Wednesday, September 23, 2009

UVA Sig Eps Closed

SPE fraternity headquarters revokes University charter
Sigma Phi Epsilon chapter closes after semester on IFC, UJC mandated probation
Samantha Koon, Cavalier Daily News Editor

The Sigma Phi Epsilon national headquarters, in conjunction with the  University, decided to close the Virginia-Eta chapter Monday because of “disruptive behavior.” All brothers living in the fraternity house have 30 days to find housing off Grounds. Photo by Bennett Sorbo.
Monday evening, the national headquarters for the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity revoked the University’s Virginia-Eta chapter’s charter. The decision was made in conjunction with Dean of Students Allen Groves and Michael Citro, assistant dean of fraternity and sorority life.

“There have been a string of incidents over the past several years,” SPE Director of Operations Brian Warren said, noting that no one issue spurred the shutdown. Instead, Warren cited broad offenses such as “disruptive behavior [and] behavior that doesn’t put the fraternity in a good light,” as the national body’s reason for taking action against the University’s chapter.

“There were significant concerns with the practices of the fraternity, and behaviors that stood in contrast with the University’s mission and values,” Citro said, declining to elaborate.

SPE had been on probation since the spring semester, Warren said, and the fraternity had been under restrictions imposed by the University Judiciary Committee and the Inter-Fraternity Council. He added that Citro and Michael Repasky, SPE’s East director of chapter services, also recently investigated alleged hazing practices.

“The hazing allegations were false; this was completely alleged,” former chapter President Alex Ehrnschwender said, noting that he believes the decision to revoke the Virginia-Eta chapter’s charter was not related to such allegations.

“It was a decision made by the national Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity,” he said.

According to Citro, the national organization’s decision was intended to help build a stronger foundation for the chapter in the future. He noted that the fraternity was also encouraged to reconsider new member practices in particular.

“They somehow decided that they didn’t like the direction we were taking in not being part of their coveted ‘Balanced Man Program.,’” Ehrnschwender said.

Warren said the Balanced Man Program is designed to provide personal and professional development throughout the college experience. He also noted that SPE’s national headquarters hopes to “challenge stereotypes” surrounding fraternities, and instead make them integral parts of the education process.

The national organization has been making efforts to restructure houses to develop better relationships with undergraduates and faculty members, Warren said. The national body’s attempts to revise practices and outline a new strategic vision, however, appear to be at possible odds with some Virginia-Eta chapter members’ personal convictions.

“This new ‘Balanced Man Program’ would be more of a recreational learning center than a fraternity,” Ehrnschwender said. “We strongly value traditions at SPE and value the traditional SPE chapter.”

Former brothers, meanwhile, said they were upset with how quickly the decision to revoke the chapter’s charter was made.

“Everyone is in shock,” former chapter member Nick Kirby said.

Though Ehrnschwender said last semester’s probation brought to light the possibility of losing the chapter’s charter, Kirby was still surprised by the decision. He said SPE’s earlier probation was administered through the IFC, but the charter was revoked by the national headquarters, and the Fraternal Organization Agreement — paperwork signed each year by fraternity presidents and the University to officially recognize the chapter — was discontinued by the University.

“No one really expected it,” Kirby said.

The fraternity’s house at 150 Madison Lane, which Ehrnschwender said is owned by a SPE alumni board and will soon be taken over by the Sigma Phi Epsilon National Housing Corporation, must be vacated within 30 days. All brothers currently living in the house have been asked to find other off-Grounds housing instead, Ehrnschwender added.

Sigma Phi Epsilon will not be allowed to organize on Grounds for at least three years, Citro said, though Kirby and Ehrnschwender said they are confident that the former brothers will remain close.

“The group of members and brothers will try to remain close, but we wont take any actions under the SPE name,” Ehrnschwender said. He added that the former brothers hope that the fraternity will recolonize at the University in the future.

“We won’t know the specifics of a return or what that process looks like for a couple of months,” Warren said, adding that SPE’s national body is more concerned about finishing the closing process for the Virginia-Eta chapter than in discussing plans for its return.

Recolonization is “a detailed process, and it‘s best done in partnership with the University, IFC, and national headquarters, as well as alumni,” Citro said.

IFC President Charles Gamper echoed Citro, noting that “the IFC remains open to conversations with the national frat about any plans to return to the University.”

In the meantime, Citro noted that the Office of the Dean of Students is open to answering questions and discussing the chapter’s closure with any of the University’s former SPE brothers.

“You’re looking at a group of men whose main recognition from national fraternity has been revoked,” he said. “They can certainly have a lot of feelings about it, and we are willing to help them talk through that.”