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Editorial: Were the KA Five punished for hazing? Clemson won’t tell us

Katie Bradham, Senior Videographer
Sikes Hall, the University administration building.

The Tiger recently reported on the investigation into five Kappa Alpha brothers who poured liquid from boiled peanuts on a peanut-allergic pledge. The Clemson University Police Department declined to press charges, citing a lack of probable cause under the law. However, the University conducted a separate investigation to see if the brothers violated the Student Code of Conduct and Hazing Policy.
As of today, we still do not know what the results of this investigation are. Did the brothers receive any punishment? How did the University respond?
After three months of back-and-forth with the University’s lawyers, Clemson has told us that they will not — and, falsely, cannot — provide us with an answer.
The University claims they are bound by an educational privacy law called the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. FERPA is a federal law that protects the privacy of student educational records with personally identifiable information, such as a student’s name or date of birth.
However, we are not looking for any personally identifiable information. Let us be clear: we are not interested in the names of the five KA brothers, nor are we looking to find out the victim’s name. All we are looking for is the University’s response to a clear-cut case of dangerous hazing.
“Regardless of any excuse for confidentiality, the tool to withhold information is redaction, so any insistence that these investigative records could be entirely withheld is likely illegal,” Attorney Taylor Smith of Harrison, Radeker & Smith told The Tiger.
The University can easily redact the names from the reports and has done so in each previous report they have sent us.
However, the University claims that by telling us the brothers’ punishment, or if they received any punishment at all, it would be possible to figure out who they are. This argument is shaky at best. Nonetheless, FERPA has an exception for what is called a “crime of violence,” such as an assault-related offense.
“The allegations surrounding this incident are appropriately investigated as a potential crime of violence on the university campus by its students,” Smith said. “It is preposterous to think this alleged assault would not also violate Clemson’s rules or policies, thus taking it out of FERPA confidentiality entirely.”

This is not the first case of a university obscuring records from the public. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was sued by its student newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel, in 2016 for not releasing campus sexual assault records for a similar reason. The case was decided against Chapel Hill by the North Carolina Supreme Court in 2021.

“The Daily Tar Heel case concerned whether FERPA shielded disciplinary findings against particular students. Here, it doesn’t yet seem there is going to be any discipline, only secrecy,” Smith said.

We can only assume that the reason why the University will not provide us with the outcome of the investigation is that it is something they do not want to be published. As a publicly funded institution, Clemson is expected to uphold a certain standard of transparency. Unfortunately, by failing to share how they approach a hazing incident, they have fallen far below it.

This editorial is the collective opinion of The Tiger’s Desk Editors. All editors vote on the topic and stance, then assign a writer to pen the editorial. We discuss issues relevant to the Clemson student body and broader topics related to the University.

Update: Prior to publishing this editorial online, and after it was sent for print, Joe Galbraith, University spokesperson, sent us a statement on the matter.
“We appreciate The Tiger’s interest and concerns regarding this matter. As an institution, we take seriously student safety and student privacy. In accordance with the South Carolina Freedom of Information Act, the University produced numerous responsive records from CUPD and OCES in a timely manner. This incident has been handled in accordance with our student conduct policy and appropriate action was taken. Releasing specific details of any possible punishment imposed on any individual students would be a violation of their privacy rights.
As detailed in the Clemson Student Code of Conduct, if a student is found in violation, possible sanctions include written reprimands, in-kind restitution, restriction of privileges, no contact orders, disciplinary probation, eviction, suspension, dismissal, interim measures, or emergency removal.”

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