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California

San Diego State investigating whether fraternity leader promoted blackout drinking among students

SDSU
Hepner Hall on the campus of San Diego State University.
(Howard Lipin / San Diego-Union-Tribune)

The inquiry comes while SDSU was already investigating long-term problems with its fraternities

San Diego State University says it is investigating whether the student who represents 14 of the school’s fraternities promoted blackout drinking in a text message posted on social media in February.

The inquiry comes as the university is already investigating student drinking and safety in the wake of the death of Dylan Hernandez, a freshman who fell out of a bunk bed and cracked his skull in November after returning from a night of partying with Phi Gamma Delta, where he was a pledge.

San Diego State confirmed the new investigation on Tuesday, a day after the campus newspaper Daily Aztec reported that Interfraternity Council President Steven Plante had advocated blackout drinking on Feb. 8 on GroupMe, a messaging app. The story also says the text contained a homophobic slur.

Plante issued a statement to the paper apologizing for the slur, saying, in part, “My language was not meant in any sort of hateful, demeaning or derogatory way whatsoever and I acknowledge that it is language I should never use again.”

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He also told the Daily Aztec that the text message was merely an attempt to drum up support for a celebration of his 21st birthday.

Plante did not respond to requests for comment.

“The allegations presented, if proven, indicate serious violations of not only the student organization code of conduct, but also the November 2019 Presidential order suspending all 14 IFC-affiliated organizations,” the university’s Student Life & Leadership office said in a statement.

“SDSU expects that all students commit to behaviors that uphold university values and maintain student safety and success, by complying with the university’s student code of conduct.”

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The university has had problems with its fraternities for years, ranging from underage drinking to noise and health code violations.

The situation turned into a crisis in early November after 19-year-old Hernandez fell out of his campus bunk bed after returning from “Big Bro-Little Bro” night at Phi Gamma Delta.

Dylan Hernandez.jpg
Dylan Hernandez, the SDSU fraternity pledge who died.
(Courtesy of the Hernandez family)

San Diego State police estimated that when Hernandez left the party his peak blood-alcohol level was 0.23% — roughly three times the legal limit for operating a motor vehicle.

At the time, 10 of the 14 IFC fraternities, including Phi Gamma, were under investigation or suspension.

President Adela de la Torre issued a crackdown, preventing some fraternities from recruiting new members and setting new rules for how, when and where Greek organizations could recruit and socialize.

She also created two task forces, one to study the use and misuse of alcohol and other substances by students, and one to examine student health and safety.

The controversy about Plante’s text comes while the task forces are meeting.

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The Feb. 8 text says, in part, “Boys, I know that sometimes I ask for a lot or that sometimes I am dramatic with when we can open and when we cannot open. But at 12:01 I am 21 years old...”

“I know that the current exec board is very against doing something tonight and I completely understand that because I’ve been there, but also.. it’s Saturday and SAE/phi psi are opening...”

The text then appears to invite Pi Kappa Alpha brothers to party.

“If exec decides to veto their decision I would love to blackout with all of my [expletive] dawgs. No one else I would rather spend my 21st with. Thank you all for having my back and if exec doesn’t wanna ope ... I’ll open my room to anyone and everyone please show up and black out. Plenty of floor space...”

SAE refers to Sigma Alpha Epsilon, an SDSU fraternity. Phi psi refers to Phi Kappa Psi, another fraternity.

The message also refers to “Pike,” which is shorthand for Pi Kappa Alpha, a third fraternity. Plante used to be president of Pike and is now president of IFC.

The word “open” means “that someone living in a house is ‘open’ to inviting others over to hangout,” Plante said in his message to the Daily Aztec.

The university has not publicly set a deadline for completing its investigation into Plante’s text message.

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Robbins writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.


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