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Witnesses recount what happened at Pi Alpha Phi fraternity party where student died

December 21, 2021
<p>Pi Alpha Phi House photographed on Dec. 17, 2021.</p>

Pi Alpha Phi House photographed on Dec. 17, 2021.

Photo by Rahmya Trewern | The State News

On Nov. 19, the MSU chapter of Pi Alpha Phi held a crossing party to welcome four new members into their fraternity.

The party ended with the death of MSU business student Phat Nguyen and three other pledges transported to Sparrow Hospital.

Early that Friday morning, the Asian American interest fraternity made a Facebook post welcoming four pledges into their fall 2021 class, including Nguyen. 

The Facebook post included several photos of brothers standing in front of the Pi Alpha Phi house with large green and white Greek letters propped up behind them. In another photo people identified as pledge master Ethan Cao, pledge dad Andrew Nguyen and the pledges stood in the center smiling wide together.

As a result of the incident, MSU and the Pi Alpha Phi National Board placed the MSU chapter under interim suspension

Weeks later, the Pi Alpha Phi National Board and MSU closed the chapter for a minimum of 10 years.

Currently, the investigation is still ongoing, led by the East Lansing Police Department, or ELPD.

Witnesses who attended the party contacted The State News. They reported scenes of a basement room with three individuals stripped down to their shorts, writings on their back and lying unconscious over mattresses.

According to the witnesses, students from other MSU Greek life organizations attended the party as well.

The witnesses have spoken to the ELPD.

The witness’ recount and students’ reports

After entering the house, the witnesses stood in the kitchen and picked up a smell of urine. They quickly brushed it off after seeing a bathroom that was connected to the kitchen, assuming the stench came from there.

“We started walking into the basement and before we were down the stairs all the way the smell of urine hit me,” one witness said. “It was really really strong. The air got really thick. It was really gross like you could smell something, and it wasn’t even just urine, it was a mix of something just kind of like vomit.”

As they were walking down the stairs they saw people standing in a room on the right side of the basement, one witness described.

“It was a really dirty old room, no furniture, nothing,” one witness said. “The room looked like it was rotting and there were a couple of mattresses on the ground, super dirty.”

Laying on two of the bare twin-sized mattresses, placed on either side of the room, were three out of the four Pi Alpha Phi fall 2021 newly initiated brothers. The three individuals had thrown up over themselves and the witnesses could see that they had urinated on themselves as well.

Cheerios were dispersed throughout the basement floor, the witnesses said.

One witness said that one pledge, not moving, was laying alone on top of the mattress in the far left corner of the room. The other two individuals lay on top of each other on another mattress to the right. 

They did not see the fourth pledge in the basement room, the witnesses confirmed.

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“In the moment I didn’t realize something could be very wrong here,” one witness said. "It’s really dehumanizing to those guys, you don’t want anyone to see you like that.”

As one witness recounts, they saw one pledge with blood dripping from his nose onto his arm and experiencing convulsion-like movements.

All three individuals were shirtless with writing on their bodies in black marker including the word “simp” and explicit words, the witnesses said.

“There were already a lot of people down there,” one witness said. “People would go down there and look at them and come back up. It wasn’t secret — everyone knew what was going on. It just happened to be that people would go down there, I guess take photos, go back up, dance, party, get bored, go back down there.”

While the pledge on the left mattress was left alone, a group of girls were surrounding the mattresses on the right side taking videos and getting “really up close" in the faces of the unconscious pledges.

One student that was not at the house that night, but has spoken with members in the MSU Asian American community, said that the pledges had been drinking throughout the day. 

“So when they do that usually people are supposed to be there just like looking after them, but I guess this time there wasn’t,” the student said.

According to the student, stripping down the pledges to their shorts and having writing in marker on their body is a Pi Alpha Phi tradition.

“It was hazing,” one witness said. “He was hazed to death and that is the truth.”

Response after the crossing party

Nguyen’s autopsy report was released recently and said the leading factor of death was confirmed as alcohol intoxication.

According to the Michigan Penal Code Section 750.411t, if hazing results in a death, the person is guilty of a felony punishable by no more than 15 years in prison or a fine no more than $10,000, or both.

This section doesn’t apply to an individual that was the subject of hazing if the individual voluntarily allowed themself to be hazed.

"'Hazing' means an intentional, knowing, or reckless act by a person acting alone or acting with others that is directed against an individual and that the person knew or should have known endangers the physical health or safety of the individual, and that is done for the purpose of pledging, being initiated into, affiliating with, participating in, holding office in, or maintaining membership in any organization,” according to the Michigan Penal Code.

Hazing can include, but is not limited to, “activity involving consumption of a food, liquid, alcoholic beverage, liquor, drug, or other substance that subjects the individual to an unreasonable risk of harm or that adversely affects the physical health or safety of the individual,” according to the code.

Pi Alpha Phi’s national board’s policy statements and risk management information state that hazing, along with other actions, can have a devastating effect on their brotherhood. The fraternity is trying to manage these risks. 

“Pi Alpha Phi is concerned for the health and safety of our members,” Pi Alpha Phi’s Risk Management Policy wrote. “Pi Alpha Phi works to address negative behaviors associated with alcohol and drug abuse, hazing, and sexual abuse and harassment.”

Rule 9 of the Pi Alpha Phi Member Code of Conduct states that, in order to promote a strong brotherhood, members agree to not “misuse nor support the misuse of alcohol or drugs.”

The State News attempted to reach the three pledges. One, Philip Jeon, responded and said that everything the pledges did was completely voluntary.

“We were actually encouraged to drop,” Jeon wrote in an Instagram direct message. “The bros made sure to say to us that everything is voluntary and that we could’ve said no to anything that night of the party. Their (number one) priority was our safety.”

The State News attempted to contact multiple Pi Alpha Phi members. Cao, the fraternity’s fall 2021 pledge master, refused to be interviewed.

“I do not have any comments about this incident,” Cao said in a text.

Chinese-American Student Coalition, or CSC, president Henry Zhou and faculty advisor for the Asian Pacific American Student Organization Anna Lin spoke at Nguyen’s vigil on Nov. 29. 

“Every time I’d see him he was smiling, laughing with other people,” Zhou said. “He was very charismatic, that is something that I do admire.”

Lin recommends all students speak up if they see something that seems wrong or makes them feel uncomfortable, even if they are afraid at the moment. 

“If the person you’re talking to is not willing to listen to you then just call authority,” Lin said. “At the end of the day you could be saving someone’s life and that is more important.” 

Editor's note: If a student needs support services, reach out to MSU Counseling and Psychiatric Services, or CAPS, to schedule individual counseling sessions or call CAPS’ crises services that can be reached at (517) 355-8270 and are available to students 24/7/365.

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