The view from a PBE parent

For the sake of the PBE brothers, MIT must lead a new investigation

To those we’ve entrusted:

My name is Kelly Leonard and Nicholas Leonard, PBE-MIT ’11, is my son. My husband and I are both first generation college graduates, but it came to us in the nontraditional way and later in life. We were married with children when we earned our degrees and things like dorms and fraternities were unknown to us. The only “living group” we experienced was our own family.

We’ve had high expectations for our kids and Nick has never let us down — we encouraged him to set his goals high and he did. Trying to be informed parents, we investigated MIT through media content, internet articles, the MIT website and blogs, and a visit to the campus. All the information we had gathered confirmed the incredible opportunities as well as the outstanding education that he would be privy to. When the word came that he had been accepted into MIT Class of 2011, we were more than pleased.

Late August 2007, we put Nick on a plane to arrive in Boston so he could attend Freshman Leadership Program (FLP) before classes began. A week later, we loaded the car to bring his belongings and help him move into Baker dormitory. He made a smooth and easy transition to college life.

I was a little skeptical when he told me that he was “rushing” and was interested in a fraternity named Phi Beta Epsilon. He told me what they had presented themselves as to him, including their high group GPA and the benefits of having “brothers” who had “been there and done that” as far as classes go and how much it would help him academically. They have a long and outstanding legacy as a local fraternity with much charitable involvement and diversity. My only experience with “frat” houses was limited to movies and the news, none of which portrayed fraternities in a good light. I had a conversation with Nick specifically discussing my displeasure over the possibility of hazing. He believed then, and assured me later that my fears had been ungrounded and that the pledge process and fraternity initiation were all about bonding and brotherhood and left him feeling more supported academically and emotionally that he could have ever imagined.

PBE has provided a safe, conveniently located roof over his head, meals in his stomach, tutoring when needed, social contact, encouragement, friendship, fun, companionship and support — just like a family. They are his family when he can’t be here with us. They are his older brothers who’ve guided him and taught him responsibility and discipline and his younger brothers who’ve taught him patience and pride. All of the brothers before him and all that will come after him are family.

We sent Nick to you with the understanding that MIT is an institution that cares about its students. Our son is not just a tuition check to you, but a person who, with the opportunity being given to him, could change the world. MIT gets this and fosters this atmosphere. But our family is deeply concerned about Nick right now. He and his fellow brothers have had the rug pulled out from under them with their expulsion from the IFC. How can they possibly study, learn and maintain grades with this kind of stress? Are any of the current actives accused of a violation? Is there any just cause for punishing these students this extremely? Could no other alternate, more fitting, resolution be found? Perhaps an educational workshop to be hosted by PBE, to inform all the other fraternities, sororities, dorms, living groups, athletic groups and yes, MIT sponsored activities like FLP, the definition of hazing and how it might apply to them?

Our judicial system is one of the best in the world. It is a hallowed and revered institution that I fully support. In a civilian court, we are protect against biased judges and partial jurors. Judges will recuse themselves from cases and jurors are vetted at the onset by both sides of the process. We also have the right to face our accuser. I also believe that “evidence” obtained illegally cannot be introduced to the court. Our system also allows that if and when the process fails, there is protection in the form of mistrials, retrials and appeals.

While I understand and believe in the benefit of a student organization to self-govern, these are still very young and inexperienced adults who are absolutely capable of bias and partiality. That is why an advisory representative should be in place to oversee their actions and to guide them through the process especially in a case of this significance. I am dismayed that the Dean of Student Life appears more concerned with “supporting the student leaders who made this difficult decision” than the actual students whose lives this decision affects. These same students have not been shown to be responsible for any misconduct.

Noted in Commonwealth of Massachusetts General Laws 269:17 HAZING; ORGANIZING OR PARTICIPATING; HAZING DEFINED: “any conduct ... whether on public or private property, which willfully or recklessly endangers the physical or mental health of any student or other person. Such conduct...which is likely to adversely affect the physical health of any such student or other person, or which subjects such student or other person to extreme mental stress.” Under this definition, our sons, being “willfully exposed to extreme mental stress” and the possibility of “physical endangerment” through unknown future housing are being hazed right now. Unfortunately, they are not afforded protection from the IFC nor the decisions of the IFC.

Here are the things that concern me about recent events:

1. The lack of transparency (through the protection of the criminal who submitted the illegally obtained “evidence”).

2. There was no Institute adviser present during the IFC meeting “due to the holiday.”

3. A biased and tainted juror was allowed to serve, deliberate and hand down a sentence.

4. The extremeness of the punishment. I have to question the motives behind the expulsion (later changed to suspension).

5. The lack of adhering to the IFC’s own 60 day statute of limitations regarding the presence of alcohol (which was never consumed nor even unsealed, yet was admittedly present).

6. No person, past or present, can be found to corroborate any accusation of hazing yet PBE was found guilty of such a violation.

7. There doesn’t seem to be an organized appeal process available. The Dean of Student life appears interested only in “supporting the process” and not in supporting the wrongfully displaced students.

8. I’m concerned about my son and the other MIT students of PBE who have had their home and social support network dismantled without just cause.

I’m not an MIT alum, I have no experience with the judicial system and I’m not an eloquent writer, but I hope that MIT hears and understands my concerns regarding this situation. I hope that the administration will look into this matter more thoroughly and I hope that they will be part of the process to oversee a resolution to this injustice. This is my son’s senior year at MIT, one that I thought would be as rich and rewarding as his previous three. But, instead, we’re finding that it’s been a nightmare of uncertainty and stress.

We trusted MIT three years ago with our son’s education and well-being. We’re trusting them again now that this matter will be attended to and that MIT will not allow an incident of this magnitude to to occur without a thorough and impartial investigation.

Kelly K. Leonard is the mother of Nick Leonard ’11, a brother at PBE.