Texas Fraternity Brother Branded, Family Furious Over Ritual

Branding has long history in some U.S. fraternities.

January 28, 2010, 1:15 PM

Jan. 29, 2010— -- Most college students returned for the spring semester rested and relaxed. Amon Carter IV headed back to class with the mark of his fraternity burned into his backside.

The family of Texas Christian University student, who returned from a winter break ski trip with second and third-degree burns from being branded by his fraternity brothers, have already hired a lawyer to pressure school officials and police to punish all involved.

Carter, who goes by Chance, will require surgery to repair the damage done to his buttocks with a hot coat hanger after he passed out during a night of drinking.

"Kids get drunk and do really stupid things," Carter's cousin Sheila Johnson told ABCNews.com. "This crossed the line."

Forth Worth lawyer Kathryn Craven told ABCNews.com she was hired by Chance Carter's father, Amon Carter III, after his son came home and showed his father the wounds.

"He wants the people who did this to be held accountable under every possible entity because this was a torturous act," she said.

The branding allegedly took place on Jan. 9, when members of the Kappa Sigma fraternity and the Tri Delta sorority were on vacation in Breckenridge, Colo.

Johnson, who is close to the TCU sophomore, told ABCNews.com that Chance Carter had drunkenly consented to letting his fraternity brothers finish branding his rear with the Kappa Sigma symbols, a mark he had started during spring break, unbeknownst to his family.

But his fraternity brothers took it upon themselves to continue the branding -- this time large triangles to represent the Tri Delta Sorority -- on his other buttock while he was passed out.

Johnson said the Tri Delta mark was mingled with numerous other brands, most of which are unrecognizable, since they overlap.

"They are large," she said.

"I woke up the next morning and I was in a lot of pain," Carter told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "My whole other butt cheek was destroyed."

The father of one of the students named by Craven as a possible brander told ABCNews.com that "the way I understand it, [Carter] consented to it."

Johnson said Chance Carter also had defense burns on his hands. The family is unsure if any other students were branded that night. The other fraternity brothers are not speaking to him.

"He's trying to get his life back and unfortunately, that's going to take some time," Johnson said.

Branding has been a rite of passage in black fraternities for decades, but is still a fairly uncommon ritual among white fraternity members.

Lawrence Ross Jr., author of "The Divine Nine: The History of African American Fraternities and Sororities," told ABCNews.com that he's starting to hear more and more cases of branding among white fraternities, which he attributed to Internet videos and pictures glorifying the ritual.

"I tend to look at it as a personal choice," Ross said, adding that he chose a tattoo, not a brand, during his frat days with Alpha Phi Alpha.

Branding Has Long History in Black Fraternities

A spokeswoman for Texas Christian University issued a statement that school officials were investigating the family's claims.

"TCU began an investigation after the family informed us of this incident. University policy prohibits harming another student, which would obviously include branding," the statement read. "It's too early to tell if this incident was related to a student-sponsored activity, but the health and safety of our students is of utmost importance to TCU."

Craven said the Carters, who brought Chance Carter to the emergency room for treatment as soon as he returned home, have already consulted with a plastic surgeon who estimated it would take at least six procedures to repair.

Craven said the possibility of a lawsuit is "nothing I can say at this point."

"As far as I'm concerned," Johnson said, "his backside is a crime scene."

The Carters are one of the most prominent families in Forth Worth. Amon G. Carter was the president and publisher of the Forth Worth Star-Telegram newspaper in the 1920s and was credited with bringing several major businesses to the area, including a General Motors assembly plant and the company now known as Lockheed-Martin.

Johnson said her cousin is a "good looking kid" and a good student with a 3.7 GPA.

"These were people that were supposed to be his friends," she said. "It's wrong."

Though most Greek councils frown on branding -- some even denounce it as violent hazing -- Ross said it has largely been seen as a voluntary way to proudly show ones' allegiance.

Omega Psi Phi is the fraternity most associated with branding even though the national council has come out against it. NBA superstars Shaquille O'Neal and Michael Jordan both were branded as Omegas, he said.

Brands are most commonly found, he said, on the biceps, the pectoral areas or calves -- anywhere they can be shown off. While many use a simple hot coat hanger as in Chance Carter's case, many fraternities go all out with a professional branding iron.

As for Carter, Ross questioned whether the marks on the TCU student's backside fell in line with the tradition of brotherhood and pride.

"I think this kid has a case of assault rather than hazing," he said.

Breckenridge Police Department spokeswoman Kim Green told ABCNews.com that police there have tried to contact the Carter family about the incident, but have not heard back from them.

"We are not conducting an investigation until we get more facts," she said.

Though violating anyone while they are asleep or unconscious constitutes an assault, Green said officials heard Chance Carter consented to at least some branding before he passed out, which could be a factor in deciding whether anyone should be charged.

Fraternity Branding: Assault or Rite of Passage?

Pete Smithhisler, president and CEO of the Indiana-based North-American Interfraternity Conference, told ABCNews.com in an e-mail that he considers branding to be "one of the most egregious forms of hazing."

"The NIC in no way, shape, or form condones any type of hazing, and this applies to branding in the strongest possible terms," he wrote. "These behaviors contradict centuries of tradition, heritage and customs that represent what is best about American higher education."

Yet the Internet abounds with pictures of proud fraternity brothers showing off their brands, usually on their legs, upper arms or back.

A YouTube video posted in December of a young man getting the Sigma symbol burned into his upper arm shows him sitting in a kitchen, grimacing as the hot metal is pushed into his arm.

After a few moments, the pain evident on his face, he turns and grins for someone taking a picture of his new brand.

Ross said there has been criticism of branding from within the black community, even dividing some fraternity members.

"For African-Americans, there's a legacy of branding that goes back to slavery," he said, when masters used to brand their slaves like cattle to mark them as property.

But the difference now, Ross said, is that it's voluntary. He even reported seeing a rise in branding in sororities.

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