Former Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox is president of Young Harris College
YOUNG HARRIS, Ga. -- At Young Harris College one year ago, three dozen signatures appeared on a faculty petition asking the college's administration to address "the pervasive and destructive culture of hazing on the YHC campus."
MORE | 'Culture of abusive hazing' alleged at Young Harris College
The April 2012 petition came on the heels of a complaint by a freshman student, Jo Hannah Burch, who said she had been hazed by a sorority called Gamma Psi.
MORE | Read the lawsuit
"I have friends at UGA who are in sororities, and they have bonding experiences. This was torture," Burch said in an interview.
Two of the faculty who signed the petition, Joseph Terry and Therese Crapanzano, joined Burch in a federal lawsuit against Young Harris College -- alleging they were fired for helping Burch blow the whistle on what the suit calls "a widespread and well-known culture of abusive and sexually charged hazing." Articles from the campus newspaper indicate concerns about hazing at Young Harris dating back to 1989.
"In this investigation, (Terry and Crapanzano) learned that there had been a very serious history of hazing at Young Harris College," said James Radford, attorney for the plaintiffs. "That involved not only emotionally damaging behavior, but also sexist behavior."
The lawsuit says that behavior includes
-forcing female pledges to run across campus in their underwear;
-forcing "sweethearts", female members of male fraternities, to stand naked and be judged by fraternity members;
-forcing "sweethearts" to simulate sex in front of fraternity members;
-widespread use of sexually explicit insults.
Burch's attorney says the student's complaint about hazing at Young Harris prompted a meeting between the school's president-- former Georgia Secretary of State Cathy Cox -- and members of the faculty. Crapanzano recorded the April 25, 2012 meeting. On her recording, Cox is heard warning that alleged eyewitnesses may not be believable.
"(If) you probably keep up with criminal law at all, one of the big discussions around the country nowadays is the complete unreliability of eyewitness testimony in trials," Cox tells the meeting. "That could have played into the way this allegation came about. I don't know."
A spokesman for the school says Cox was simply being cautious.
"For some reason, these two faculty members got a lot of our other faculty members whipped up into a fervor over how nothing was being done about a particular incident. Which is the furthest thing from the truth," said Jay Stroman, spokesman for the college. Stroman said Cox was unavailable for comment.
Young Harris College suspended the sorority for a year, but did not go after any individuals involved in Burch's initiation. The faculty petition in 2012 asked Young Harris administration "to require repercussions for individuals who participate in hazing."
Tuesday evening, Young Harris College issued the following statement:
"Hazing is an activity that goes against the values on which Young Harris College was founded more than 125 years ago, and it is not tolerated here - at any level. More than a year ago, we suspended the sorority mentioned in this lawsuit for violating the school's no-hazing policy, and the student now complaining and her family told us then that they were satisfied with our actions. This lawsuit contains false, sensational allegations on multiple fronts, all of which are far removed from the everyday reality we live on our campus. We look forward to addressing all these matters in the proper forum, which is the courts."