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Burden of proof: Alcohol violations widespread amongst Kentucky IFC

Burden of proof: Alcohol violations widespread amongst
Kentucky IFC

Kentucky Kernel
By Natalie Parks
December 3, 2021

The death of an 18-year-old student from presumed alcohol toxicity has thrust alcohol use into the spotlight at the University of Kentucky.

Thomas “Lofton” Hazelwood was pronounced dead in the evening of Monday, Oct. 19, after being found unresponsive in the on-campus chapterhouse of UK fraternity FarmHouse. According to UK’s crime log, police reported 20 counts of liquor violations in the chapterhouse.

Those violations arose during the investigation of Hazelwood’s death, when police found alcohol in a room that could have been accessible to as many as 20 people in the hour before Hazelwood’s death. These violations were recorded as underage possession due to the age of the students accessing the fraternity house.

FarmHouse is a member of Kentucky Interfraternity Council, the governing body for 20 of UK’s fraternities. Conduct records reveal that 40% of IFC fraternities — excluding FarmHouse &mdash violated UK’s alcohol policy in the last 14 months.

UK’s approach to alcohol

Trisha Clement-Montgomery, UK’s dean of students, said the way alcohol misuse is reported highlights group use over individual use, making alcohol use look concentrated in IFC.

“We can’t really show the impact or the effects that it has on college students alone,” Clement-Montgomery said. “I will say though, that from what we have seen and what we do know in relation to alcohol use in IFC, I think it’s something that really highlights an issue – that we know to be true across the board nationally for most institutions – is this use of alcohol and maybe not necessarily having enough information and education related to how you use that and how you partake in that in a safe environment.”

The University of Kentucky is a dry campus. According to the university’s alcohol policy, alcoholic beverages are prohibited in “fraternity and sorority houses (on or off campus), and the undergraduate sections of university apartments” in part because the majority of students are underage. Hazelwood’s death differed from other alcohol violations by UK fraternities because it occurred on campus at the fraternity house, instead of at off-campus residences rented by fraternity members.

Though the circumstances of Hazelwood’s death are still under investigation, alcohol has been established as a factor by the Fayette County coroner and UK police. But the problem of underage drinking is not new to UK or to UK’s fraternities.

UK’s most recent Clery report lists almost 700 liquor law violations on or in close proximity to campus that were referred to the university in 2020. According to archived Kernel reports, that number has increased from the early 2000s, such as 375 incidents in 2005.

In an incident from September 2020, a new member of UK fraternity Kappa Alpha Order was taken to the hospital for overconsumption of alcohol during an off-campus party, according to records from Kappa Alpha’s conduct investigation.

Recent violations

The most publicized instance of alcohol violations at UK was the 2018 death of four-year-old Marco Shemwell, who was struck by Alpha Tau Omega pledge Jacob Heil. Shemwell died two days after the collision from head and neck trauma.

Heil, now 21, was convicted of driving under the influence after partaking in beers at his fraternity’s tailgate earlier in the day. According to a blood sample, his blood alcohol level was 0.038. The legal limit for those under 21 is .02.

Heil was recently found not guilty of reckless homicide. His fraternity, Alpha Tau Omega, was suspended by UK until 2033 and is one of multiple fraternities at UK who have faced disciplinary action in connection to underage drinking.

Excluding FarmHouse, seven fraternities at UK are currently on disciplinary probation or suspension for alcohol-related infractions; several of the fraternities committed concurrent infractions against COVID-19 guidelines and harm or threat of harm. Pi Kappa Alpha was also put on probation for alcohol misuse, a penalty that ended in September.

All of the fraternities who committed alcohol infractions are members of Kentucky’s Interfraternity Council. Combined with other violations, more than half of IFC member organizations have faced disciplinary action this school year.

“One of the things that I think can get misrepresented is a lot of times, if there is an investigation regarding fraternity and alcohol use, it doesn’t automatically mean that everyone in the fraternity is responsible for it,” said associate dean of students Brandon Thompson.

IFC has 20 member fraternities. Of those 20 fraternities, 45% have faced disciplinary action for alcohol misuse this school year. More than half &mdash 55% — of IFC fraternities currently face disciplinary action from UK, including FarmHouse, whose investigation has not yet yielded a sentence.