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Furman suspends Kappa Alpha for 4 years after coronavirus spread at off-campus parties

Furman University gets high marks for teacher preparation

Furman University campus library. File/Provided

The Kappa Alpha fraternity at Furman University has been suspended for at least four years after it hosted a pair of parties in August that resulted in at least 29 students becoming infected with COVID-19.

On Wednesday morning, the university said nearly 60 percent of those attending the parties on Aug. 21 and 22 were infected. The university said Tuesday the incident was under investigation and at least 58 students attended the parties. By Wednesday, one more student — for a total of 59 — had come forward to say they were at the parties.

"There were delays as contact tracers were initially not provided information about the events at the house and the individuals present," the university statement said. "An outbreak that surpasses our ability to quarantine is one trigger that could cause us to go fully remote, and this matter quickly became an issue of wellbeing for our entire community."

Furman spokesman Tom Evelyn deferred all comment Wednesday about the incident to the university's statement, which it circulated to students, staff, faculty, families and alumni on Wednesday morning.

"After careful deliberation, Furman University, in consultation with Interfraternity Council and Panhellenic Council leadership, has suspended recognition of the Kappa Alpha chapter for a period of no less than four years," the statement said.

Kappa Alpha, which has a history of problems at Furman, will have an opportunity to appeal the decision. Its members will remain Furman students, the statement said, though all activities associated with Kappa Alpha on- or off-campus must cease. 

Kappa Alpha ended a probationary period this spring after hosting an "unregistered event" in Hilton Head in April 2019, the university statement said. Some of the students at the unauthorized party last month were also involved in the Hilton Head incident — where wristbands were distributed to everyone for drinks at an open bar and at least one underage student was taken by ambulance to a hospital after getting drunk.

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"During that probationary period the chapter lost social privileges, participated in risk management trainings, engaged with headquarters’ consultant staff, and conducted a membership recommitment to the values and expectations of membership in Kappa Alpha in order to maintain membership," the university statement said. "Individuals involved in the 2019 incident were in attendance at the most recent incident."

The university said its student conduct code is clear about activities at "unrecognized venues" such as Kappa Alpha's former house off campus and how such activities can result in an organization's suspension.

Students who attended the parties will also face student conduct sanctions, Evelyn told The Post and Courier on Tuesday.

The university, consistently South Carolina’s top-ranked liberal arts college, ceased allowing off-campus fraternity houses last year. Currently, all 2,800 Furman students live on campus.

“Certainly there is an awareness on campus that going to off-campus parties and events like this could jeopardize the semester for everybody,” Evelyn told The Post and Courier on Tuesday.

The school has urged students to practice social responsibility regarding the coronavirus through health and hygiene guidelines contained within the so-called “Paladin Promise.”

"While the university appreciates the bonds that fraternal membership forms, any activities that put the health and safety of students at risk will not be tolerated," the school's statement said. "Individuals associated with the suspended chapter understand they must cease all organizational activity and the individual repercussions for failure to do so."

Follow Anna B. Mitchell on Twitter at @AnnaBard2U.

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