A new beginning: SAM fraternity moves beyond loss of house, drug bust

| Contributing Reporter

Almost a year has passed since the Phi chapter of Sigma Alpha Mu was evicted from its house on Upper Fraternity Row, and the current brothers of the fraternity have put the past behind them and moved in a new direction.

The Greek Life Office (GLO) took away Sigma Alpha Mu’s (SAM) house in late December following a drug bust on Dec. 8 in which the Washington University Police Department (WUPD) arrested three fraternity members, all of whom were then given alumni status by the chapter.

Under the direction of the national organization, the chapter completed a membership review. Senior Brian Grobman, the chapter’s president, said the review helped the fraternity strengthen and consolidate its sense of brotherhood.

“We were looking for a more committed active membership,” he said. “Our numbers have gone down since January, but our remaining members are more committed to being a fraternity that takes the initiative to be more active on campus and to [go] in a more proactive direction.”

The chapter currently has 21 active members, compared to approximately 50 at this time last year, with 14 new pledge candidates from the past fall recruitment—the highest number of pledges among all the fraternity chapters on campus.

Grobman and junior Sam Werboff, the chapter’s vice president, see this year’s pledge class as one of the signs that SAM remains a full, strong brotherhood.

“Even though the time has been difficult and the life of the fraternity has changed, the overall strength has never been stronger,” Werboff said. “The guys that have decided to stay with it through the tough times—it’s brought us together in a way that we’ve never seen before.”

Mike Hayes, director of the GLO and executive director of campus life, said he believes the experience has led the members to shift their focus in a more important direction.

“They now understand it is bigger than just living together,” Hayes said. “They define the whole experience differently and see the benefits of why a person would want to join a fraternity. There is a misperception out there that you have to have a house to be a fraternity, and that is just not the case.”

Grobman called the past year a “process of change,” and new commitments to the membership are part of that process.

Junior Adam Savaglio, former SAM president, devised an action plan for the chapter that includes yearly full chapter meetings with the GLO director, WUPD and Betsy Foy, the substance abuse specialist at Student Health Services, and required completion of GreekLifeEdu, an online prevention program. Chapter members are now also subject to a revised internal standard and code of conduct.

“Our biggest thing right now is having a strong sense of accountability, and all these things are here to introduce self-accountability and accountability for our brothers,” Grobman said.

Yet, despite their progress and continued efforts as a brotherhood, the chapter’s members have realized that it can be hard to shake a bad image from the past. Grobman also expressed frustration that some students are under the impression that the chapter is no longer recognized.

“People don’t seem to understand the difference between losing your house and losing your recognition,” he said. “We don’t have the house anymore, but we still have recognition from both the school and national.”

As for the chapter’s image, Grobman emphasized that the only way to change it is to focus on strengthening the chapter through its actions and sense of brotherhood.

“Overall, we can’t concern ourselves with what people say about us. At the end of the day, we can only concentrate on our own behavior, and ultimately, that will change the things people say about us,” he said. “It’s a learning experience. You can learn from it and become better and strong from it—which we did.”

Hayes also remains hopeful for the chapter’s future, saying, “I think they are ready to do what they need to do to be a good chapter.”

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening as Washington University returns to campus.