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.

  • Go Greek

    I am a member of a international fraternity and involved in the management of campus chapters, myself. I am not a member of this organization and I am not a member of this campus community. Please understand that a chapter deserves a right to a fair judicial process. It is not practice anywhere to defame a chapter for behavior publicly without completing a fair process. Often this is even in consultation with the (inter)national headquarters. It is always in the best interest of the members of the chapter and the entire campus community to address violations of policy and risk management. I feel it important to address that the author defends campus behavior as mild to other campuses. Pointing the finger elsewhere and deflecting responsibility only further normalizes and perpetuates hazing. If this case involves hazing (which I suspect it does), please understand that hazing is hazing. Mild hazing now turns into violent hazing later. Being involved in fraternity and sorority life is a wonderful experience. It is the responsibility of the chapter, governing structures, the college and the international headquarters to ensure that participation in our chapter are safe. The choice to suspend chapter operations immediately is a method to immediately ensure the safety of everyone. In the best case scenarios, this chapter will move beyond this moment and become a stronger and better organization. Ultimately this responsibility falls on the men of this chapter – if they recognize their struggles, failings, reputation, and/or perceptions, the path to success is likely.

  • Disgruntled Alum

    That’s because the school is likely trying to make an example of SigEp, and their allegedly out-of-touch Nationals is heavily involved (dunno about KappaSigs situation).

    Hopefully its the case that they are fine, but until any actual details emerge it is hard to tell. Regardless, its a damn shame that my alma mater, for some reason, feels as if cracking down on the social scene (Greek/otherwise) is a necessary thing. UChicago is referred to as “where fun goes to die” and it is not a good reputation (true or not) which deters applicants from the school. Has there been an epidemic of alcochol poisoning, sexual assault, violence, or any other symptom of overly reckless behavior? If not, I don’t see the point of taking such drastic action…unless the campus wants to ban all fraternities, go dry, and start arresting students instead of utilizing the JA. I’m sure our ranking will soar.

    Unless some egregious offense was committed here, I can’t see the school justifying disbanding SigEp (or other like scenarios) without coming across as hypocritical or on a witch-hunt. Hell, in 2004, SigmaChi had 2 pledges go to the hospital AND they were videotaped hazing, and were kicked off campus and on probation. Look at them now. Sammy was on thin ice for a while, but were allowed to remain a chapter after a police drug RAID in their house. Unless SigEp (or any other chapter) has committed such blatant and obvious offenses, I can’t see the school justifying such action. If its a case of the “he said she saids”, then congratulations WashU, you’re turning your students and its alumni against you. Stay out of touch…it goes a long way in gaining the respect and admiration of your student body.

    • Anonymous

      Sammy has been disbanded.

      • anonymous

        That’s a weird way to say “was shut down.”

  • a

    Why studlife is a poor news source: KappaSig went through the same thing that SigEp is going through now. KappaSig never got a “breaking news” article… and KappaSig is fine now.

    • WuAlum08

      Kappa Sig has also been socially irrelevant for roughly two decades, where as SigEpm like Sig Chi and Sammy, is a major player in campus social life. If Kappa Sig disappeared, no one would even notice. Sort of like a tree falling in the forest.

      • miss

        Yes, my bad that I always forget where the SigEp and Theta Xi houses are..