Wash. U.’s big fat (mysterious) Greek crackdown
On Nov. 1, Washington University’s chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon was suspended and told to halt operations indefinitely due to an ongoing investigation. But since then, no verified facts have emerged as to what happened and why the fraternity was punished. Chief of the Washington University Police Department Don Strom, Coordinator for Greek Housing David Wallace, Coordinator of Chapter Development Lucy Morlan and Interfraternity Council President Eric Fischer all declined to comment for Student Life’s news story regarding the suspension. Though we are inclined to believe that the University’s investigation is justified, the lack of transparency regarding the investigation is troubling. There is a middle ground between complete disclosure and near-silence on the matter, between giving nothing more than general information about the violations and being open to dialogue about the situation. Refusing any sort of compromise is ultimately unfair both to students and the University itself.
This past summer, Sigma Alpha Mu was officially disbanded due to drug and hazing violations. That the two incidents followed each other so closely raises questions not just about the nature of Sig Ep’s alleged violations but also the University’s attitude toward fraternity life in general. Greek life includes much of the student body at large; students who aren’t in fraternities frequent frat parties and go to philanthropy events. ThurtenE Carnival is just one example of how Wash. U.’s fraternities have a larger community impact. Wanting more information extends beyond lurid curiosity or concern for friends. When a fraternity gets into trouble, it affects the rest of us as well. This is something the student body cares about and has a vested interest in understanding.
Sigma Alpha Mu’s disbandment and Sig Ep’s suspension come in the midst of a slew of high-profile fraternity scandals at other colleges nationwide. Pi Kappa Alpha, the fraternity at the center of the infamous “butt-chugging” scandal at the University of Tennessee, was suspended in September of this year. Last semester, Rolling Stone magazine reported that a fraternity at Dartmouth College engaged in a series of hazing rituals involving pledges swimming in pools of vomit and human waste. Wash. U.’s frat culture is comparatively mild, but any frat culture lends itself to dangerous and even illegal behavior. The rash of high-profile hazing incidents and subsequent crackdowns should provoke conversation, not intense speculation and worry on one side and near-silence on the other.
Admittedly, disseminating too much specific information could harm the investigation and draw unwanted attention to problems on Wash. U.’s campus. But keeping silent only provokes questions of why. It does nothing to address the root of the problem—whatever the problem is—leaving hearsay and gossip to fill a gap that could be filled with education. It sets a divide between the administrators and the student body. While silence may maintain the University’s name externally by keeping publications such as Student Life and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in the dark, it ultimately takes away from a relationship central to Wash. U. At the same time, it squanders a valuable teaching moment.
It would be one thing if this were a matter of individual students being disciplined. But this is a matter of entire student organizations dissolving with no explanation. Rumors are swirling around campus, most of them citing drugs or extreme hazing practices as the reason for the investigation into Sig Ep. More information could direct the conversation surrounding the suspension away from rumor and toward serious consideration of the consequences of illegal drugs, hazing practices and other problematic trends in fraternity culture. If the University is going to target student organizations that fail live up to its standards, it should be looking to help other students avoid their missteps.