Hazing and drug abuse allegations against Sigma Alpha Mu remain undisclosed to public, fraternity members
The national Sigma Alpha Mu organization suspended its chapter at Washington University following allegations of drug abuse and hazing, according to a letter sent from the national fraternity to members of the chapter and the University.
Washington University officials confirmed that they are investigating members of the fraternity in an ongoing investigation but said it would be inappropriate to comment because the investigation is still underway.
However, details about the investigation were included in a letter sent June 2 by Leland Manders, executive director of the national Sigma Alpha Mu organization, to chapter members and the University announcing the decision to disband the chapter.
According to the letter, a Washington University investigation of the Phi chapter of Sigma Alpha Mu began last December. It says that the Washington University Police Department was investigating several members for alleged drug use and drug dealing before uncovering additional evidence that the fraternity had engaged in hazing and group drug use. It says that several fraternity members corroborated the allegations.
While the hazing that takes place at Washington University is not understood to be anything similar to what allegedly takes place at schools such as Dartmouth (where, Rolling Stone reported in April, pledges would have to swim in a pool of vomit, urine, feces and other bodily fluids), Greek organizations on campus are known to have members undergo some sort of initiation process. But students generally understand campus “hazing” to be limited to tasks that are simply awkward—such as eating fried food on each step of a staircase—or involve copious amounts of alcohol—such as drinking quantities of beer likely to make pledges pass out. And while there are certainly drugs on campus, the drug scene is mostly limited to marijuana—with less prevalent substances including MDMA (ecstasy), Adderall or heroin.
This is the third time in the last 13 years that the University has disciplined Sigma Alpha Mu. The group was previously disciplined in 1999, when it was suspended for two years for allegedly hazing spring pledges, and in 2008, when it lost its house following a WUPD drug bust at its chapter house. But as far as Mike Hayes, director of Greek Life, is aware, neither of the previous cases was disciplined this severely.
According to Manders’ letter, the University informed the fraternity’s national directors—also known as the Octagon—about the investigation and alleged hazing in May. The Octagon then approached fraternity members asking for members to confirm or deny the allegations, but fraternity members chose not to.
Rising junior Sam Schauer, who was the leader, or acting “prior,” of the Phi chapter when the national fraternity learned of WUPD’s investigation into the fraternity, said he chose not to discuss the allegations because he did not feel it was his place to potentially implicate his brothers.
He said that while he understood the fraternity could ultimately suffer from the decision, it was a matter of putting his friends before the organization itself.
“I just feel that my job is to protect the people I’ve grown close to through my time as a brother in the organization, and those individuals are always going to come before the fraternity itself because we make it and it doesn’t make us,” Schauer said. “[Going through the allegations] basically would have let one brother decide the state of fifty. And that’s a responsibility that no one should have to have. That’s something that should come out of the investigation that’s at hand. So, at that point, I think there was a lack of morale, and everyone said, ‘What’s done is done. Let’s hope we can get out of this with the most people safe and the most people still here to make the best of their Wash. U. experience.’”
He declined to say whether the fraternity hazed new members, except to say that the “pledge education program” did not involve drug use.
At that point, after members chose not to cooperate, the letter says that the Octagon consulted with the University and voted to disband the chapter by permanently suspending its charter.
The letter, addressed July 2, predated the University’s decision to withdraw recognition for the chapter as of July 6.
As a result of losing its charter and University recognition, the chapter will no longer be able to represent itself as part of Sigma Alpha Mu, conduct meetings or hold social or philanthropic events. All individual members, however, were granted Special Alumni Status, meaning they are still members of the organization.
Schauer said he was aware that individual fraternity brothers had been accused of drug use and knew of the investigation surrounding those charges but said not everyone in the chapter used drugs. He said the University’s decision to punish the entire fraternity for the actions of a few individuals in it is part of the injustice of the situation.
“This isn’t something every brother was involved in. …This decision wasn’t made because there was an assessment of an overall lack of ability in the brotherhood. It was more because of individual cases that came up,” Schauer said. “It just seems there’s a total disregard if not for everyone there, at least for the members who haven’t been contacted and who weren’t involved in whatever the alleged charges are. It just shows us there really isn’t a level of mutual respect.”
He added that he is still confused about how the investigation came to include hazing allegations.
“There’s just a lot of questions that have been left unanswered,” he said.
While Schauer does not believe that the University will pursue the hazing allegations at the criminal level like some other schools have, he said he does not have enough information to know where things will end up.
“We still don’t know where the investigation has gone; we don’t know how far they’re taking it. Everyone hears of hazing cases that are brought to criminal courts, and we obviously hope it doesn’t get that far. And we know the University hopes it doesn’t get that far either,” he said.
Tamara King, director of judicial programs, declined to comment on the University hazing or drug policies and would not confirm that her office had spoken with any fraternity members. Sigma Alpha Mu’s national office confirmed the contents of the letter but declined additional comment. Jill Carnaghi, director of campus life, said that the University did not send a literal list of allegations to Sigma Alpha Mu’s national office but had been maintaining communications throughout the process.
Most disciplinary decisions involving Greek organizations on campus go through the
University’s Interfraternity Council, which is made up of students. But Carnaghi said the choice to recognize a fraternity doesn’t fall under the council’s jurisdiction.
Rising senior, Eric Fischer, president of Washington University’s Interfraternity Council, said that his only information on the situation was that the fraternity had made multiple violations to the student code of conduct.
Fischer said that the decisions to disband and stop recognizing the fraternity are the worst things that can happen to a Greek organization—even compared to previous disciplining the Phi chapter has received in the past, such as its two-year suspension in 1999. While the letter from Sigma
Alpha Mu’s executive director suggested that the University’s suspension of the chapter is projected to last at least four years, Hayes, director of Greek Life, said they have not begun considering the fraternity’s possible return to campus.
“At some point in the future, there may be an opportunity for them to come back, but that’s to be determined,” Hayes said.
David Wallace, coordinator for Greek housing programs, had been working with fraternity members throughout the year to help them move on from their previous difficulties and said he was disappointed by the culmination of events.
“We work with all of our chapters on how to better the chapter…to become more congruent with the values of why those organizations were founded,” Wallace said. “With Sammy [Sigma Alpha Mu], it was just creating the dialogue and dissecting what their history was and what their brand is.”
“Unfortunately, they may have had not enough time to change some of the cultural aspects of their chapter,” he said.
At this point, Schauer said that fraternity members are just hoping to move forward.
“I think obviously we’re all very saddened by the fact that we will no longer have any sort of formal representation on campus, but it doesn’t destroy friendships or get rid of the memories that we had when we were part of the organization. Obviously the hardest part of moving forward is trying to deal with the logistics of everything,” Schauer said.