The young pledge said she was told the beatings would “humble” her, that each flesh-rending strike with a wooden paddle would build love and trust between sorority sisters.
It wasn’t hazing, she said they told her. The women of Sigma Gamma Rho at Rutgers University didn’t condone hazing.
For seven nights the beatings went on, she said. In all, she was struck 201 times. On the eighth day — unable to sit, her buttocks covered with blood clots and welts — she went to the hospital. Then she reported it to the university.
Today, Rutgers police said they had arrested six members of the sorority on charges of aggravated hazing, alleging they repeatedly beat at least three pledges between Jan. 18 and Jan. 25. A university official, vice president of student affairs Greg Blimling, and the pledge who spoke to The Star-Ledger put the number of victims at seven.
The university immediately suspended the Rutgers chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho, as did the sorority’s national organization, headquartered in North Carolina.
“The local chapter was doing this on its own, not with the sanction of either the university or the national organization,” Blimling said, noting Rutgers has a clear anti-hazing policy that includes workshops for all fraternities and sororities.
He said the university moved aggressively against Sigma Gamma Rho, which has operated for “many years” on the New Brunswick campus but does not have a dedicated sorority house, after learning another hazing session had been scheduled for Tuesday night. The first arrests took place before it could happen.
Charged Tuesday were Vanessa Adegbite, 21, of Jersey City; Joana Bernard, 21, of West Orange; Kesha Cheron, 20, of Newark; and Llana Warner, 20 of the Bronx. Each was charged with aggravated hazing, a felony that carries up to 18 months in prison. All four were later released from the Middlesex County jail on $1,500 bail.
Today, police arrested Shawna Ebanks, 21, of East Orange, and Marie Charles, also 21, of West Orange, on the same charges.
Charles and Cheron are public health majors. Ebanks is a political science major.
Authorities said the beatings took place at Rockoff Hall, a student apartment building on George Street, and at private homes in Newark and West Orange. In addition to the paddling, police said, the pledges were in some cases denied food.
The pledge who spoke to The Star-Ledger did so on condition of anonymity, saying she feared retaliation. Her cousin, Khalilh Anthony, accompanied her to Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, along with the pledge’s mother, saying she was appalled when she saw the injuries caused by the repeated beatings.
“I wanted to beat them back,” said Anthony, who has a different last name. “Maybe if they got hit, they wouldn’t hit others. They’d know what it felt like.”
The pledge said she was eager to join Sigma Gamma Rho, an African-American sorority founded in 1922, because of its history of community service. On Jan. 18, eight pledges gathered in an apartment in Rockoff Hall, she said.
“They told us there was no hazing, that they didn’t believe in it,” she said.
Then the paddles came out. The pledges, clad in sweat pants, were instructed to wrap blue and gold tape around the wooden paddles, each a foot long and 6 inches wide, she said.
She was struck 19 times that night, she said. Four sorority members delivered the blows, the pledge said, while two others supervised. She said the group was told the beatings would “humble” them and would get them to rely upon one another.
“At the end, we were supposed to be helping each other,” she said.
One pledge stopped attending after a few nights, she said. Another began to bleed freely at one point. The pain, she said, grew worse by the day. By Monday, unable even to lie down without pain, she called her cousin and mother and went to the hospital.
Colleges across the country have cracked down on hazing, but incidents continue to crop up. In 2008, a Sigma Gamma Rho chapter at the University of Texas in Austin was sanctioned. A year earlier, A Rider University freshman died after drinking nearly two-third of a bottle of vodka during an initiation ritual at the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity.
By Sue Epstein and Tom Haydon/The Star-Ledger (praiseman ask what do you think the bible says about this???)