Dean of Students speaks out on Alpha Sigma Phi hazing

Wednesday, January 9, 2019 - 3:35pm

Dean of Students Laura Blake Jones called out the Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity at the University of Michigan in a letter regarding the University's disciplinary action against Alpha Sigma Phi, which was later published by MLive through a Freedom of Information Act request on Dec. 17.  Blake Jones said “several generations” took part in hazing activities at the Theta chapter and the fraternity’s national headquarters turned a “blind eye” to hazing. 

On. Nov. 7, the University terminated the fraternity for hazing infractions with opportunity for recolonization after five calendar years. The IFC released a statement saying the Council supported the University’s decision following the Student Organization Advancement and Recognition review conducted by the Greek Activities Review Panel.

Alpha Sigma Phi disassociated from the University and Interfraternity Council in September, opting instead to join the newly formed Ann Arbor Interfraternity Council. The fraternity cited new zoning codes implemented by City Council as the reason for the change. According to the Office of Greek Life, fraternities must answer to the University regardless of governance.

“These sanctions result from a Hazing Response Team investigation that found substantial evidence of dangerous recurring practices within Alpha Sigma Phi’s new member process, including forced alcohol consumption and violent physical hazing,” the IFC wrote in the statement.

Kim Broekhuizen, associate director of the University’s Office of Public Affairs responded on behalf of Nicole Banks, interim director of Greek Life and assistant dean of students. Broekhuizen said in an email that disaffiliation does not mean the chapter will not be held accountable.

“The general practice of a minimum suspension for five years allows time for the current students to matriculate from U-M and for the headquarters to put greater support in place for the chapter to operate effectively following a closure for cause, to ensure that the same challenges do not recur,” Broekhuizen wrote. “The University investigated complaints against Alpha Sigma Phi that occurred while the chapter was an active member of the Interfraternity Council. Alpha Sigma Phi's intention to disaffiliate voluntarily did not absolve the chapter of accountability for its behavior.”

The suspension from the IFC came before an MLive article published Dec. 5, disclosing the reason behind the fraternity’s closure. Text messages and emails between members of Alpha Sigma Phi provided evidence of a “40-yard dash,” during which members would allegedly run on pledges' backs during the chapter’s “Hell Week.” In the messages, the fraternity brothers wrote about the event taking place and a student being injured.

“We had people run our backs during our hell week,” an Alpha Sigma Phi member wrote in a group message obtained through the FOIA request. “That doesn’t mean it’s a tradition or a (good) idea, but it means (it’s) become normalized by us.”

The Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life received the messages in an envelope during the 2018 winter semester and turned over the documents to the Ann Arbor Police Department last March. The case was closed because the AAPD were unable to verify the student was injured during the fraternity pledging process and because his parents were uncooperative with investigators.

It was this “40-yard dash” which prompted Blake Jones’s letter, in which she questioned the national headquarters’ response to the “heinous behavior” and shared that hazing was found to have taken place at the chapter over multiple decades. Broekhuizen said the Fraternity & Sorority Life office supports Blake Jones’ statements.

Blake Jones went on to say Alpha Sigma Phi had an “utter lack of consideration for the well-being” of new members and the evidence “confirms” the fraternity leadership’s knowledge of hazing-related behavior.

The University and IFC agreed on sanctions against the chapter and remain committed to their original decision to close the chapter for five years. However, their position differs from that of the fraternity’s national headquarters and the AAIFC, which say the chapter is in good standing but is no longer affiliated with the University or IFC.

Gordy Heminger, president and chief executive officer of Alpha Sigma Phi, denied Blake Jones’s allegations of inaction from the national headquarters in an email to The Daily. He said within 24 hours of being informed of the incident national members were in Ann Arbor to meet with chapter members and investigate. He also said Alpha Sigma Phi national employees offered to work with the Office of Fraternity & Sorority Life multiple times but weeks went by without a returned phone call.

Heminger said he sees these recent actions from the University as retaliation for the chapter’s disaffiliation from the IFC, which he said was primarily because of the new zoning restrictions. Heminger said it wasn’t until six months after the national headquarters concluded its internal investigation and after its decision to leave the IFC when the University decided to hold a hearing, at which point the fraternity was no longer affiliated with the University and was advised by legal counsel not to participate.

“I would strongly encourage the University to hold its students accountable, much like Alpha Sigma Phi did, and not use a chapter of 150+ members as a scapegoat or a mechanism to retaliate against because the chapter voluntarily surrendered campus recognition because of zoning-related issues,” Heminger said. “We don’t dispute that some former members violated our Health and Safety policy, but we strongly dispute that the entire chapter was involved or that the headquarters turned a blind eye to policy violations.”

Heminger noted the national headquarters’ investigation resulted in disciplinary action against certain members and officers, a new protocol, a live-in staff member and other educational sanctions and restrictions. He said the fraternity is still open to working with the University in the future and believes the mandatory changes have been well-received by the chapter.

According to Heminger, there were no health or safety violations at the chapter in the fall semester, which he sees as a sign of the effectiveness of the national headquarters’ intervention. He also said there were no criminal or code of conduct charges against any members of the fraternity as a result of the police investigation.

He also said there will be no foreseeable changes in the chapter’s rush process or social calendar.

The disagreement between the University and Alpha Sigma Phi regarding the “40-yard dash,the proceeding investigations by the fraternity and University and the chapter’s suspension persists going into winter semester. While the national headquarters says it and the chapter have been falsely characterized by the University and that the chapter remains operating, the University and the IFC uphold the sanction.

AAIFC President Michael Salciccioli, a Business junior, said in a statement to The Daily the chapter is still in good standing with the AAIFC. He said the council took the actions of Alpha Sigma Phi national headquarters into consideration and sees no problems for the chapter moving forward under the AAIFC.

“Alpha Sigma Phi’s nationals already adjudicated the issue and suspended or expelled members who were involved in policy violations,” Salciccioli said. “Because of this and the fact that, to our knowledge, Alpha Sigma Phi has not violated any of our policies since becoming members, the Ann Arbor Interfraternity Council believes no further disciplinary action is needed.”