By Colleen Murphy and Sydney Shaw
Editor-in-Chief and Managing Editor
After undergoing two investigations by the College this school year, the Theta Delta chapter of Sigma Pi fraternity chose to disassociate from the College in hopes “to achieve a higher level of accomplishment as an independent organization,” according to a press release that can be found on the fraternity’s Facebook page. In turn, the College revoked recognition of the fraternity from the school on Tuesday, March 29, according to College spokesperson Dave Muha.
“This decision was not arrived at lightly,” according to the Sigma Pi press release, which was published on Thursday, March 31. “In the past, the Theta-Delta chapter of Sigma Pi Fraternity has had a good and mutually beneficial relationship with The College of New Jersey and its Office of Student Life. The chapter pursued and achieved its goals year after year with great success. However, recent events have made it clear that The College of New Jersey is intent on becoming destructive of those ends and therefore it is our right and duty to abolish this relationship.”
Those “recent events” stem from two investigations in which Sigma Pi was involved. The Signal first reported on the initial investigation on Nov. 3, 2015.
“On September 30, 2015, TCNJ placed the Theta Delta chapter of Sigma Pi fraternity on interim suspension. The action followed a series of incidents that took place on and off campus,” Muha said. “By terms of the interim suspension, Sigma Pi was prevented from hosting any activities, including social events, recruiting new members and holding chapter meetings.”
According to two representatives of the fraternity who requested to remain anonymous, this suspension was held until the investigation launched by the school surrounding an alleged sexual assault at an off-campus party was completed. According to the representatives, a female had accused a member of the fraternity of sexual assault. Over time, more females came forward alleging that there was sexual harassment at the party, according to the representatives.
After months of investigation by the College’s Office of Student Conduct and Dispute Resolution Services, the allegations of sexual assault and harassment proved to be false, according to the representatives.
However, Sigma Pi was “found responsible for violations of College policy, the most serious of which concerned alcohol and other drug violations. This outcome, which was upheld on appeal, resulted in a suspension of the fraternity through May 20, 2016,” according to Muha.
This suspension of recognition meant that “all activities, student organization-affiliated events and privileges of College and Student Government recognition (were) suspended,” according to the Fraternity & Sorority Life Privileges and Responsibilities packet. The packet outlines the privileges that Sigma Pi lost during this time, which includes the ability to host social events.
This suspension of recognition also required Sigma Pi to have a live-in monitor, provided by its international headquarters, at the fraternity’s off-campus house, according to the representatives. This, along with the loss of the right to hold social events, led Sigma Pi to appeal the sanctions, the two men said.
But while on suspension for those alcohol and/or drug-related violations, the College launched another investigation into Sigma Pi on the grounds of there being “possible violations of the terms of the interim suspension,” according to Muha.
Representatives of Sigma Pi said that this investigation was conducted because the school believed that Sigma Pi was acting as a fraternity by recruiting new members when it should not have been. According to the representatives, Sigma Pi was not acting as a fraternity as was alleged. However, the investigation conducted by the College found that Sigma Pi failed “to comply with directives issued by the College,” Muha said, and this eventually led to the revocation of the fraternity’s recognition.
With each suspension the fraternity received came sanctions for the men to follow, Interim Executive Director of Sigma Pi’s international chapter Jason Walker said.
“The TCNJ administration declined to work in conjunction with the Sigma Pi executive office to address (the) violations (at-hand), and instead imposed sanctions which we felt were excessive and impossible to completely satisfy,” Walker said. “… As a result, after consulting with their alumni, our TCNJ chapter has voted to voluntarily forego recognition as a student organization by the college. The Sigma Pi executive office and international board of directors are working with the chapter to develop a viable and acceptable plan for Sigma Pi to continue at TCNJ without such recognition. At present, these students remain a chartered chapter of Sigma Pi Fraternity, International.”
After Sigma Pi appealed the initial sanctions placed on them for violating rules related to alcohol, they were handed even stricter sanctions in terms of the years they would be placed on deferred suspension, the representatives said. According to the Fraternity & Sorority Life Privileges and Responsibilities packet, a deferred suspension “places the fraternity or sorority on notice that any further violation of College policy during the specified period of time will result in more serious sanctions including suspension or revocation of recognition.”
The representatives of Sigma Pi felt as though the additional sanctions placed on them for violating their suspension guidelines were too hard.
“Once again, we want to reiterate we wanted to work with the school and come to terms with these sanctions that were reasonable, because I think in our eyes, a lot of them, and I’ve talked to other people, were completely unreasonable. And instead of working with us (after being suspended for the findings of the first investigation), (the College) went and conducted another investigation by emailing people… saying, ‘Do you have an interest in Sig Pi?,’” the representatives said. “… And it was one thing after the other, and after the longest time, leaders in our organization, people from our headquarters at nationals, wanted to continue to be on this campus — and we showed the school that we wanted to do so — and they wouldn’t meet us halfway or even take one step out to kind of reach out to us. And they left us with very little options.”
The representatives believe that the College placed the supposed unfair sanctions on Sigma Pi with the hopes of getting them off campus, somehow, someway.
“(Go on the College’s page for Greek life) and it shows you that (getting in trouble for alcohol and membership-related incidents) is a very common thing, so why were we being discriminated against? Which makes me lead to believe that the school, from the start, had a vendetta of getting us off the campus. Whether they saw us too much as a threat, I do think they were worried of us becoming too powerful or something like that,” one of the Sigma Pi representatives said.
According to Muha, though, the school is “confident” that “procedural standards were followed, including a fair and thorough investigation, ample opportunity for the fraternity to be heard in the process and sanctions commensurate with the violations.” Muha also pointed out that the fraternity chose to not participate in the hearing process for the second investigation.
On Saturday, April 9, in response to Sigma Pi’s decision to go independent, the College’s Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life added a new section to its Website on unrecognized organizations. According to the site, as an unrecognized organization of the College, Sigma Pi will “no longer receive the advice, support or active oversight of the College.” The school might also refer to unrecognized organizations as “underground” organizations, the site said.
And even though the fraternity is no longer recognized by the school, students can still be punished for anything that might happen at a Sigma Pi event, and the College has strongly warned students to not involve themselves with Sigma Pi or any other unrecognized organization.
“Involvement with any unrecognized organization can pose a significant risk and students are strongly advised to avoid engagement with these groups,” the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life Website reads. “Individuals who affiliate with unrecognized organizations may be susceptible to participation in activities that violate College policy and should understand that they will be held individually accountable for their actions.”
Representatives of Sigma Pi feel as though saying people shouldn’t hang out with certain groups is in violation of students’ freedom of assembly and only see this as further proof that the College treats the group unfairly. However, now the fraternity is looking forward to continuing its “great tradition,” independent from the College.
“We feel like we have a lot to offer to every single student that comes to this campus. If the administration disagrees, they can disagree, but we want to remind them that it is ultimately the student’s decision of who they want to associate with,” the Sigma Pi representatives said.
According to the fraternity’s representatives, Sigma Pi is aware of the rumors and stereotypes that circulate on social media and on campus — “… people are still making jokes about us… calling us rapist scumbags,” the representatives said — and the fraternity hopes that making the decision to derecognize themselves from the College will help in having the opportunity to quash those rumors.
“I really do want to remind people that rumors are only (rumors). You know, people that talk the most know the least, and I want to remind people that if you think something happened, come talk to someone in Sigma Pi. Get knowledgeable on the issue and know that those words that we’re being associated with in the fall semester were completely falsified. They were just strictly allegations that never came true,” one representative said. “And take a second to realize that you’re talking about individual men on campus, you’re talking about people that go to this school and are very similar to you. And you’re using these accusations and spreading these rumors. It’s crazy to think that it’s not only students, but it’s professors that heard through the grapevine and starting class discussions.”
Students from the College can still choose to join Sigma Pi, but the organization’s philanthropic work done on campus (their philanthropy is suicide prevention and awareness) and participation in school-sanctioned social events, such as Homecoming, will no longer be allowed.
“I think that we recognize that students as individuals and as groups do a lot of great things,” Muha said. “This is not about anything beyond the circumstances that took place in September and then the follow-up from the group throughout the period of the interim suspension.”