ORONO, Maine — A University of Maine fraternity was found to have hazed a student pledge who got lost last weekend for eight hours during an initiation activity near campus.
Sigma Chi has been placed on disciplinary probation through May 31, 2011, the UMaine dean of students announced Friday afternoon, and will face other sanctions in the wake of the incident involving Joshua Gilmore, 19, of Levant.
No individuals will be punished, said Robert Dana, who is UMaine’s vice president for student affairs.
Gilmore was the subject of a search that involved 11 public safety agencies and dozens of volunteers. The search for Gilmore was launched last Saturday morning when he did not return to campus after leaving a UMaine building at about 6 a.m. during an initiation ceremony.
He emerged at about 2:25 p.m. from the woods near the steam plant parking lot, which is located between College Avenue and the Stillwater River. That area runs adjacent to the western border of the campus.
Gilmore was examined at the scene and taken to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, where he was treated and released.
UMaine’s review of the incident, which Dana’s office conducted this week, determined Sigma Chi’s initiation procedures violate UMaine’s hazing policy.
Gilmore, who was one of several member candidates participating in last weekend’s fraternity activities, was told to search for a white cross, which actually did not exist, according to Dana’s report.
The investigation found pledges also were required to perform household chores, to dress differently from fraternity members and to be isolated from social contact during a weeklong process known as “Introspection Week.”
UMaine defines hazing as “any activity expected for someone joining a group (or to maintain full status in a group) that humiliates, degrades or risks emotional and/or physical harm, regardless of the person’s willingness to participate.”
Hazing is a violation of UMaine’s student code of conduct. Individuals who are found to have violated the code of conduct are dealt with through the school’s judicial process.
Sigma Chi President Zachary Hunt said the activities that led up to Gilmore’s disappearance cannot be defined as hazing. The cross is a Sigma Chi symbol, Hunt said, but he declined to specify why Gilmore was searching for the cross or reveal the meaning behind the exercise.
“Unfortunately, the definition of hazing in most universities these days is so broad,” Hunt said. “Basically, anything done to test a person’s commitment can be construed as hazing. I don’t believe that any individual or group of people acted in an inappropriate way.”
Gilmore, who could not be reached for comment, told Dana he did not feel he had been hazed.
“I think he felt that he was a willing participant, and didn’t feel that he was coerced or there was expected involvement,” Dana said. “He’s back in classes and doing fine. I think he feels as though he’s learned a great deal from this. He’s eager to integrate what he learned and move on, and I think the fraternity is, too.”
No alcohol or drugs were used before the incident, Hunt said. Dana said no alcohol or drug use came to light in the investigation.
Hunt said Gilmore misunderstood the directions given to him when the pledges early that morning left the area behind Heritage House, formerly the Sigma Chi fraternity. The building now houses the Office of University Development.
“The end result was unfortunate,” said Hunt, a fourth-year sociology major from Hancock. “It was unfortunate because of what happened, and because of the search.”
Gilmore, a Hermon High School graduate, was reported missing to campus police at 8:10 a.m. Saturday. Sigma Chi members spent about two hours searching for the junior financial economics major on their own before calling campus police.
By noon, nearly 100 volunteers, including about 80 students, had turned out to help in the search effort, coordinated by the Maine Warden Service and University of Maine Police.
Professionals and equipment from the Orono Police Department, Old Town Police Department, Maine State Police, Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office, Orono Fire Department, Old Town Fire Department, Milford Fire Department, Indian Island Fire Department and the Maine Forest Service also took part, UMaine spokesman Joe Carr said at the time. Volunteers from the Downeast Emergency Medicine Institute assisted the warden service in managing the search.
Downeast Emergency Medicine Institute officials who examined Gilmore when he emerged from the woods said Monday he was exhibiting signs of hypothermia and determined his body temperature had dropped to between 93 and 94 degrees, which is an indication of mild to moderate stages of hypothermia.
Dana said Gilmore had fallen into a tributary of the Stillwater River.
UMaine is home to professors Elizabeth Allan and Mary Madden, who are considered among the nation’s experts on hazing. Last fall UMaine hosted the sixth National Hazing Symposium, which drew about 55 hazing researchers and experts from all over the U.S. and Canada.
Neither Allan nor Madden could be reached for comment Friday, but Dana said hazing can often be subtle — and even when it’s not, victims feel it’s worth the trouble.
“People make a psychological shift and don’t see it for how it could be intimidating or demeaning,” he said. “They see it for what it can be and that’s ultimate membership.”
UMaine Chief of Police Noel March said earlier this week the final bill for the search could come to “multiple thousands of dollars.” Maine Warden Service spokeswoman Deborah Turcotte said the warden service rarely issues a bill for search-and-rescue operations in the case where no negligence is found.
March said Gilmore was sent out the morning of April 17 without his cell phone.
“That was one of the most irresponsible acts in this whole incident,” March said. “All of this could have been prevented if someone could have called to ask him, ‘Are you OK? Where are you,’ to say nothing of him calling for help.”
Hunt said Gilmore has not yet been initiated into the fraternity, but expected that to happen soon.
“I met with him and his parents and another [Sigma Chi] brother, and from all sides everyone is very enthusiastic about his continuation of pledging,” Hunt said. “We have to get past this incident and do what it takes to get him successfully initiated into Sigma Chi.”
BDN reporters Judy Harrison and Dawn Gagnon contributed to this report.