EKT sees online threat after Office of Greek Life cancels Masters pong tournament

The annual pong tournament was shut down by the Office of Greek Life on Tuesday, leading to fervent speculation on social media about the cause.

by Kyle Mullins | 7/23/21 5:15am

by Oliver De Jonghe / The Dartmouth Staff

Following a notice by the Office of Greek Life that the “Masters” pong tournament could not take place this year due to safety and liability concerns and multiple violations of the hazing and drug and alcohol policies, Epsilon Kappa Theta sorority received a threat against the house, which summer president Lila Hovey ’23 reported to Safety and Security. 

The threat that concerned the house was posted on the anonymous social media platform Librex on Tuesday evening amid a flurry of anti-EKT messages. One user, according to a screenshot of the since-removed post in question, wrote that “EKT should be derecognized for trying to ban pong,” and the first reply read “BURN THEIR HOUSE TO THE GROUND.” 

“I think we would rather overreact and make sure that our members are safe than leave it up to chance,” full-year president Laurel Semprebon ’22 said. 

In response to Hovey’s report, Safety and Security offered to move sorority members to safe beds throughout campus if they did not feel comfortable staying in the house overnight, Semprebon and Hovey said. Because it contained a specific violent threat, the department also passed the report to the Hanover Police, which will step up patrols in the area for the next week, lieutenant Mike Schibuola said Wednesday. 

Safety and Security director Keysi Montás declined to comment on the record.

The decision to shut down the tournament came after a student “worried about the consequences of the activity” provided the list of rules to the OGL, OGL program coordinator Jessica Barloga wrote in an emailed statement. 

EKT, Hovey and Semprebon stressed repeatedly, was not involved in the decision to cancel Masters. Additionally, they noted, pong itself was not banned at the meeting; in fact, a ban on all drinking games remains in effect since then-Dean of the College Kathryn Lively — whose resignation was announced Monday — announced it in September as a COVID-19 precaution.

A post announcing that OGL had decided to shut down the tournament appeared in the “*Junior* Summer 21X” GroupMe just after 3 p.m. on Tuesday. Made by one of the organizers of the Class of 2022 tournament, it claimed that the document containing the rules for the tournament “was sent to OGL” and that liability concerns forced the event’s cancellation. 

At 4 p.m., full-year and summer presidents of Greek houses, as well as other students in Greek leadership positions, attended a Zoom meeting with the Office of Greek Life, Semprebon and Hovey said. At the meeting, students were asked to identify “problematic” rules in the list, they added, and then were informed by OGL that the tournament as constructed violated multiple Dartmouth rules, including the hazing policy and the alcohol and drug policy. 

Barloga wrote that OGL led “a discussion of high-risk drinking” and that “[s]tudents were cautioned that some of the activity ‘rules’ violated College policies and that a worse-case scenario could bring unforeseen consequences, including legal liability or sanctions for chapters.” 

“We hope that the students will make choices that prioritize the health and safety of their peers,” Barloga wrote. 

The Google Doc rule list that informed the OGL session was distributed in the “*Junior* Summer 21X” GroupMe and has since been deleted, but a copy was obtained by The Dartmouth prior to its removal. The document included rules stating that all five drinks poured for one team in a game “must be used entirely” and cannot be redistributed among members of a team or thrown out. It also capped the number of in-game “boots” — vomiting up excess alcohol in order to continue drinking — at three per team for the entire tournament and barred booting during bathroom breaks, but also noted that the rule will be difficult to enforce and instructs players to “be smart.”

Dartmouth’s hazing policy, based on New Hampshire law, bars “any act directed toward a student, or any coercion or intimidation of a student to act or to participate in an act” when the act may cause physical or psychological injury and is a condition of admission to or association with any organization, citing alcohol consumption as an example. The policy also states that “[a]ssertions that the conduct or activity was not part of an official organizational event or was not officially sanctioned or approved by the organization are also not a defense.”

“The rules could be considered — and Masters, as a concept, could be considered — hazing,” Hovey said the Greek leadership members were told by OGL.

Semprebon added that Greek leaders were threatened with legal action and potential derecognition if they were to proceed to hold Masters anyway.

“It was very much like, ‘This is where Dartmouth lawyers will come after you and will prosecute you if you continue to go through with this,’” Semprebon said. 

Additionally, Dartmouth’s alcohol and drug policy bars “[p]roviding an alcoholic beverage to an obviously intoxicated person” — something that Semprebon noted is “definitely a law that gets broken in Masters.”

Hovey and Semprebon both said that the Class of 2022 rule list OGL was given may have been outdated. Some edits had been made by the event’s organizers to the document to address student concerns, including revisions to a rule requiring “co-ed” teams that was perceived as discriminatory against non-binary participants. 

“I’m pretty sure the list that [OGL] showed us was, like, the original list of rules, as it was first put out, not after people raised concerns and it was edited to be a little more palatable,” Semprebon said. 

Though the rule list only applied to the tournament for the Class of 2022, Hovey said that it was made clear by OGL that any Masters for the Class of 2023 would also not be allowed. The Class of 2023 tournament was to be broken into fraternity and sorority tournaments with otherwise similar rules to the Class of 2022’s, and Hovey said that some revisions had been made to the sorority rules before the cancellation — though clarified that they could not speak to the details of the fraternity rules.

“It wasn’t even [a member of EKT] who brought it up — other chapters brought up discomfort with the rules about vomiting, the rules about bathroom monitors,” Hovey said. “So those were all changed.” 

Following the meeting, Semprebon took to the GroupMe to explain what Greek leadership had been told. She said she believes the misconception that EKT was involved in OGL’s decision began when people in the chat thought her explanations of OGL decisions were her own opinions. 

“People did not make a clear distinction between my personal opinions and the information that was portrayed to me from the Office of Greek Life,” Semprebon said. “They were interpreting it as ‘She is the one making the decision, she’s the one who cancelled [Masters].’”

Later that evening, the message about burning down EKT was posted on Librex, along with other messages about EKT that remain online. Hovey said that while most members of the house were not truly concerned about actual arson, there were concerns about general vandalism, leading them to call Safety and Security. 

Schibuola said that the Hanover Police received the call from Safety and Security around 8:00 p.m. He added that the department is not investigating the threat as a criminal matter, but in order to be “better safe than sorry,” the department would be “extra vigilant and visible in the area.”

“If anyone sees any suspicious activity, please don’t hesitate to give us a call so we can be out there to check it out,” he said. 

The comment was “reported and removed by Dartmouth student moderators shortly after being posted,” Librex founder Ryan Schiller wrote in an emailed statement. He added that the student account that made the post was banned from Librex. 

Semprebon said that going forward, members of EKT are “trying to remember that the group of people who are this angry about a drinking game being cancelled is probably a small percentage of campus; they just happen to be the most vocal.”

“There’s a difference between, you know, being sad that Masters is cancelled, and taking that to threatening to burn down a house that you think, possibly, [was involved],” Hovey said. “We didn’t do anything, and I’m most frustrated by the spread of misinformation.”

Lila Hovey is a member of The Dartmouth staff. 

Correction appended (6:15 p.m., July 23, 2021): A previous version of this article incorrectly described Dartmouth’s hazing policy, based on New Hampshire law, as barring “any act directed toward a student, or any coercion or intimidation of a student to act or to participate in an act” when the act may cause physical or psychological injury or is a condition of admission to or association with any organization. The policy bars such acts when the act may cause physical or psychological injury and — not or — is a condition of admission to or association with any organization. The article has been updated to reflect the correct language.