Hello, my name is Mary Pat Luetke-Stahlman and I am the Editor in Chief for Deaf Vee Journal. We were asked to do a full independent investigation into Kappa Gamma to help answer some burning questions people have had for years about the fraternity. I want to thank my Deaf Vee Journal team and multiple people that have worked to bring information to the table. Most of the people involved in this have asked to remain anonymous due to fear of retaliation from brothers and/or community members. Deaf Vee Journal is committed to moving forward with stories from Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) Deaf community members. If you have a story you want to share, feel free to contact us at email@example.com or Facebook.
DISCLAIMER: This report is not meant to be comprehensive, all in one. As we pulled this together in a short period of time, we are missing significant amounts of information and our report is limited. Do keep that in mind as you read through this. Our goal here is not to make up your mind for you; rather, we are presenting the information in this report for you to decide yourself what you think of the Kappa Gamma fraternity, their members, and their intentions.
We have thoroughly reviewed this report multiple times with various stakeholders to minimize the risk of slander or libel. In releasing this report, we, Mary Patricia Luetke-Stahlman and Piper Collins of Deaf Vee Journal, take no responsibility or liability for the possible or occurred loss of current and future employment opportunities, educational opportunities, interpersonal support from family and friends, and relationships with significant others. We recognize that this may be particularly upsetting or triggering for some, and we encourage those to seek immediate support.
Who is Kappa Gamma?
One of the oldest fraternities on Gallaudet University’s campus, Kappa Gamma is also perceived as one of the most powerful and racist fraternities in the Deaf community. Many community leaders are either honorary or full-fledged brothers, and we will name just a few.
- Ben Soukup (Honorary): Communications Services for the Deaf [CSD] founder and Board member of multiple organizations including Gallaudet University
- Chris Soukup: Chief Executive Officer of Communication Services for the Deaf [CSD]
- Kelby Brick: the current Director for the Governor’s Office of the Deaf & Hard of Hearing in the state of Maryland
- Tim Rarus: one of CSDVRS’ earliest employees, he continues to work for ZVRS as a Vice President
- Seth Bravin: Chair of Gallaudet University’s Board of Trustees and Director of Strategic Alliances at Sprint
- Gregory Hlibok: former Chief of the Disability Rights Office at the Federal Communications Commission, current Board of Trustee member for Gallaudet University, and now employed as Chief Legal Counsel for ZVRS
In the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement, the Deaf community has shown tremendous anger over two certain photographs that have re-emerged–one showing what appears to be the Nazi salute, and the other one with 21 Kappa Gamma brothers using a similar salute. Several photographs originally emerged about ten years ago in 2010-2011, including those two, and a public outcry occurred but it quickly died down and people forgot about it. Today’s political climate is very much different–people are paying more attention and demanding appropriate consequences for the fraternity.
Kappa Gamma has been guilty of multiple “isms”–not just racism–that include anti-Semitism, sexism, ageism, and heterosexism. Many of the fraternity members Deaf Vee Journal interviewed have openly admitted this. For years, people have been curious about what has been happening inside this dark secret of our Deaf community and today we shine a light on the good, bad, and ugly of Kappa Gamma.
How Did Kappa Gamma Begin?
Kappa Gamma’s roots go back to 1863, 157 years ago, when the Honorary Order of the Secret Society [H.O.S.S.] was established. This was a year before the Columbia Institute for the Deaf and Dumb [CIDD] came into existence. There is no firsthand documentation of the full name; however, word of mouth has passed the name down from generation to generation. The assumption of the initial date of the establishment comes from an October 1892 issue of The Buff and Blue that announced the 29th annual conclave of H.O.S.S.
Some notable H.O.S.S. members included Edward Miner Gallaudet, the founder and the first President of Gallaudet College, and George Veditz, the seventh President of the National Association of the Deaf (1904-1910) and one of the first to produce a film in American Sign Language [ASL]. Robert McGregor, the first President of the National Association of the Deaf (1880-1883), is also believed to be a member.
The discovery that membership dues were being used for the purchase of wine led to the dissolution of H.O.S.S. in 1894. That same year, the name of CIDD changed to Gallaudet College and Xi Phi Sigma [XPS] was founded. A Kappa Gamma historical document confirmed that former H.O.S.S. members were behind XPS, as they intended to continue their activities under a different name.
Six years later, sometime during the spring of 1900, a local newspaper announced that a Harvard male student died during initiation into a different fraternity. The combination of this news story and the mounting pressure of faculty concerns over fraternity brothers “torturing” new student members forced XPS to eventually dissolve. Fall came and XPS members met in preparation for their annual conclave. This was when plans started for the reorganization of the “society,” also most likely when the idea of Kappa Gamma happened. The historical accounts, which William Milos has updated, state:
A committee consisting of Arthur Norris, ’01 (chairman), George Andree, ’02, and Peter Hughes, ’03, carefully prepared the constitution and by-laws of a new fraternity with the help of Professor Hall, who was present at the numerous organizational meetings. (KG History)
A graduate of Harvard University, Professor Percival Hall was also a fraternity member during his time there.
The name of Kappa Gamma comes from Kairon Gnothi, a Greek phrase that means “know thy opportunity” in English. “Know thy opportunity” is also Kappa Gamma’s official slogan. As previously mentioned in our article, “Kappa Gamma is Gallaudet University,” the initials of Kappa Gamma also stands for Kendall Green, the name of the estate that Gallaudet University, Model Secondary School for the Deaf, and Kendall Demonstration Elementary School stand on.
Kappa Gamma was born on January 4, 1901 at 7:30 p.m. Many H.O.S.S. and XPS alumni were granted honorary membership with Kappa Gamma, and they were also allowed to have voting privileges only if they paid their dues. Alumni was, and still is, considered important in building a strong organization and being “a power of good for the college and its teachers, students, and alumni; for all would be brought closer together, and a mutual understanding and spirit of fraternal love created all around.” (KG History)
What Roles are in Kappa Gamma?
Just like any other organization, Kappa Gamma has multiple officer titles with positions of power–the President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer, et cetera. If you look through several yearbooks though, you will notice that none of Kappa Gamma’s officer titles are in English.
When discussing the fraternity structure, the committee of founding brothers decided they wanted to go with something different for the officer titles instead of typical English.
Contrary to the perception of some community members that the officer titles come from the Ku Klux Klan [KKK], the committee actually used names from Arabic scholars to develop all titles except for two. The exceptions were the President, which was Grand Rahjah (the “silent” h was later dropped, making it Rajah), and one other role.
The general public only sees the fraternity’s officer titles. There are four additional positions in the fraternity specifically for the preparation program, also known as the pledge program. These roles are assigned to four brothers of varying involvement in the fraternity, including one Executive Board member. The four roles are Fear, Vigilance, Dread, and Death.
Fear is the fatherly role where the member acts as the voice of reason/wisdom, applying lessons to life events. Vigilance is where the member has responsibility for any written tasks or documentation, oftentimes being a “witty” spin on the Fear role. Having the Dread role means that the member is the “history buff.” The member with the Death role is focused on discussing and enforcing rules with pledges.
What is the Deal with those Robes?
The Kappa Gamma fraternity has always been associated with the robes worn during their semester pledge announcement walk. BIPOC community members, Jewish community members, and other community members have complained publicly about the similarities between Kappa Gamma’s robes and KKK robes. Historical documents show that the founding brothers’ idea of robes came from the robes monks had worn for centuries, and the first robes they bought were brown. We have included a comparison of three robes (the KKK robe, the Kappa Gamma robe, and the medieval monk robe) below. Deaf Vee Journal verified the following robes through interviews and research.
- 1904 – Brown robes
- 1934 – After about a year of discussion on the robes’ color and outfit, the final design followed the fraternity’s colors of blue and gold and the colors were selected because of the price (the colors were the cheapest at the time)
- 1960 – The designs replicated the 1934 model to update/replace all damaged robes
- 2015 – The existing robes were replaced with brown robes without pointy hoods, very similar to modern-day monk robes. The top six officers had ornaments on their lower sleeves. The fraternity was under the impression that they were going to march in different outfits, and that did not happen because all Greek organizations received notification that they were no longer allowed to wear their regalia outside their chapter rooms (i.e., Mother Shrine).
As it was common knowledge amongst Gallaudet students in the 80s and 90s, it also was shared that the hood with its point up symbolized the beginning of the probation period and the hood with its point down indicated the end of the probation period.
The Fall 2014 semester was the last time the Kappa Gamma fraternity brothers did the pledge announcement walk in their full robe attire, which triggered several individuals. A number of other Gallaudet students submitted a formal written complaint that detailed how traumatizing it was for them to see the robes, which prompted the 2015 decision to revert back to the original brown monk-style robe.
As a result of the Black Student Union [BSU]’s complaint, Kappa Gamma later announced that they would stop wearing their robes. Some have argued this was not a voluntary action on Kappa Gamma’s part, as it was based on a ban of full attire in public settings Dwight Benedict enacted as the Dean of Student Affairs at the time. An anonymous brother who was present, either as an alumnus or an active member, stated that Benedict requested that both Kappa Gamma and the Greek Council work with the Student Body Government [SBG] for an appropriate resolution: “They [other Greek organizations] basically snubbed us because they believed that their organization was immune from these circumstances that had been brought up.”
It was not just the robes. Benedict’s ban also applied to regalia, Executive Board member names, and other elements (read the Rules here). The lack of cooperation between the SBG and the Greek Council frustrated Benedict to the point where Benedict felt he had to write up the policies that were set in place and extend the application of the rules to alumni as well.
Kappa Gamma never took action to get rid of the old robes from the 1930/1960s and used the justification of historic valuation to keep them. Brothers saw them regularly at the Mother Shine.
A recent “Grand Rajah” (President) told Kappa Gamma alumni members that they wanted to bring back the blue robes and the Executive Board would not allow it. (Someone shared the information on social media and got suspended for it.)
One of the brothers shared:
Honestly, I thought the old robes were cool. I didn’t ever look at them as KKK because there were no holes for the eyes. But at the same time, I see the reason for the robes but the real reason I don’t know. History has changed.
When asked, another brother commented:
I did notice that the robes were similar to KKK, but never really analyzed it or confronted the issue until now. Clearly there are too many similarities to the point where a change must be made. People have been calling out KG regarding the robes for years, and it is on us for not responding swiftly.
I do think it’s important to emphasize that there are some robes that we had made special for brothers that are not comfortable with crosses on their shoulder because of their religious beliefs. These robes were made when we had our first Saudi Arabic brother join in 2012.
On Friday, June 26, 2020, some Kappa Gamma members notified Deaf Vee Journal that a brother destroyed the robes. This particular brother shared with his fraternity that although it was important to destroy the robes for everyone to move forward, he did save a few for archival purposes to prevent the erasure of history.
The Nazi Salute! Why Would They Do That??
When you look at the photograph of the 21 Kappa Gamma brothers, the brothers fully extended their arm upward in a 45-degree angle with their palms facing down, their fingers tight together, with the thumb right next to the palm. One would think it is identical to the infamous Nazi salute. And still, all those 21 members displayed the salute. Although the photograph was initially shared with all the members’ faces covered, Ricky Taylor publicly distributed a copy of the same photograph with all faces visible.
The community has seen apology videos come and disappear as just as fast as they came. Many of the videos echoed similar sentiments: “I am so sorry. We made a mistake. We were stupid.” One Kappa Gamma brother in Germany shared in a public vlog on Facebook that he and Kelby Brick, also a brother who is the current Director at the Governor’s Office for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Maryland, tried to stop the salute. But what was so powerful that made the fraternity members forget their duty to society and be responsible for their actions?
A review of the apology videos shows that the brothers did not introduce it as the Nazi salute–they adamantly called it the Bellamy salute. A deeper dig into the fraternity’s history helps us better understand what the members are being taught with the salute.
Kappa Gamma teaches their pledges to spell out “s-i-r,” as that is how members greet each other, and the hand goes outward just as the pledge spells the word “sir” is spelled. Some brothers choose to be lazy and use their palm instead, as if they are tapping someone, and this is how the salute is used at times.
One brother mentioned that there is a saying among brothers: “Prorsum et sursum,” which is loosely translated as “Onward and upward” in English. In other words, it is a practice for Kappa Gamma brothers to encourage other brothers to reach for the stars, their highest goal(s). “To push men for success,” as the brother said. There is a spot behind College Hall with a carving that says “Prorsum et sursum”—-it is difficult to find, but it is there.
A common theme in our interviews with several brothers about the salute is how the moral implications of ignoring the similarities between the Nazi salute and the salute used in the fraternity.
One Jewish brother disclosed that although he did it because everybody else did, he still felt like he disconnected himself from the process. Other BIPOC and/or Jewish brothers did it as if it was not a big deal, as another brother testified: “It felt wrong at first but as time went by, I was brainwashed” (anonymous). Many contradictions can and do occur with people realizing it. Systemic oppression is there, but it gets so blurred that nobody thinks about it anymore.
Another brother felt the fraternity should have paid closer attention to how the community responded to the salute back when it came out for the first time and worked harder to be more culturally aware and sensitive: “Truthfully it should have been stopped a long time ago back when America stopped the salute” (anonymous).
A third brother admitted that he wasn’t really focused on the concept of responsibility when he became a member:
I was not sensitive enough to consider the implications of using a salute that is identical with the Nazi salute. It was something along the lines of “Wow, this looks just like the Nazi salute, but we have nothing to do with it, it means ‘sir,’ it is our sign for ‘sir.'” I allowed my mind to continue to believe that.
The time we became brothers, everything changed. I made it through the month and when I got my robes and paddle etc. I felt wow! But when it came to doing the salute, I was like wait a minute?? I remember telling my brothers it was wrong. I became complicit. I never felt right doing it but again, I was already programmed through the program.
Eugene Bergman devoted a passage to the disclosure of his experiences in Kappa Gamma’s pledge program in the mid-1950s with his 2009 book, Survival Artist: A Memoir of the Holocaust.
As we stood facing him, he ordered us to stand at attention and stretch out our arms in the Hitler salute. The pledges straightened up and raised their arms. I was the only one not to do so. They all expectantly looked at me. I hesitated. Then I raised my arm too… One of them was Bernardo, later known as the King of Deaf Theater. He was so upset by Dick’s Hitler salute command and my obedient response that he cried. Later that night he complained to our pledge master about his rude and heinous order.— Bergman, 2009, pg. 184
Ken Norton, who was a brother in 1950 and Grand Rajah at one point in time, made a private video for a restricted audience where he argues the salute was never about Hitler or any commitment to being a Nazi. (A brother sent Deaf Vee Journal a recording of the entire video.) Sitting in his chair, Norton declared that Hitler hijacked their salute: “We did it first!” Norton goes on to add that, even as a student at CSD Berkeley (before it was known as CSD Fremont), he was shocked when their superintendent recommended a brilliant Black Deaf student for Gallaudet University and the admissions department specified Black students are not accepted: “It was not until I was a senior that they accepted Black students into the school. I never understood that.”
A retired faculty member came forward to speak with Deaf Vee Journal, sharing how deeply disappointed they were with the Kappa Gamma fraternity as Gallaudet University hosted numerous on-campus events in educating students about the Holocaust. The faculty member mentioned seeing multiple Kappa Gamma member in attendance for the 1988 Day of Holocaust Remembrance (Yom Hoshoa) in the midst of the monthlong “In Der Nacht” program and again in 1994 with the Holocaust panel discussion at the Museum of Tolerance, and yet they continued to use the salute despite the striking similarities between their salute and the Nazi salute. “It was covered extensively. They had to have known it,” the anonymous retired faculty member asserted.
Tell Me… How do I Get In?
Current brothers review the four core requirements for new members to be initiated in the fraternity: scholarship, leadership, fellowship, and character. While the first requirement is clear-cut in black and white and does not allow for interpretation, the other three are based on individual perspective.
- Scholarship: Although the grade point average [GPA] minimum itself has varied over the years, it still remains that Kappa Gamma pledges and brothers must achieve a GPA greater than the minimum. Kappa Gamma pledges must have been a full-time student at Gallaudet for at least one academic year prior to initiation, and they are expected to remain full-time students until graduation once initiated. The requirement that pledges had at least completed their freshman year prior to initiation was implemented in 1900, due to some issues the XPS fraternity experienced with their pledges.
- Leadership: Pledges must be involved in the community with varying activities, such as after-school activities or leadership positions in clubs at Gallaudet. There are no specific examples of what constitutes leadership and what does not.
- Fellowship: Socialization is an important part of being a brother, so the fraternity looks for those with good social skills who are able to show interest in what the fraternity does. One brother said he felt like the criterion of fellowship was really vague because truthfully, “to me, if you applied, you wanted it” (anonymous).
- Character: Basically, the pledge’s values must line up with the fraternity’s values and who the pledge is must be in alignment with who the fraternity is. What are these exactly? This is one of quite a few questions that is difficult to answer for brothers who are screening potential members.
It is important to mention that Kappa Gamma expects their selected members to go out in the community and devote their lives to protecting and serving the Deaf community. The four requirements define how the fraternity filters out those who are not a good fit but, like any other decision-making process, it is not always perfect.
Some brothers acknowledged the occurrence of “HOEZ,” an illegitimate underground fraternity where freshmen participated in competitions in the number of completed rapes/sexual assaults because it was “fun” and “enjoyable” between 2014 and 2017. Some have speculated that a couple of HOEZ participants were already initiated as Kappa Gamma brothers prior to the publication of HOEZ activities. Pledges with HOEZ activity were refused admission into the fraternity and permanently blacklisted on the assertion that such actions are considered “disgusting and reprehensible.” The fraternity ensured that brothers with previous HOEZ activity could never be assigned to high-ranking roles.
Voting for New Members
The selection of new brothers is a multi-step process, beginning with the White Flame round and ending with the Red Flame round. The round names come from the tradition of burning bowls of alcohol during ceremonies, with each bowl burning flames in varying colors, from yellow to blue.
The Grand March occurs in the Fall semester, which is their way of paying respect to Gallaudet University and to indicate a new year of recruiting, screening, and initiating brothers has begun.
The Kappa Gamma rush is a public open event for attendees to learn about the fraternity’s core values, vision, and other pertinent information. If you attended the rush and you were interested, you had to pick up and fill out the application and submit it within 48 hours of the event. The application had 3-4 standard questions–such as “why are you interested in Kappa Gamma,” and “who are you”–and you were recommended to attach your resume to the application.
White Flame: A very superficial discussion on which of the pledges the brothers might be interested in for the fraternity, and that typically takes about an hour. Sometimes, a mixer occurred before the rush and other times it was after the rush–the decision of timing was left up to the flip of a coin. Interviews with the pledges whose names were recommended in the White Flame round would occur before the next round.
Yellow Flame: A limited number of brothers can say five positive things about each pledge. When this part is done, a vote occurs and each pledge’s final tally must meet the mid-range minimum. If the pledge’s vote meets just the minimum, this is a “no pass” but it does not necessarily mean the pledge is automatically voted out, as it is more of “maybe”/”need to know more”. This is where the brothers invest time and effort in learning more about the pledge in question. If the pledge’s vote is in the higher percentile, closer to 100 percent, it’s an automatic yes that the pledge will most likely be initiated in the fraternity at the end of the probation period, but this can change based on the discovery of additional information at a later time. Should the discovery of additional information change the fraternity brothers’ perception of the pledge, this will be discussed during the Blue Flame round. The Yellow Flame round takes between 1-3 hours, depending on the candidates. The Winter Break occurs before the next flame round. (This information is credited to an anonymous brother.)
Blue Flame: One brother has described this weekend-long event as his favorite and also his least favorite. All the brothers would get together on one weekend with a list of pledge names who had passed the White Flame round, and the Kamoos (Vice President) would contact Campus Activities directly and ask whether the pledges were within GPA and credit requirements or if they were a Spring semester entry student. (Campus Activities does not reveal the pledges’ actual GPA.) The completion of this task narrows down the list of pledge names, as the pledges who do not make the criteria are cut.
Members then discuss the shortened list of pledges and anything goes, including why a member might like or not like a pledge. Discrimination and comparisons of current pledges with existing or alumni members were strictly forbidden at any point of time, however. If a brother is found breaking those rules, it is a strike against that brother. If a brother hits three strikes, the brother is permanently removed from the voting process.
Each pledge can only be reviewed a few times, and all brothers with voting privileges will put their vote (Y/N) anonymously. Sometimes pledges are voted on more than once. As previously mentioned, three of the four criterion items are left open to interpretation and this can lead to disagreements. There have been some cases where one brother wants a pledge in and a different brother does not like that said brother and they will vote “no” on the pledge just to retaliate against that brother.
Legacies (individuals who have family members who are already fraternity brothers) are not always accepted. Members do discuss legacies and oftentimes they make it very clear that they do not accept someone just because the person is a legacy. If it happens, it happens but it is not an automatic process.
Pledge Training starts a few days after the Blue Flame round. If members discover new information that raises new questions about the pledges, a Red Flame round occurs.
Red Flame: This is a rare event that resolves any possible issues that have arisen ever since the Blue Flame round. As this does not happen very often, not many brothers know or understand what happens during the Red Flame round.
Pledge Training is a weeklong event for new brothers to learn the rules and understand the process, and it is also an opportunity for older brothers to have a refresher. Campus Activities do require Pledge Training.
So… What’s the Pledge Program Like?
The pledge program was called the probation period, and Kappa Gamma brothers have used the sign for “torture” as the sign for “probation.” The probation period lasted only one month, but it was intensive as the brothers and pledges met every single day. Pledges were expected to participate in events ranging anywhere from 4 to 7 hours, with sitting periods allowed when requested:
We had some events that required kneeling during the pledge program; we, however, did allow brothers and pledges who could not kneel for religious reasons to sit with their legs crossed.— Anonymous Brother
The Mother Shrine (Kappa Gamma’s home chamber) has a red room that is assigned as the “cesspool” and a second room converted as the “torture chamber” where the brothers would supervise the pledges and watch them learn. This was mandatory for all brothers.
New members are repetitively reminded about the priorities they must have in their lives, including the four priorities that are above before Kappa Gamma: family, school, work, and health/well-being. After the 1993-1997 suspension, the fraternity ensured that the brothers and pledges scheduled all other priorities first before their obligations with Kappa Gamma so that all would know what was happening. Brothers were required to stay silent and only speak to other brothers/pledges for the duration of the probation period, and this practice ceased in the early 2000s.
When hazing is the topic in conversations about Kappa Gamma, oftentimes community members think of the hazing associated with the 1990 suspension. Despite speculation, alumni and active brothers have clarified that paddling was completely voluntary and paddling is discussed during the pledge program. The Kappa Gamma fraternity’s PowerPoint presentation highlighted previous congregations of pledges who went through the worst of it with paddling, and presenters reiterate that pledges do not have to go through it.
It was about 20-25 years ago that paddling became a voluntary ritual for brothers and pledges alike. Brothers have the opportunity to experience paddling at their annual camp-out. In an interview with Deaf Vee Journal, one member said: “This was completely voluntary and we would do it purely out of curiosity.” The same member also admitted that some pledges would succumb to peer pressure in being paddled because other members, along with Kappa Gamma International alumni, were participating in the ritual.
Oh, Those Suspensions and Lawsuits
Gallaudet University suspended Kappa Gamma for three separate incidents involving racism. The first suspension occurred in 1990 for “padding the 90th Congregation,” followed by a second suspension in 1992 for accusations of racism. So far, no records indicate that any of the involved Kappa Gamma undergraduate student members were expelled or that any of the Gallaudet University Kappa Gamma alumni staff were terminated or stepped down. The actions required to lift the suspensions seem to have been superficial.
One might argue that the incidents are far and few in between, which explains the low number of suspensions. An alternative explanation would be the clear conflict of interest between Gallaudet University and Kappa Gamma, where several faculty and administrators are Kappa Gamma alumni. How could they be impartial in determining the consequences for their own fraternity? The third suspension was related to the 1994 lawsuit, which will be discussed shortly.
Rumors have circulated that Kappa Gamma brothers participated in underground activities from 1993 to 1997 and, while that might be true, Campus Activities did not allow them to resume fraternal activity until April 1, 1997 (The Buff and Blue article). The fraternity did proceed to have a Pledge Program in 1994 despite the fact Campus Activities made it explicitly clear they were not allowed to. Seth Bravin, who is the current Chair for Gallaudet University’s Board of Trustees and also a Kappa Gamma brother, allowed the fraternity to resume activities in contradiction to Campus Activities’ instructions. The 1994 Pledge Program lasted four weeks; two were in Clerc (room number 603), and two weeks in the Howard Johnson Hotel (now Embassy Hotel).
That 1994 Lawsuit?
Several Kappa Gamma members, including a few who were employed as Gallaudet University faculty at the time, participated in or witnessed the February 14, 1993 hazing incident. According to written reports, pledges were subjected to verbal abuse, such as Nazi slogans and excessive admiration of Adolf Hitler, and physical abuse. For over 3 hours, Kevin Clark had to stand in place inside an extremely hot room without air circulation and somehow retain his balance as the members repeatedly put on and took off the blindfold and waved their hands in front of his eyes. Clark was disoriented to the point where he fell three times, and his third fall resulted in unconsciousness because his head landed on an object. The fraternity brothers took him to the hospital and lied to medical personnel about what had happened and left, never coming back to check on Clark.
One of the brothers Deaf Vee Journal spoke with shared the Kappa Gamma fraternity’s perspective of the incident. During the pledge activity, Clark was acting funny and the brother assigned to teach the session inquired Clark several times if he was okay. When Clark refused to leave, the present brothers finally forced him to leave the room (due to their concerns about his well-being) and it was at that point they saw Clark faint in the hallway. The brother stressed that Clark never hit his head. The brothers did not call 9-1-1 because they felt it would have taken too long for the ambulance to arrive at the site where they were, so they proceeded to drive him to the nearest hospital. The brother added that the brothers also stayed overnight in the hospital with Clark and visited him regularly.
The same brother added that Busby (the Dean of Student Affairs at the time) suspended Kappa Gamma right away without an investigation and Gallaudet University interpreted that as an admission of guilt so it is speculated Gallaudet settled with Clark for a substantial amount of money.
Kappa Gamma = Success?
A glance at a list of known Kappa Gamma brothers shows numerous names who have been in powerful, high-ranking positions at various major organizations–even as high up as being President of the National Association of the Deaf [NAD]. (A total of 21 brothers were NAD’s President at one point or another.) Some were well respected, such as Bernard Bragg who is a Deaf actor known for his work in theater and mime. Kappa Gamma brothers did establish and operate major organizations, such as the NAD and their Youth Leadership Camp. However high and many the Kappa Gamma brothers’ positions are in society, Deaf community members often perceive the Deaf ecosystem as being under the dominance of Kappa Gamma brothers.
It might surprise you to hear that some Kappa Gamma members do not credit the fraternity for their own success. Sure, instances have occurred where Kappa Gamma membership was beneficial, but those members assert they have worked hard to get where they are now without the fraternity’s assistance.
One brother voluntarily disclosed that he feels Kappa Gamma hasn’t really benefited him in his line of work, other than networking opportunities.
Another brother stated he actually believes that the fraternity takes advantage of the brothers’ individual stories of success to boost their overall success as a fraternity… almost like it’s not fair that the fraternity benefits from the brothers’ membership and the brothers do not necessarily benefit from the fraternity.
Opinions on Kappa Gamma Shutting Down
Deaf Vee Journal wrote an article about Gallaudet University and Kappa Gamma where, looking in from outside, it is clear that Kappa Gamma is connected with the heart of Gallaudet University. The fraternity has described itself as “the glue that holds Gallaudet University together.” So what does this mean for Kappa Gamma’s future?
Kappa Gamma International [KGI] has brothers discussing whether they should shut the fraternity down. Some brothers are saying they want to shut down and rebuild a new one all over again, others are against the shutdown path as they feel it is still possible to address the issues, and still others are adamant about the complete destruction of the fraternity to the point of no return, with no resurgence.
One brother emphasized that the damage has been done:
I felt like I was really upset. If you love, you can sacrifice. I’ve accepted that Kappa Gamma is gone. I think Kappa Gamma should shut down. The damage has been done. I believe that creating a new “Kappa Gamma” would just create new problems.
Another brother said:
The reason I’m pushing to close is because I believe that people on campus may cause harm to current (active) brothers. Either that or the brothers will hurt others in reaction. There will be high tension. Kappa Gamma will trigger. Will the world do something? No. People will still do stupid things. I’ve seen stubborn brothers that refuse to do anything.
A third brother stated that he would like to see Kappa Gamma turn into an organization that is much more diverse and openly accepting of others–including women and nonbinary and trans individuals–regardless of the person’s assigned sex at birth. The brother, however, acknowledges that a total overhaul of the fraternity has to happen, including the change of many rules and policies:
I believe that in order for KG to truly show change, we must confront our failures as human beings and especially in our contribution to systemic racism, both on an individual basis and as a fraternity. Confronting it means listening to Black Deaf individuals, POC Deaf individuals, Jewish Deaf individuals, LGBTQ+ individuals, and to those with intersectional identities and taking whatever steps or actions they expect from us.
The last brother to be interviewed told us that Kappa Gamma could have been clearer with their purpose. The brother mentioned that people welcomed into the fraternity are individuals who have demonstrated a sincere desire to protect the Deaf community and give back. Since Kappa Gamma never made that clear, the community has looked at the fraternity as a tool for a quick, easy way to move upwards in the community. He said it was never Kappa Gamma’s purpose or intent; rather, Kappa Gamma wanted to make sure that all people in positions of authority within the community would want to and will protect the community at all costs.
Kappa Gamma International [KGI] spoke with Deaf Vee Journal and shared that their main focus is to support active brothers in the upcoming changes, including any possible barriers they may face in finding gainful employment. KGI is also actively working with BIPOC brothers on any concerns they may have towards the creation of a safer environment for all involved.
Kappa Gamma’s Impact on the Community
Kappa Gamma is a part of a larger issue called systemic racism. Racism is a difficult part of our dialogue, yes, and it is a critical part. Many people who have come forward stressed that it is necessary to face and discuss the actual impact the Kappa Gamma members’ behavior has had on the community as a whole.
Even the work of Kappa Gamma members who have long since graduated continues to affect the community to this day, such as the National Association of the Deaf and the Communication Service for the Deaf (Ben Soukup was not an Honorary member until much later). While many members have upheld the fraternity’s mission, which is focused on the betterment of the Deaf community with the creation of leadership roles, the said members have also been instrumental in oppressing the BIPOC Deaf communities. There are quite a few stories where well-qualified candidates were turned down on job opportunities, losing out to lesser-qualified candidates who happened to have Kappa Gamma membership. The candidates’ qualifications were not considered whatsoever in those cases; rather, it was the fraternal membership and the extent of the candidates’ roles that would make or break the deal.
Internal arguments have arisen that because all members belong to the same fraternity, they have developed this instinctual trust. While this holds true for many community members who have belonged to one same organization, group, or team, this has been put into practice too many times when it comes to the Kappa Gamma fraternity. The quality of programs and services at major community organizations suffer all because alumni brothers hired other Kappa Gamma-affiliated but lesser-qualified candidates.
Deaf Vee Journal has been unable to find anybody who would want to talk about their personal experiences of oppression from the Kappa Gamma fraternity brothers due to their fear of being targeted against, which is understandable. While community members do have stories, it is not our place to share their stories unless they truly want to come on our platform and be public about it, even if just from an anonymous standpoint.
In conversations with multiple BIPOC community members, some of them affiliated with Kappa Gamma and some not, Deaf Vee Journal staff have seen one consistent message: Yes, Kappa Gamma is part of the system and contributes to the problem of systemic racism–Gallaudet University itself is the bigger issue here, though. The option of shutting down Kappa Gamma is not their main focus, as they feel this distracts everyone away from the issue of systemic racism within the university. Put in other words, Gallaudet University President Roberta Cordano should never have said, “Kappa Gamma is the face of systemic racism.” Now that the attention is on the Kappa Gamma fraternity, what will they do next?
Deaf Vee Journal wants to emphasize again if any member of the Kappa Gamma fraternity or any other Greek organization has wronged or victimized you, we are interested in hearing your story. We are committed to sharing stories and we will not stop until everybody’s stories have been told. We stand together, united against the face of racism.