Sigma Phi Epsilon suspended by national, under membership review

by Alexa Green | 4/6/18 2:50am

by Naomi Lam / The Dartmouth

The National Board of Directors of Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity voted on March 26 to conduct a membership review of the New Hampshire Alpha chapter, located at Dartmouth. Pending the results of the membership review, all undergraduate members of the chapter have been suspended by the national organization, as has the chapter’s charter, according to an email sent on March 27 by chapter services director Paul Andersen to members of NH Alpha.

In response, over 200 Dartmouth Sig Ep alumni have signed a letter sent to the New Hampshire Alpha Alumni and Volunteer Corporation Board of Trustees, which provides oversight of the chapter’s facility and finances. The letter opposed the membership review and the imposition of a national substance-free policy, as well as the AVC Board’s failure to solicit input from the alumni body at large.

As part of the National Board’s membership review, brothers of Dartmouth Sig Ep were instructed to fill out a questionnaire and provide information regarding their finances, their academic transcript and their College “conduct” records. In addition, a membership review board comprised of Sig Ep alumni, volunteers and Headquarters staff members will conduct an interview with each member who chose to go through with the process to “identify chapter members who are committed to living up to Sig Ep’s values.”

Andersen wrote that members who are not invited to return to the fraternity following the interview process will either be suspended for a particular period of time, suspended upon condition or expelled permanently. According to his email, Dartmouth Sig Ep members who did not submit the questionnaire to participate in the interviews will automatically remain suspended from the chapter and “will in no way associate with the New Hampshire Alpha chapter moving forward,” though they may also choose to resign. Upon graduation, suspended members will earn alumni status, according to Andersen’s email.

The decision comes after concerns from the national board over the chapter’s ability to comply with substance-free regulations, which were passed in August 2017 at a national Sig Ep conference.

Concerns were raised in February at a leadership conference organized by Sig Ep National. At the conference, the National Board of Directors was apprehensive about the chapter’s ability to comply with the organization’s new substance-free regulations, according to a letter from Dartmouth Sig Ep president alumnus David Herrera ’18 sent to the chapter’s alumni. The Board asked members present to draft an implementation plan to address these concerns, according to Herrera’s letter.

Five Dartmouth undergraduates were in attendance at the conference and were funded by the Alumni Volunteer Corporation, an independent, non-profit corporation which mentors Sig Ep undergraduates and alumni in addition to managing assets and operations, AVC president John-David “JD” Optekar ’91Th’92 said.

The Dartmouth chapter presented an initial plan to the Board, which claimed that the plan did not meet National standards because it lacked accountability, Optekar said. On March 26, National voted to temporarily suspend Dartmouth Sig Ep and conduct a membership review, citing multiple risk management violations, failure to live up to expectations and failure to make changes, according to Andersen’s email.

“Sigma Phi Epsilon and its 14,000 undergraduates members are united by our common values. When a member or a chapter fails to act in accordance with these values they must be held accountable,” wrote Sig Ep National’s strategic communications director Andrew Parrish in an email statement to The Dartmouth.

“Greek life today needs to change,” he wrote.

Interviews with individual members of the fraternity will be held on April 13 and 14, according to Andersen’s email.

Herrera’s letter encourages alumni to email Optekar and ask him to cease Dartmouth Sig Ep’s membership review, as well as to email former presidents to discuss the situation and advocate for the chapter’s disaffiliation from Sig Ep National.

Herrera cited 12 risk management incidents at the chapter over the past four years as one of Sig Ep National’s justifications for the membership review, but added that “many were taken out of context or out of our control.”

He disputed the significance of these incidents, citing as examples an incident when a guest stood on a table without permission and fell off, as well as another incident involving an “unregistered party” when football players and their friends showed up unannounced.

“We feel that conducting a membership review will not help us improve, but will rather decimate the house and dismantle the chapter we have all enjoyed participating in,” Herrera wrote in his letter.

Former Dartmouth Sig Ep presidents Eli Derrow ’15, Joseph Clyne ’16, Ellis Guo ’17 and Herrera sent an additional letter to Dartmouth Sig Ep alumni relaying chapter members’ accomplishments since 2014, as well as their leadership and involvement with the College in an effort to demonstrate the “strong brotherhood ... diversity and depth” of the fraternity.

“While [the substance-free policy’s] aim is admirable, it is not suited to the realities and needs of Sig Ep NH Alpha,” the Dartmouth Sig Ep alumni letter stated. “We feel that this shortsighted, naïve policy represents an ineffective approach to mitigating the risks alcohol poses.”

In an April 2 email to Dartmouth Sig Ep alumni, AVC vice president of facilities Herb Philpott ’85 said the new substance-free policies aim to implement a model similar to Dartmouth’s Living Learning Communities, featuring a live-in advisor, encouraging strong faculty engagement and disassociating from drinking clubs.

The signatories of the Dartmouth Sig Ep alumni letter also supported the undergraduates’ considerations regarding potential disaffiliation from the National fraternity and requested a postponement of the review process.

However, the members of the College’s chapter were required to submit their information for review by April 3, multiple sources familiar with the situation said on background.

According to Optekar, “going local” is not an option since the chapter is currently on alcohol probation by the College. College spokesperson Diana Lawrence wrote in an email statement that “only organizations in good standing can pursue going local.” After the probation period is over, the fraternity will continue to maintain its suspended status with the national organization, according to Optekar.

Philpott’s email stated that since Moving Dartmouth Forward, the College’s administration has had a policy of not recognizing new Greek organizations, especially those with the intention of “avoid[ing] the authority of a National organization.”

Lawrence wrote that the College does not have a moratorium on new Greek-letter organizations.

Additionally, Philpott’s email pointed out that Sig Ep’s house at 11 Webster Ave. was funded and built in 2011 for a chapter of the Sig Ep fraternity.

Lawrence said the College was informed of National’s decision to review its members; however, she wrote in a separate email statement “the College has no role in the process and it is not connected to any internal College processes.”

Director of Greek Life Brian Joyce declined to comment, as did multiple Sig Ep affiliates.

In his email, Herrera estimated that 60 to 90 percent of the house’s membership could be expelled, based on previous reviews of other Sig Ep chapters across the country.

Corrections Appended (April 6, 2018): The print edition of this article indicated that brothers of Sig Ep filled out a questionnaire and provided information relevant to membership review. The sentence has been clarified to reflect that brothers were instructed to fill out a questionnaire and provide relevant information. The following sentence has also been clarified to reflect that only brothers who chose to submit the questionnaire and provide the relevant information will undergo membership reviews.

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