KCBX Two-Way: Video shows Cal Poly fraternity waterboarding

Oct 4, 2019

Waterboarding is a form or torture that simulates drowning. A recently-released video by student media outlet Mustang News shows it may have been used as a punishment by members of a Cal Poly fraternity. KCBX News’ Tyler Pratt spoke with Mustang News Editor-In-Chief, Austin Linthicum.

TYLER PRATT: Can you describe what's in this video, who's in it and what is happening?

AUSTIN LINTHICUM: So the video we obtained was taken at the Beta Theta Pi fraternity on campus at one of their satellite houses, and it was believed to be taken in spring of 2019. The video was only two seconds long, but it does show someone at the house, a male, laying on the ground with his face covered with a cloth and then he's right underneath the hose spigot. They're spraying water pretty aggressively onto him.

PRATT: Does the student appear to be a willing participant in this activity?

LINTHICUM: It was said to have been the punishment for not making any shots in beer die. It's just a pretty popular drinking game that's played on campus or in fraternities around here. That was what they said had happened from time to time, if people did that. It's called trolling.

PRATT: Does this raise any questions about consent in these situations? If the person might be a willing participant, but it's mandatory to get accepted into a social group?

LINTHICUM: As we understand it right now, it was not part of the formal initiation per say into Beta, the fraternity. It was more of just something that happened when [they] were playing beer die. So as far as we understand it, someone could have gotten out of that situation if they absolutely wanted to, but it was more of a peer pressure-type situation.

PRATT: But also just as easily the student could have been injured or worse, as we see so many times and instances across the U.S. of students getting hurt or or even dying. Why does hazing or these kind of punishments persist in this culture?

LINTHICUM: Well, it's hard to say. I mean, what we do know is that it's definitely still a culture in some fraternities like that. This was a video they obviously thought was not going to be public. It came out when one of our main sources was kicked out of the house after an unofficial fraternity party. You know this is something that was in the past. I've been the editor-in-chief of Mustang News now for two years and we've seen several incidents of when fraternities have been either suspended or effectively kicked off of campus due to hazing. That was definitely something that is taken very seriously at the school. With that said though, the Beta fraternity is still not technically suspended by Cal Poly. They're just saying they're currently under investigation. That's something that's different from the past, because usually we'll see immediately after something will be revealed, that some sort of hazing took place or an alcohol violation, they'll immediately put the story on some sort of probation. But that has not seen that happen yet, according to the university.

PRATT: Cal Poly has a very specific no hazing policy. So you're saying their response has been that they're just investigating and no action has been taken.

LINTHICUM: When we talked to the university, they had very little information last night when we published the story. We're waiting to hear back from them. But it was very unclear...this video was just sent directly to Mustang News, so we believe that it's possible that was the first time that the university had seen the video. We're just not sure. So they said they were looking into something at Beta, but there was no further details they could provide, so the investigation very likely could have widened now that more information is becoming available.

Editor's note: On Oct. 4, 2019, KCBX News reached out to the university, the Cal Poly chapter of Beta Theta Pi and the national fraternity organization. The local chapter did not respond, but the national organization emailed the following: "At this time, we believe the video was captured in August or September 2018 and involves a small number of men – none of whom were Beta Theta Pi pledges – acting as individuals and away from any related fraternity event. That being said, what’s depicted as part of a reported drinking game is certainly disappointing, unsafe and in no way aligns with the values of our organization. We are in close contact with university officials, who are currently investigating the conduct of individual students related to this matter, and are fully cooperating as it relates to anyone associated with our chapter.”

A spokesperson for Cal Poly said: "Cal Poly does not tolerate hazing within its campus community. All reports the university receives of potential hazing activity are taken very seriously, investigated thoroughly and handled appropriately. The university is aware of the video clip from 2018 showing Beta Theta Pi fraternity chapter members. The university continues to investigate the circumstances of the activity depicted and is in contact with the fraternity chapter, its national headquarters, and individuals present at the event in order to determine what occurred. Because the investigation is ongoing, no further details are available at this time."