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- Deaths, Assaults, and Injuries Lead to Campus-Wide Bans on Greek Life
Newsletter > November 2014 > "Deaths, Assaults, and Injuries Lead to Campus-Wide Bans on Greek Life"
Deaths, Assaults, and Injuries Lead to Campus-Wide Bans on Greek Life
Daniel McCarthy & Micah Kamrass, Manley Burke, email@example.com
In just the last few months, a number of universities have experienced terrible tragedies on their campuses. Many of these schools, both public and private, have responded by indefinitely banning some or all Greek Life activities. The response to these tragedies raises questions of fairness. Is it fair to punish all fraternities and sororities and their members for the irresponsible actions of one bad chapter or actor? These bans also raise questions of legality. Do such campus-wide bans (particularly on public campuses) violate the students’ and groups’ First Amendment Right to the Freedom of Association?
Tucker Hipps, a 19 year-old student at Clemson University in South Carolina, was found dead in Lake Hartwell on a Monday morning in September. The coroner reported that Mr. Hipps died after falling from a bridge into shallow water. He was a pledge of Sigma Phi Epsilon. He was involved in what appeared to be an early-morning group activity. When other members returned home, Mr. Hipps did not return. The fraternity then began searching for him.
In a prepared statement issued on September 23rd, Sigma Phi Epsilon CEO Brian Warren stated, “We’ve lost the life of a young man, a life that was taken way too soon. There are a lot of people who are hurting right now, and that’s our number one priority at the moment. But if foul play was involved in any way, Tucker’s fraternity will do everything it can to see that those responsible are brought to justice.”
Oconee County Sheriff Mike Crenshaw stated that this department was investigating the incident. The Sheriff was quoted in an article on wyff4.com, “We just don’t know how he fell off that bridge, whether it was voluntary, intentional, an accident. We just don’t know at this point.” The Sheriff added, “There has been speculation and innuendo, especially on social media, regarding whether hazing played a part in the death of Tucker Hipps. So far, there has been no indication in the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office investigation that hazing played a part in the death of Tucker Hipps.”
Clemson University responded swiftly, harshly, and similarly to the campus-wide Greek bans at the University of Central Florida and Chico State. The University issued a release entitled “Strategies to Address Recent Behavior Within the Fraternity Community at Clemson University.” The release noted a number of serious infractions from the period of August 20-Sepetmber 22, 2014 within the Greek community.
To address the number of infractions, the University noted that the campus IFC decided to suspend all new member activities. While the decision came from the IFC, the University supported the action. It required initiation of all new members by 9:00 p.m. on Friday, September 26, 2014.
The University also placed a moratorium on all social events for all IFC organizations “until further notice.” The release noted that the following activities were considered “social events”:
- Off-campus events hosted at a third-party vendor
- Off-campus events hosted at a facility associated with the fraternity or members of the fraternity
- Mixers of any type
- Events out of the immediate area like Mountain Weekend, Beach Weekend, formals, etc.
- Organization-sponsored tailgates hosted on campus or off campus at either third party vendors or facilities associated with the fraternity or members of the fraternity
- Anything that could be perceived as an organized event sponsored/cosponsored by members of the fraternity
- Philanthropy events, unless approved in advance by the Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life.
On October 2, 2014, the University issued an Interim Social Policy for IFC Organizations. The release provided “a path for the return of social privileges while reinforcing effective risk management policies.” That path differentiated between chapters in good standing and chapters not in good standing.
Chapters in good standing were defined as those not subject to any type of suspension, disciplinary violation or other sanction. Chapters in good standing, in order to have all privileges reinstated, had to agree to follow the FIPG Risk Management Policy and the NIC BYOB Guidelines for Hosting Social Events. In addition, the IFC must monitor all social events where alcohol is used or there is a third party vendor providing services. Each chapter must also host a State of the Chapter meeting with the University staff.
Chapters not in good standing must agree to abide by the FIPG Risk Management Policy and to use a third party vendor for all social events. They must also register all social events at least two weeks in advance and comply with all other expectations or restrictions previously imposed by the University.
Cal State University Northridge
On October 24, 2014, William Watkins, the Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students at Cal State University Northridge (CSUN) issued a statement that effectively shut down all pledging activities at that campus. The statement came after the University received a report of a hazing incident at the Pi Kappa Alpha Chapter. The chapter has been placed on suspension by both the University and the chapter’s National Headquarters.
While CSUN declined to reveal the details of the hazing charge that triggered the University’s most recent action, the University did confirm that no one was injured in that incident. However, it is clear that since this summer when Armando Villa, a CSUN student, died while on a fraternity-sponsored hike in the Angeles National Forest, CSUN has taken strong steps in an attempt to enforce its zero tolerance policy against hazing.
Vice President Watkins’ statement was very clear. “CSUN takes hazing allegations extremely seriously and we are deeply committed to protecting the health and safety of all students.”
He went on to say “it is shocking and disappointing that this conduct persists after all of the efforts undertaken by so many this fall to ensure a recruitment-and-intake process that conforms to the University’s zero-tolerance policy on hazing. This most recent incident cuts to the core of the University’s ability to have confidence that all recognized fraternities and sororities will conduct appropriate new member recruitment and intake procedures that ensure the safety and well-being of CSUN students.”
The CSUN position allows chapters to induct their current pledges, but they must not subject those pledges or new members to any additional pledging activity. The suspension of new member pledge activities is expected to last until at least the spring.
CSUN has a large Greek community of 25 men’s groups, 28 women’s groups and one co-ed Greek group.
The Los Angeles Times reported that the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department was “expected soon to conclude a criminal investigation into the death” of Armanda Villa, who was 19.
West Virginia University
On November 13, 2014 West Virginia University announced a moratorium on all fraternity and sorority activity “for an undetermined period of time until a plan of action is implemented…” In addition to banning all social functions as well as pledge activities, the moratorium goes further. It also says “planned initiations must cease immediately. Chapter meetings and philanthropic activities may only be conducted if approval is obtained from the Office of Student Activities at least 48 hours prior to the proposed event.”
The moratorium was issued after two terrible events. First, 19 pledges of Sigma Chi were arrested or cited for underage possession and consumption of alcohol. The chapter was immediately suspended. Second, an officer responded to an emergency call at the Kappa Sigma Fraternity House. Upon arrival, the first responder found an 18-year-old student, Nolan Michael Burch on the floor without any pulse or respiration, receiving CPR. He was transferred to a local hospital. Mr. Burch tragically passed away shortly after the University announced the moratorium on fraternity and sorority activities.
West Virginia University’s Greek Life Website notes that the campus is home to 28 chapters and over 1,500 student fraternity and sorority members.
MIT, Johns Hopkins University, and Emory University
Private schools are also a part of this recent trend to ban some or all fraternal activities on campus. Earlier this school year, MIT banned all fraternity events of 50 people or larger after a woman fell from a fraternity house window. Then, Johns Hopkins announced a semester long ban on all fraternity parties after a 16- year-old was raped by two men at a Sigma Alpha Epsilon party. Neither the victim nor the perpetrators are believed to be associated with the fraternity. Additionally, Emory University’s Interfraternity Council (IFC) suspended all fraternity social events after a reported assault occurred at a fraternity.
Since private schools are generally not considered to be state actors, many believe that they have greater leeway in issuing punishments or sanctions to student organizations.
This rapidly expanding pattern is troublesome. Without a doubt, schools have a legitimate and legal right to discipline and regulate Greek chapters. But disciplining chapters that did not violate laws or regulations creates legal issues. At public schools, such actions likely violate the contractual terms set forth in the student manuals and policies. They also likely violate the First Amendment Right to Freedom of Association of the individual members and the chapters. The same constitutional protections do not necessarily apply at private schools. But other remedies and legal claims, including contractual claims, may be available.
Innocent chapters and organizations that are punished for the acts of others should swiftly and strongly note their objections. At the current rate, this issue will be litigated in the near future.