I spent the first two years of my time here at the University in West Quad. Each morning, I went to breakfast, ate and went to class. As good as those dorm pancakes were, the highlight of my morning was always the mandatory walk past Sigma Chi after I got out the door. Flush up against the Union and part of West Quad, the Sigma Chi fraternity never failed to find new and exciting ways to make me want to boot my food back up. Sure the garbage in the back of the house always smelled like Natural Light/rotting flesh, but personal touches like shooting out the streetlights or tossing glass onto the sidewalks really made that stretch of campus special for me. Memories.
So you can only imagine my disappointment when I found that the Interfraternity Council cut all ties with Sigma Chi. Apparently on Sept. 14, a Kinesiology junior was admitted to the University Hospital after members of Sigma Chi forced him and his pledge class to perform strenuous exercise while being denied access to adequate food and water. This caused the student’s kidneys to fail. Letters today, leaders tomorrow, right guys?
Not missing a beat, IFC President Branden Muhl responded to the incident, “It’s absolutely unfathomable what would produce or provoke hazing such as this.” A good question. What would produce behavior like this? If patterns of behavior can in some way be attributed to a root cause, then follow me now, as we take a little trip cross country, and visit several of the other illustrious Sigma Chi houses.
The Sigma Chi chapter at Duke University has drawn national attention recently after a “Viva Mexico” theme party earlier this month included invitations in the form of expired green cards. The icing on the cake was the fraternity brothers at the door dressed up like border patrol, sparking outrage and protest among the school’s Latino community.
Or out west, where the University of Washington chapter has racked up an impressive record over the past decade, garnering everything from warnings, to reprimands, to an eventual $1000 fine by its own IFC in 1998. More recently, it has been named in two different lawsuits alleging sexual assault. In one, a 22-year old woman claims she was drugged and raped in the bushes in front of the frat.
According to Sigma Chi’s “Standard Operating Procedures” guidebook, pledging is designed to be “the development of leadership skills through … activities which promote mutual trust and respect.” So in January, after reading this guidebook thoroughly I’m sure, brothers at the Arizona University chapter decided these skills would best be instilled by allegedly locking pledges in a walk-in freezer, then forcing them to eat their own vomit.
Perhaps Sigma Chi is too easy of a target? OK, lets expand this and include other well publicized incidents back in Ann Arbor. Like in December of 1999 when a pledge of the local chapter of Alpha Epsilon Pi was shot in the groin with a BB gun? Or four days later when two Delta Sigma Phi fraternity members were allegedly found duct taped in Mary Markley Residence Hall? Later in the year at the same frat, a 17-year-old had to be taken to the hospital for alcohol poisoning. Or at Zeta Beta Tau in March of 2000, when a hazing incident left a pledge with chemical burns from a bleach-based cleaning agent.
To give credit where credit is due, I should not forget to mention that in most of these cases the fraternities and individuals responsible were dealt with admirably by national chapters, the IFC, the University or a combination of the three. But now, the question must be asked: How much power do these organizations really have to monitor and discourage hazing, date rape and underage drinking in the Greek system? Can the IFC really make Greek life safe? Most importantly, how many times can the Greek system possibly be expected to apologize for events that are far too commonplace to be isolated?
I don’t envy Branden Muhl. He seems to know the right thing to do, and is genuine about his intentions to see it done. However, right about now, he should be coming to the realization that his position and his organization, the IFC, appear (and may very well actually be) helpless to control the kids that inhabit its member houses. So when Muhl says, “We feel very sorry about this incident and what happened to the man and his family … I will do everything in my power to make sure this does not happen again,” what exactly is he apologizing for? Sorry, it happened again? Sorry, I couldn’t stop it? Sorry, I’ll try harder next time?
I’m sure you will. I’m sure you will.
Adams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.