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Sunday, June 9, 2013
A sucker punch that put someone in the hospital.
An assault with a broken beer bottle that resulted in 55 stitches to the victim’s face.
Conduct that was “nothing short of staggering drunk and disruptive to new students and parents.”
Those are just three of the incidents cited in a report documenting a recent history of misconduct by members of Virginia Tech’s Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, which lost its national charter as a result of the violations. Reporters Tonia Moxley and Melissa Powell laid out the unsavory details in Thursday’s Roanoke Times. Their story noted that SigEp is not the only Tech fraternity or sorority chapter to be closed down for misconduct in recent years. Several have lost recognition for hazing and alcohol violations since 2008.
But the report compiled by SigEp’s Richmond office paints a portrait of a fraternity chapter that could not keep a lid on excessive and sometimes dangerous behavior, despite intervention by the organization’s headquarters and hands-on oversight by an alumni advisory council.
The Tech administration appeared to give the chapter every opportunity to change its ways, but some members couldn’t help themselves. As a result, the chapter has disbanded and more than 30 brothers have been booted from a new $5.1 million SigEp house on Oak Lane that is now in “lived-in” condition. The report cites multiple incidents of damage to the new house, including defaced columns, broken doors, damaged donor plaques and “urination on a door by an intoxicated member.”
Nice. That doesn’t show much self-respect, let alone respect for the alumni who are working to raise about $2 million for the fraternity’s share of the house’s construction cost.
An alumni advisory council began overseeing the SigEp chapter in December 2008, after a series of incidents led to a deferred suspension from the university. The chapter resumed full control of its operations in May 2010, but trouble started again in 2011, according to the report. The worst offense was committed last year by an intoxicated sophomore who assaulted a non-member with a broken beer bottle in front of the victim’s mother. It’s hard to pick a winner for the dumbest offense, but one jumped out for me. A chapter member was disciplined last fall for being “nothing short of staggering drunk and disruptive to new students and parents” on freshman move-in day. I hope he wasn’t part of the welcoming committee.
According to the report, this boorish brother had resigned from the fraternity the previous year with a cumulative grade point average of 1.9. Despite his lackluster academic performance and less-than-advanced social skills, he was readmitted to SigEp after being disciplined for his on-campus behavior.
As I read the report, I couldn’t help thinking of the scene in Animal House when Dean Vernon Wormer summons the miscreants of Delta Tau Chi to his office. After informing the oafish Kent “Flounder” Dorfman of his sterling 0.2 GPA, the dean says somberly: “Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.”
But SigEp’s misconduct is more sad than funny, especially considering the efforts that alumni advisers and some conscientious brothers made to right the ship.
I’ll admit I wasn’t drawn to the fraternity culture in college. The initiation rituals that friends and classmates tolerated seemed like a steep price to pay for the reward of sporting Greek letters on their chests. But it was easy to make superficial generalizations about hazing and keg parties without understanding all that fraternities and sororities could offer to members and communities. I had a different perspective after watching some organizations lead charity drives, neighborhood cleanup projects, and mentoring programs. I admired the personal development of students who made the most of their experience. Many formed bonds with brothers and sisters that will last a lifetime.
I also saw plenty of alcohol-induced behavior that fit the Animal House stereotype, as many of you surely did in your college days. But those excesses shouldn’t define an entire culture. Nor should modern-day bad actors define Greek life at Tech or tarnish a legacy built by caring SigEp alumni.
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