Eastern’s chapter of Sigma Chi is suspended after a university investigation

Cassie Buchman, Editor in Chief

Eastern’s chapter of Sigma Chi has been suspended following an eight-week-long investigation by the university.

According to the website for Sigma Chi’s national headquarters, the executive committee of the Sigma Chi International Fraternity voted to suspend the organization because of “alcohol-related accountability issues with the chapter.”

Undergraduates of the chapter have moved to suspended active status.

“The fraternity’s goal is to eventually return the chapter to campus and the organization would partner with the university in doing so, ensuring that future chapter members would have a positive environment where they could be successful in their endeavors,” the website states.

Steven Hanks, a sophomore history major, and Ian Grzelak, senior marketing major and former members of Eta Mu’s chapter of Sigma Chi, said the investigation started after a new pledge accused the fraternity of hazing him at a new pledge initiation ceremony.

However, both men said the hazing allegation made by the pledge was not true.

“There was video evidence of him completely fine at the parties, and our active members said this kid was running around screaming ‘I’m on my 17th cup, I’m on my 18th cup’ and no one was making him drink anything at all, so it was kind of ridiculous,” Hanks said.

Hanks said the fraternity took him back to his dorm, where he vomited in front of a night assistant, who called the University Police Department.

Paramedics said the pledge’s roommate could take care of him or he could go to the hospital.

“The roommate said he was not taking care of him, so we took him to the hospital,” Hanks said. “They said if he could walk, he could leave, so we brought him back.”

The pledge got sent to the Office of Student Standards, where he told them members of Sigma Chi forced him to drink.

Hanks said this is not true.

“Two kids there in his pledge class said they didn’t drink, we said that’s totally cool, we respected (them,)” he said. “It was never ‘Hey, you guys need to finish (your drink) right now’ or something like that. It was literally just casually drinking, basically.”

Following this, Nathan Wehr, interim director of fraternity and sorority programs and Jessica Ward, assistant director of the Office of Student Standards, conducted interviews with members of Sigma Chi.

Attempts to reach Wehr were unsuccessful as he has not been in the office this week. A graduate assistant in fraternity and sorority programs directed questions to Josh Reinhart, Eastern’s public information coordinator. Ward also directed inquiries to Reinhart.

Reinhart said the university would not be giving out any more information about the suspension besides a statement it sent to The Daily Eastern News.

“Because EIU respects the privacy of all its students, the university cannot share specific information regarding the details of this case,” Reinhart wrote in an email.

In Eastern’s statement, it said officials were made aware of potential hazing activities in the Sigma Chi fraternity, which initiated an investigation.

“The outcome of that investigation indicated that hazing did occur within the organization,” the statement said. “At the discretion of the fraternity’s national organization, that decision resulted in the issuance of a multiple-year suspension to the Eta Mu chapter of Sigma Chi. This action was undertaken in an effort to ensure the ongoing safety of Eastern’s students, as well as to preserve the standards of excellence and personal values to which EIU and its collective stakeholders hold the entirety of its Greek organizations and participants.”

Hazing is defined in Eastern’s Student Code of Conduct as “any act or situation on or off campus” that causes “embarrassment, harassment or ridicule” to those involved, or which causes any physical or mental harm to members affiliated with the organization.

Sigma Chi President Derek Pierce could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Hanks and Grzelak said the fraternity was told it would be told what its punishment would be by the Friday before break, but they did not find out until the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, when Pierce received a letter that he read to the whole fraternity.

The letter alerted members about the chapter’s suspension for two and a half years, and included a list of hazing allegations.

Hanks said the main reason the fraternity was suspended was because of one incident where one “big brother” asked their “little brothers” if it was OK to burn them with a cigarette.

Two students were burned, but Hanks said the people who burned them were dropped from the fraternity right away, meaning they are no longer allowed in it.

“We thought it would be best,” he said. “We wanted to show the school we don’t tolerate that.”

One allegation talked about in the letter was when members and pledges walked from the chapter house to another house for a ceremony in a straight line.

“I guess the definition (of hazing) is making someone do something they don’t want to do, but it was for the safety of the kids and all of us,” Hanks said. “No one was like ‘I don’t want to walk in a straight line.’”

In another instance, an active member told a pledge to carry around a basketball and empty-two liter, but Hanks said the pledge could have put it down if they wanted to.

Now, the fraternity is not allowed to recruit new members, host any activities or be a part of Greek Week.

They are also being told to move out of the chapter house on campus at Greek Court.

Hanks and Grzelak said members currently living there have to move out no later than the hour after their last finals, and will be in the dorms next semester.

“It’s really affected the pledges we had,” Hanks said. “It’s just sad, knowing we’ve worked so hard to overcome so much, (and now) we’re just done. It’s not a good feeling at all.”

During Sigma Chi’s last meeting, it had its senior send-off, where members talked about memories they had in the fraternity.

Grzelak said everyone “was pretty bummed” at the meeting.

“It happened way too early,” Grzelak said. “We should have had one more semester.”

Cassie Buchman can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].