Officials: Branding not common on campus

A person could use clothes hangers for many different things, the most obvious of which is to hang clothes.

Others have used these household items to recover hard-to-reach items, pick locks and roast marshmallows.

More still have had a clothes hanger TV antennae or used the hangers to prepare hot dogs around campfires.

And, as university students learned last week, some in fraternities have used wire hangers to char human flesh.

University officials said last week that they are investigating a branding incident after sophomore pre-business major and Kappa Sigma member Amon “Chance” Carter reported sustaining second- and third-degree burns on his buttocks while intoxicated during a ski trip in Breckenridge, Colo., on Jan. 9. Local television station WFAA reported Wednesday night that Carter, great-grandson of Fort Worth Star-Telegram founder and city icon Amon G. Carter, has filed a complaint about the incident with Breckenridge police, who have launched an investigation.

The incident has drawn attention to the phenomenon of branding, the process of applying heat to flesh in order to leave a permanent mark, but Greek community officials said the practice is not a trend at the university.

Shannon Sumerlin, interim director of Fraternity and Sorority Life, said the TCU chapter of Kappa Sigma was not found responsible for the incident by its national body.

“The Kappa Sigma national fraternity has completed their investigation and has not found the chapter to be responsible for any misdeeds,” Sumerlin said.

She said fraternity and sorority events are deemed official or unofficial by the individual organizations and not by the university.

John Andrew Willis, a junior Spanish major, Interfraternity Council president and a member of Kappa Sigma, said branding is not common at the university.

“I don’t know of any organization on this campus, fraternity, sorority, Greek or non-Greek, that would brand members as part of affiliation with the group,” Willis said. “While I can’t speak for anybody, (Carter) is the only person on this campus that I am aware of that has any sort of branding related to his organizational affiliation.”

Carter’s account of his branding is one of two in North-American Interfraternity Conference fraternities reported since last week.

The Associated Press reported on Jan. 28 another case of branding at Glenville State University in West Virginia, this one involving Tau Kappa Epsilon. The fraternity faces possible sanctions after an online video showed a former student’s arm being branded with a hot coat hanger, according to the report.

Willis said members of Interfraternity Council, the campus organization associated with the NIC, would report any incidents of physical harm to university officials.

“In short, it’s something that’s not tolerated at all,” Willis said.

Sumerlin said branding is a matter of pride and loyalty for many fraternity members.

“It’s worn as a sign of pride in their organization, much like people might get a tattoo to represent their organization,” Sumerlin said.

Sumerlin, who has worked with many different Greek organizations for 11 years, said she is not aware of any other branding incidents at the university. She said she had personally seen brands on members of National Pan-Hellenic Council fraternities and sororities on other campuses nationwide, specifically members of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, but she had not seen such marks on any members of the university’s Omega Psi Phi chapter.

Sumerlin said branding has been more popular among members of NPHC organizations, which are historically black fraternities and sororities. She said she believes branding was a product of slavery, and among modern-day fraternities, it is a way of making branding their own and a choice unlike the forced branding of pre-Civil War America.

“Nationally, that has existed for many years,” Sumerlin said. “It’s not a recent influx.”

Some celebrity members of these organizations have displayed their brandings. Former Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith, a member of the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, and Michael Jordan, a member of Omega Psi Phi, have both publicly displayed their brands, according to an article from The Washington Post.

For some fraternity members nationwide, branding remains a way to show pride in an organization of which they are lifetime members.

According to a Jan. 28 article in The Shorthorn, the campus newspaper at the University of Texas at Arlington, members of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity were willingly branded while sober.

Despite this incidence, Sumerlin said branding is not growing in popularity.

“None of the professional literature indicates that,” Sumerlin said.

Linda Wolszon, director of the Counseling, Testing and Mental Health Center, said she had not heard from any students at the university who had been branded.

“In my 20 years of experience in college student mental health, student branding has never come to my attention,” Wolszon said.

Don Mills, vice chancellor for Student Affairs, said that even though branding is not specifically listed as a violation under the university Code of Student Conduct, it could be considered a violation under the code. According to the code, students are not permitted to harm other students.

Mills said that under specific circumstances, branding would also be considered hazing under state law, as well as the university code. An incident is considered hazing if it is related to membership in an organization, but isolated incidents in which the branding was not a condition of membership in the organization would not necessarily be deemed hazing, Mills said.

The university investigation into the Carter case is ongoing, Mills said.

Though members of Kappa Sigma were present at the gathering where Carter was branded, university officials have not said whether the incident could be considered hazing under the Code of Student Conduct.