Sigma Phi Epsilon receives five-year ban

GVL / Courtesy -  Sigma Phi Epsilon

GVL / Courtesy – Sigma Phi Epsilon

Anne Marie Smit

Greek Life organizations have gained negative attention nationwide recently, with many universities cracking down on behavior that doesn’t align with its values. After a number of conduct violations over several years, Sigma Phi Epsilon (Sig Ep), Grand Valley State University’s oldest fraternity, was banned from campus for the next five years.

The ban wasn’t the first punishment for the fraternity. Last year, Sig Ep went on probation in response to underage drinking and hazing incidents, but soon after the fraternity went off probation, other incidents were reported. The decision to ban the fraternity was made after an investigation of an incident in September where a student consumed too much alcohol, hit their head and was hospitalized. 

Stephen Glass, acting vice provost for student affairs and dean of students, said the probation was a time for the fraternity to pause and take stock of their values and the consequences of their actions, but it wasn’t successful, which made investigators realize that more action needed to be taken.

“Being a registered student organization is a privilege on this campus, and part of the privilege is you follow the rules and you don’t do any activities that would be dangerous or demeaning to any Grand Valley State University student,” Glass said. “We’re not talking about one or two incidents—we’re talking about widespread activity, and we can’t have that organization here.”

Glass said when students apply to be members of a Greek Life organization at GVSU, they are expected to meet certain standards and expectations, the most important being that it upholds the values of the university. 

“(Underage drinking and hazing) certainly doesn’t match the values of Grand Valley State University,” Glass said. “If they’re a registered student organization, then we, of course, expect them to not break the law and to not do behaviors that would put any of our students at risk. That should be a given. If they can’t do that, something’s wrong, and it needs to be addressed.”

Robbie Triano, a senior at GVSU and member of the Sig Ep fraternity for the past four years, said the main violation of the fraternity was the underage drinking. He said many underage students drink in college, but because Sig Ep members are expected to maintain certain values, they are more heavily scrutinized than other students.

“People drink in college all the time,” Triano said. “You don’t see people who aren’t affiliated with an organization getting in the same trouble that we (are), but because we wear the letters, we take the cost.” 

The purpose of Greek Life organizations, Glass explained, is to promote strong leadership skills and foster a sense of belonging for students, not to place them in situations that may humiliate them or threaten their safety. 

The university and some members of fraternities seem to disagree on what constitutes an unsafe party environment. Most fraternities involve alcohol and hazing, Triano said. 

“I don’t think they really understand that we come to college to not only get an education but to meet friends and have a good time,” Triano said. “I really don’t think they see that message.”

Many universities have decided to deal with alcohol and hazing incidents by doing away with Greek Life organizations altogether. Glass said that won’t be GVSU’s response. He believes Greek Life organizations are a positive addition to GVSU but that they need to be kept in check to ensure that students are members of the organizations for the right reasons.

“We have (these organizations) because we know that when students become engaged with (them) there’s a sense of belonging, there’s a sense of camaraderie, there (are) opportunities for leadership,” Glass said. “But there is an expectation that each individual will be safe; that there will not be illegal behavior; that, if there is a party, a guest can go to that party, can be safe. These are normal expectations. 

“Each organization will need to look internally and say, ‘What do we really want to aspire (to)? If we say these are our values, how are we going to live those values? And where is there a disconnect?’”

Glass has been in conversation with the presidents of some fraternities following Sig Ep’s ban who have decided to take initiative to prevent alcohol-related incidents from happening in the future.

“The Interfraternity Council (IFC) has stepped up,” Glass said. “They are now mandating, starting next semester, training in areas related to hazing, sexual assault and alcohol use.”

Glass said the purpose of the Dean of Students Office is not solely to discipline students when they step out of line but to offer them the support they need to be a thriving organization on campus that creates a safe, welcoming environment for everyone. 

“If you choose not to live your values and decide to do illegal behavior, we have a conduct process and we’ll follow that; that’s a life of consequences,” Glass said. “If you choose to live your values, how can we, the Dean of Students Office, help? Is that in planning, is it mentoring? 

“Grand Valley’s a good school. We have great students at Grand Valley, (and) we should be aspiring to do great things.”