The University of Maryland, College Park has lifted an order that prohibited fraternities and sororities from engaging in new member activities or holding social events involving alcohol, but said that some restrictions remain in place for five chapters still under investigation amid hazing concerns.

On Friday, Patricia Perillo, the vice president for student affairs, said in a letter to the campus community that “concerning hazing behaviors and harmful alcohol-related activities within the fraternity and sorority community” had prompted the two-week pause in Greek life.

“These behaviors and activities posed a potential threat to the safety and well-being of members of our community,” she wrote. “We recognize that temporarily pausing select activities has had an effect on our fraternity and sorority members, particularly new members. However, we chose a course of action that prioritized safety and prevention, with the aim of assessing the reports we had received and preventing a significant health and safety incident from occurring.”

The university hired INCompliance, a consulting firm, to help investigate allegations and interview students.

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Since Monday, some current and new members of all 21 fraternities and 16 sororities were “invited to interview to facilitate a comprehensive understanding of the allegation,” university officials wrote in a March 8 letter to the organizations.

The firm conducted more than 150 interviews, which concluded today.

“As a result of evidence suggesting involvement in hazing or other incidents that threatened the health and safety of our campus community, the University is continuing its investigation of five chapters through the Office of Student Conduct,” Perillo said in Friday’s letter.

The university did not identify the five chapters, nor did it elaborate on what restrictions remained in effect for them.

Earlier this week, four fraternities and three unidentified students asked a federal court to block UMD’s suspension of new member program activities, claiming that the move violated their First Amendment rights. The suspension lasted two weeks, and also barred current members from engaging with new and prospective members about fraternity and sorority-related topics.

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A hearing was set for Monday in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt on that request for a temporary restraining order.

Wynn Smiley, spokesperson for the Fraternity Forward Coalition, a national organization supporting UMD’s fraternity chapters and students in the court proceedings, said the university did the right thing by lifting the ban, but only did so under the threat of a judge’s ruling.

”We will continue to pursue litigation against representatives of the University of Maryland for their unlawful behavior in targeting members of fraternities and sororities,” Smiley said in a statement. “Administrators who participated in or were complicit in this egregious erosion of student liberties must be held accountable.”

Earlier Friday, Smiley said that he had never before seen a situation play out as it has at College Park.

“This is the first time that we’ve ever had students that we support [file] litigation against a host institution, and I think that just speaks to how egregious the university’s behavior has been throughout this,” Smiley told The Baltimore Banner.

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He claimed the university launched an investigation without citing any specific allegations; violated students’ freedom of speech by barring contact with new or prospective members; and raised “issues of freedom of association because they’ve said chapters are not allowed to do certain things — and this is systemwide.”

All week long, Smiley said, he heard alarming information from students about the third-party firm assisting in the interviews.

Students were asked for information from cellphones, including text messages and calendars, and threatened with being “noncompliant if they didn’t share the information on their cellphone with the investigator,” Smiley said.

The university did not respond Friday evening to questions about the interviews.

Smiley said the coalition provided attorneys to students in Alpha Tau Omega who were asked to submit to an interview, but the attorneys could only listen in by phone.

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“We do know that the questions are very open-ended, some are very personal and are the kinds of questions that would put a student in a very difficult position,” he said. “For example, ‘Have you ever seen anyone in your chapter house who was underage drinking alcohol?’”

“It just appears to us, based on the questions that our students are saying [they were] being asked, that this is a fishing expedition,” Smiley added.

Blanket bans on Greek life as a whole have been imposed in the past, stemming from credible allegations, but Smiley said they don’t work because they punish the entire system and discourage students from reporting anything out of fear they will get Greek life as a whole in trouble.

“So most campuses do not do systemwide suspensions, and what makes this, the Maryland situation, so egregious, is that they are doing this without any specific allegations — that is new,” he said. “I’ve never seen the campus do that.”

Perillo defended the university’s actions.

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“For all fraternities and sororities, we remain cautious, watchful and deeply committed to safety and well-being,” she wrote to students and others. “The assessment revealed areas of ongoing concern within IFC and PHA chapters that we believe necessitate a more comprehensive and deliberate review of fraternity and sorority life. We want to lift up the many positive aspects of our fraternities and sororities and lay the groundwork for this important part of campus life to flourish.”

Perillo outlined a number of steps that she said the university will be taking in the wake of the two-week pause.

UMD will create a fraternity and sorority life working group made up of students, staff, faculty and alumni that will develop ways to improve safety and well-being. Officials will also conduct a review of all training programs for recruitment and alcohol-related activities “to address gaps and reinforce healthy behaviors,” she said.

More comprehensive ways to report hazing or other concerns in real-time will be established. Officials will review the student code of conduct. And leaders in the the Department of Fraternity and Sorority Life will facilitate communication between the school’s chapters and their national organizations, as the university creates more educational opportunities for those in Greek life to learn more about alcohol and drug use, Perillo said.

Abby Zimmardi is a reporter covering Howard County for The Baltimore Banner. Zimmardi earned her master’s degree from the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism in December 2022.

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