enrolled in college. His parents, Jim, a lawyer, and Robin, who works in retail, attended the news conference but declined to comment except to say that they were proud of their son.