Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
November 29, 2020

Seven students allege that they were drugged at St. Elmo's fraternity

By KATY WILNER | November 10, 2020

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COURTESY OF KATY WILNER Despite two official reports accusing St. Elmo's of drugging freshmen, students claimed that the University did not proceed with an investigation.

In October 2017, then-freshman Maggie Linhart attended a small social event at the Delta Phi (St. Elmo’s) fraternity house. She sat down at the wooden bar at the back of the basement and was served a mixed drink.

“I had less than half of the entire cup before I felt like I wasn’t able to stand,” she said. “My head was somewhat clear, but I couldn’t speak anymore.” 

Eventually unable to walk alone, her partner took her back to his dorm room. There, she violently threw up, fell asleep and woke up early the next morning with little recollection of the previous night.

Over the past three months, seven students have alleged in interviews with The News-Letter that they were drugged at St. Elmo’s when they were freshmen. These students, who were granted anonymity to protect their privacy, detailed an array of experiences that mirrored Linhart’s — casual drinking that turned into a night-long blackout.

St. Elmo’s President Logan Calichman stated in an interview with The News-Letter that he was aware that there were rumors about members spiking drinks. However, he denied that these rumors were true.

“If we caught wind of that or heard or saw someone doing that, we would talk to them,” he said. “They would be out within the day.”

Official testimony to the University

Of the seven students interviewed — five of whom had witnesses that corroborated their stories with The News-Letter — two formally filed reports with the University. 

One of the students who filed a report with the Office of the Dean of Student Life in October 2019 and has yet to hear back.

“I reported to the school, talked to them over the phone and followed up with an email. And then nothing really happened after that. They didn’t say anything,” she said.

She highlighted that her testimony explicitly included that she had consumed only a small amount of alcohol prior to arriving at St. Elmo’s.

“When I got to Elmo’s, I remember thinking I was way too sober for the evening,” she said. “Then I woke up the next morning at seven, not hungover at all, with absolutely no memory.”

According to her friends, she was unable to walk or stand after the drugging. She reported this in her written testimony.

“Friends of mine reached out to describe how a good friend of mine had to carry my limp body from Saint Elmo’s Hall to the dorms — having to toss my body over the turnstiles in the AMR I courtyard,” she wrote.

Linhart also testified. On April 25, 2019, she reported being drugged to the Office of Institutional Equity (OIE).

“The process of testifying was extremely hard and extremely invasive and just triggering, honestly,” she said. “I was in a room with three adults — two of them were men, two of them who I’d never met before that day.”

On May 2, Assistant Vice Provost and Title IX Coordinator Joy Gaslevic emailed Linhart explaining that OIE did not have enough information to further pursue a Title IX investigation. However, OIE was concerned about the information Linhart provided. Her case was passed along to the Office of the Dean of Student Life.

In November 2019, after six months of back-and-forth communication with Fraternity and Sorority Life (FSL), Linhart emailed to inquire about her testimony. The office responded on Nov. 20, writing that St. Elmo’s had been placed on cease and desist for most of the fall 2019 semester, “meaning they could not function as a group.” Linhart noted that the cease and desist order was a response to a sexual assault allegation in mid-October and was completely unrelated to her case.

Despite the cease and desist order, the fraternity held its annual “Freshman Party” on Sept. 29, 2019. The News-Letter was provided with invitations to this party, where four students claimed that they were drugged.

Taking matters into her own hands

Frustrated with the University’s slow response, Linhart took to social media, asking her followers if they — or someone they knew — had been drugged at St. Elmo’s. 

One student said that seeing Linhart’s message on an Instagram story struck a nerve.

“Two different friends sent me screenshots of it and were like, ‘You should do this. This sounds like what happened to you,’” she said.

She did not want to officially report the fraternity, partly because two years have passed since the alleged drugging and partly because she had “only heard bad things about the reporting process.” However, talking about what happened with other students who reached out to Linhart, she said, has been helpful.

“It’s important to talk about it for yourself to work through the experience,” she said. “I remember when I realized what had happened, and it’s such a powerless feeling to think, ‘Okay, nothing happened to me, but something horrible absolutely could have happened to me.’”

She recalled being invited to tag along with a group that was going to a St. Elmo’s party. She explained that she pregamed in a stranger’s dorm and didn’t drink much because she didn’t know most of the people she was with. Once the group had made its way to the fraternity, she waited in line for a drink at the upstairs bar in the living room.

“I took a drink, and I probably had half. I put it down, and then I started falling asleep — standing up, falling asleep,” she said.

She went home soon after and woke up early the next morning, unsure of what had happened the night before. Although she thought what had happened was strange at the time, it wasn’t until a year later when she heard a rumor from a friend about St. Elmo’s spiking its drinks that she started to rethink her night.

Similarly, another student with allegations against St. Elmo’s did not initially think that she had been drugged. She attended a day party in the fraternity’s backyard her freshman year — arriving at the house completely sober — and had a glass of wine from a box.

“I just felt very, very drunk very, very fast. It felt like I had had eight drinks when I had only had one,” she said. “I don’t remember anything at all after that.”

Since then, her friends have informed her that they went to Chipotle that evening, but she has no recollection of this. The next day she learned that another friend who was at the party had had a similar experience.

“They put me in bed, and we didn’t think anything of it until the day after, when [the] same thing happened to [my friend] whose roommate was actually trying to shake her awake to talk to her,” she said. “So that’s when they started to become concerned that something else had happened. When we started to talk about it, we realized that we started feeling this way after just one drink.”

In an interview with The News-Letter, former St. Elmo’s President John Gomez suggested that a possible explanation for these allegations is that people unknowingly over-consume alcohol at the fraternity. He cited the house drink “Elmonade” as a potential reason.

“It tastes like soda, and people just inhale it,” he said.

Calichman believes that these rumors may stem from the fact that some students have their first drinking experiences at St. Elmo’s parties. He stated that, particularly in the fall semester, many freshmen who come to the house don’t know their tolerance to alcohol and accidentally drink too much.

One student who attended the 2019 Freshman Party stated that though she hadn’t consumed alcohol at Hopkins until that night, she drank prior to college.

“I had maybe like two or three drinks, which I can handle,” she said. “It’s very abnormal for me to not be able to see, not even being able to really get up and walk, which I found really odd. I ended up throwing up for most of the night. And then I actually had to call one of my other friends to help walk me home.”

The fraternity has considered serving closed drinks at future parties. In the hypothetical scenario that a non-affiliate is drugging drinks at St. Elmo’s parties, Calichman proposed serving mixed drinks with plastic lids.

According to Gomez, the University has not enacted any disciplinary actions regarding alleged druggings.

University involvement with Fraternity and Sorority Life

Student Leadership and Involvement Director Calvin Smith, Jr., though unable to discuss specific cases, stressed that the University has attempted to work with fraternities at Hopkins to create a safer social scene.

In an email to The News-Letter, Smith detailed specific trainings each student must complete, including Alcohol Bystander Intervention, Hazing Prevention and New Member Orientation.

“For New Member Orientation, FSL has partnered with OIE and the Baltimore City State Attorney’s Office to educate members of the community on both the University and Baltimore City process for reporting sexual assault and resources are available to students,” he wrote. 

Smith claimed that these programs, in conjunction with Harm Reduction Week and Congruence Assessment Program, have been efficient.

“Since their implementation in 2015, we have seen a dramatic reduction in policy violations stemming from fraternal organizations and complaints from our neighborhood community,” he wrote.

Addressing the fact that some students in communication with The News-Letter did not report misconduct to the University, Smith hopes that they will eventually pursue avenues for reporting.

“The University is committed to fostering a safe environment in our University community and stands ready to be supportive of students and to review and address all reports of misconduct,” he wrote. “It is our sincere hope that students feel empowered to come forward to share their experience, which assists the University with our charge of holding students, or organizations, accountable.”

One student explained in an interview with The News-Letter why she did not feel comfortable sharing her experience with the University.

“If it wasn’t for the social stigma about [reporting] or the fear of getting in trouble — if it was more anonymous — I would have felt way more comfortable going to the University,” she said.

She added that she did not know how she was supposed to report a drugging with no subsequent sexual assault. 

Reflecting on the events of the evening, this student explained that she has since talked to friends who attend other universities, claiming that those institutions enact stricter punishment for fraternities that have allegations against them. At Hopkins, she believes that even in allegations of sexual assault, people only get a “slap on the wrist.”

“This is almost a cultural issue in the Greek community, especially the fraternity community, because to my knowledge, [St. Elmo’s hasn’t] had any action taken against them, which means they think they can get away with everything,” she said. “Once you start tightening the rules a little bit, and people do start getting in trouble for things... it’s more of a cultural change from the bottom up.”

The role of Greek life at Hopkins

This student attended the party with a friend who had an almost identical experience that night. In an interview with The News-Letter, her friend insisted that those in Greek life must begin taking responsibility for their actions. 

In response to fraternity members’ claims that these blackouts are a result of drinking too much, she argued that the organization must disclose the alcohol content of their drinks if people are unable to function after two of them.

“Yes, there’s a point of personal responsibility where maybe you shouldn't drink whatever is offered to you at a frat party,” she said. “But at the same time... they should at least say something like, ‘Hey, just so you know, there’s a lot of alcohol in this.’”

Although this student is a member of a sorority on campus and does not believe that all Greek life should be abolished at Hopkins, she argued that fraternities be accountable for what occurs at their houses.

Another student similarly believes that organizations have a responsibility to ensure that students understand what they are consuming.

“They have parties, invite freshmen, give them liquor and fill them with drinks and then are blaming them for overconsumption of alcohol, when they’re the ones providing it,” he said. “I just don’t get it. Even if they aren’t drugging them, they’re clearly trying to intentionally get people too inebriated for their own good.”

This student, who attended a party at St. Elmo’s his freshman year, detailed that he consumed several drinks at the house. He had asked his friends who were women to get drinks for him at the bar, thinking they would get served stronger drinks because of their gender. 

“The reason why I think I’m the only male who has come forward is because I had girls get me drinks — specifically the things they mixed themselves,” he said.

He ended up staying at the house long after his friends had gone home, until approximately 2:30 a.m. Unable to find his way home, he spent the night wandering around outside until around 7 a.m.

“When I left, I couldn’t find my way home. I ended walking up super far down North Charles Street. Or at least I assumed I walked down there,” he said. “I came to in the morning, and I didn’t have my phone. I wasn’t wearing a coat or anything, and I didn’t have any money on me either, so I couldn’t take a bus back.”

That morning he returned to St. Elmo’s to try to find his phone. He explicitly asked the house members if he was drugged. Fraternity members denied this allegation, he said, and he was blacklisted from the organization.

Despite his negative experience that night, he argued that putting an end to Greek life wouldn’t necessarily solve the toxic drinking culture associated with fraternities.

“The kids that want to party are still going to party — I just don’t think that Greek life is needed to have fun. That being said, I don’t think it’s the reason why there’s a toxic drinking culture at Hopkins,” he said.

However, Maggie Linhart believes that this would be the best way to solve issues of sexual assault, druggings and other violence on campus.

She argued that the structural and gendered nature of Greek organizations promotes these systemic issues at universities across the nation. Linhart added that, based on her experience reporting misconduct, Hopkins is underprepared to address and solve these ongoing problems.

“Fraternity life on campus needs to be shut down. That’s what I’m fighting for,” she said. “There must be more work done on campus in general regarding sexual assault culture and accountability.”

In the event of an immediate emergency, students should call 911 or Campus Safety and Security. Students who have experienced druggings can submit anonymous or named reports via the University-wide reporting form JHU Speak 2 Us. Students can also report directly to the Office of Student Conduct and Ethics or Fraternity and Sorority Life through their websites under the “Report an Incident” tab.

Correction: A previous version of the article incorrectly stated that the University did not contact St. Elmo’s regarding these alleged druggings. The University did not enact disciplinary actions regarding these claims, though it did contact the fraternity about them.

The News-Letter regrets this error.

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