Thursday, March 03, 2011

Columbia University Greeks Await Fate

Brothers in Law
Post-drug bust, administrative relations with fraternities hang in the balance

By Leah Greenbaum

On a chilly morning in December, the young men of Alpha Epsilon Pi sat around their common room, wondering if they should go to class. They had gone to sleep at dawn after initiating 15 new pledges, only to be awoken shortly after by the thud of battering rams breaking down the bedroom door of their brother Harrison David, a junior in CC. Upstairs, the police had left David’s room in shambles and the door hanging off its hinges. Outside, reporters from the New York Post, the New York Daily News, and Spectator were knocking on their door and lingering on the sidewalk.

On campus-just hours after David, Christopher Coles, Michael Wymbs, Adam Klein, and Stephan Vincenzo were pulled out of their beds and taken into custody-many students were already learning the details of “Operation Ivy League” thanks to a pre-prepared press release from the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor.

In the three months since those five Columbia students were arrested for selling drugs in an alleged “drug ring,” little is known about what happened behind the doors of AEPi and other Greek organizations. But to many, the greater mystery lies behind the closed doors of 515 Lerner Hall, where Terry Martinez, dean of community development and multicultural affairs, has been amassing a lengthy internal review on the role of Greek life at Columbia.

The review-which Martinez has been careful to specify is not a report or investigation into the drug bust-will likely never leave that office, but fraternities and sororities have been sitting at the edge of their seats, waiting for the recommendations it generates. Members of the three fraternities said they expect to hear Martinez’s decision, which could be anything from continued social probation to the loss of their brownstones and charters, today.

In the dark
On Dec. 8, the day after news of the drug bust broke, Dean of Student Affairs Kevin Shollenberger announced in a statement that AEPi, Pi Kappa Alpha, and Psi Upsilon, the three fraternities that four out of the five arrested students participated in, had been placed on interim suspension. For the last 10 weeks, the organizations have been instructed to cease all activities, including hosting social events, recruiting new members, holding philanthropy events, and initiating pledges. They’re “essentially just dorms,” as one member put it.

Members of those Greek organizations said they’ve heard next to nothing from the administration since the day their brothers were taken to Manhattan Detention Complex. They know they’re being reviewed along with the rest of the community, but few said they understand the content and extent of the review.

Sean Udell, a senior in CC, said many of his friends in the Greek community have been anxious and left in the dark.

“The main sense that I get from my friends directly involved in this is that they’re very scared of what the administration might do, and they have no idea what the administration might do. It’s pretty clear that they think the decision is not going to bode well for them,” Udell says.

Martinez submitted her decision to Shollenberger a week and a half ago, but as Greek housing rosters were coming together, members said it was unclear when they would hear the news.

Martinez had visited their brownstones the week before, and members said they were told they would find out about the decision on Monday, Feb. 21. Come Friday, Feb. 26, around 5 p.m., Joey Spitz, a senior in GS/JTS, said no one had heard anything, and brothers were emailing each other anxiously.
“Not knowing is awful. There’s no sensitivity to that, nor did we expect there would be. … I just wish the process allowed for us to feel valued and cared for. … We’ve literally been told nothing,” says one brother.

Martinez says she had told them she would submit her recommendation to Shollenberger but did not specify when an official decision would be made.
“I’m surprised by the confusion … especially because I had followed up with the chapter presidents by email,” she said, adding that she received a call to her cell phone from one chapter president last week.

One member of one of the involved fraternities said he and his brothers have felt students were the last priority following the bust.

“There’s always these form messages at the bottom of their emails saying, ‘If you need counseling call this number.’ It’s just like ‘Really?’” he says, explaining that it always feels like an empty gesture.

Others say the wait hasn’t been made any easier by what one student called a “lack of clarity” about the process.

At the time of publication Martinez said she could not disclose details of her recommendation, but said that one fraternity had more disciplinary and academic difficulties, and that her recommendation reflected that.

“A hard question to answer”

Members of fraternities said they were confused about what Martinez has been looking for in her review.

Martinez noted that the review is not a “report” on Greek life or an “investigation” into the fraternities involved in the bust. She told The Eye she wanted to make a recommendation based on “how those chapters have been functioning and how they’ve been following our community standards.”

“What this incident [in December] did was really surface for us an opportunity to review the fraternities and sororities-review their impact on the community,” she said.

Martinez has met three times with the presidents of each of the three fraternities and visited their brownstones last week to meet with their members. Over the last several months she has been reviewing the academic and judicial records of all members of the three fraternities over the last four years.

She also reviewed their chapter programming and their philanthropic work. Martinez is also assessing other Greek organizations. A senior member of a Panhellenic sorority said she first heard her organization was being reviewed last week when they were asked for a log of hours of community service.

At her meeting with the membership of the three involved fraternities, Martinez asked the men questions like “What is brotherhood?” and “What is the role of your fraternity on campus?” Spitz said it was a very pleasant visit and she was a gracious guest. “No one could have come out of that meeting thinking we’re not good guys,” he says, adding that they continue to worry because, “there’s a lot more at play than whether or not we’re good guys.”

One member of a fraternity said he’s not sure what basis Martinez’s review will have for disciplinary action.

“We just don’t get it, if it’s like the fraternity that did the most community service last year will get off the easiest, or what.”

Udell said the review of fraternity and sorority life seems to be premised upon the notion of guilt by association, adding that unless the administration has proof that the organizations participated in the drug activity, there are no grounds for punishment.

“Besides the few little pieces of ‘evidence’ that came out at the moments of Operation Ivy League, I’ve seen nothing made public about how fraternities were actually involved in the drug bust,” he says. “Were they actively concealing members selling drugs or were they just complicit with it or did they really not know? There’s been virtually nothing actually said about that.”

Martinez said she has not been interested in pursuing those issues.

“That’s a really hard question to answer, because if I ask someone, ‘Did your brother sell drugs and did you buy drugs from him?’ you know what the answer is going to be. I was more interested in what the community was like that would allow something like this to happen,” she says.

The review of Wymbs’ suitemates in East Campus was even less extensive. She visited their suite­-where Wymbs allegedly sold party drugs and marijuana-shortly after the arrests in December, and decided action would not be required.

“It was very clear to me that it was a completely different situation and those students weren’t connected to the individual that was involved,” she says.

“A very different community”

Martinez is also finalizing a review of students who have lived at the Intercultural Resource Center and says their records were cleaner than the fraternities’.

“It’s a very different community. … There were far fewer judicial issues with members of the IRC, significantly less, and significantly fewer issues with academic probation,” she says.

On Dec. 7, residents of the IRC had a house study break planned. Their friend Coles had just been arrested and many were in shock. They gathered that night in the common room.

“We brought in tea and we brought in the Stressbusters. … It was a very good experience to know we were feeling the same thing and knew we could come together in that difficult time,” Annie Tan, a senior in CC, says, adding that many of them were worried about what would happen to their friend and to the rest of the community.

Tan said she and her friends read all of the comments on Bwog and Spec about the bust. “It was the only way to gauge what people were thinking.”
Outside the IRC, Tan said, few people spoke about how they were really feeling. In the days that followed, people would make superficial or gleeful comments, asking her if she had heard about the bust.

“It was kind of a conversation stopper when people heard I lived in the IRC and that Chris was my friend. People would just stop talking about it,” she said.

Spitz says he felt similarly about David who is a brother to him in many senses of the word. He’s met David’s father (who he says is “a wonderful guy”), spent time at his house with David’s young siblings, and played with their family dog. After David was arrested, Spitz says he and his brothers felt helpless. “Mostly I remember that night [the first night David spent in jail], getting together in the house and singing his praises, talking about how intelligent he is and what a great guy he is.” Over winter break, it was Spitz who went through Harrison’s room, which in his words, “had been ransacked,” and boxed up his things to send to his brother.

Outside of those houses on 114th, few people understand what an emotional and difficult day it was for hundreds of students.

Speak no evil

The Greek Judicial Board undertakes routine reviews of Greek organizations. The organization submitted one on the three fraternities to Martinez in January. The contents of their review, decision-making process, impact of their recommendations, and its relationship to Martinez’s, are unknown. Members of the GJC sign a confidentiality agreement with the University to not speak about any of it.

The week before this article went to print, the InterGreek Council emailed its constituents-members of organizations under the Interfraternity Council, the Panhellenic Council, and the Multicultural Greek Council-and told them that members of the Greek community should not speak to the media about Martinez’s Greek review. Thus, many sources for this story asked to remain anonymous.

Anthony Testa, the president of the IFC, said he would only comment on the story via email. He wrote, “Dean Terry Martinez has overseen this review process, which did not involve the Interfraternity Council or the InterGreek Council.”

A member of a fraternity not affiliated with AEPi, PsiU, or Pike said many aren’t speaking up because they “kind of just want it to go away.”

“I think in general most Greeks kind of want the situation to dissipate. No one’s out looking for blood and I think most people don’t wanna see someone in the community getting crucified for this,” he said, adding that still many feel disciplinary action is required because Columbia was shamed in the national spotlight and the events encouraged negative stereotypes about members of Greek organizations.

In the months since the arrests there have only been three opinion pieces that ran in Spectator’s pages on the drug bust. None of the authors were in a fraternity or sorority.

One member of a fraternity not involved in the drug bust said that in times of crisis it feels safer to appoint a leader-someone who can speak for everyone. Another said the silence from the Greek community comes from the fear that speaking out against the administration will jeopardize their fraternities. When asked how often fraternities get into trouble with the Greek Judicial Board or the University, one member was quick to respond, “All the fucking time. It’s too easy.”

Down but not out
Spitz says the bust has brought the Greek community together in solidarity. At the beginning of the semester none of the fraternities had turned in the necessary paperwork to hold parties, so they’ve all been on de facto social suspension. But the frat party dies hard. A member of one fraternity that was recently placed on social suspension because a fire extinguisher went off in their brownstone under suspect circumstances said the frat has mostly given up on big house parties.

“We throw parties outside the fraternity because it’s too risky now to throw parties on the house,” he said, adding that they’re always on close watch in their brownstone.

At midnight on a Thursday night, three men drag an empty shopping cart down the steps of their brownstone. It looks like a prank from Animal House or an epic beer run, but they were actually just dropping off groceries for the house. They leave the cart at Duane Reade and head into Mel’s Burger Bar.

Alex Weinstein rebranded his DJ/party promotion company to “bring the frat party out of the frat house.” Each Thursday, he or his colleagues at Frat DJs host a party at Mel’s that is widely attended by the Greek community. One sorority member says it’s like a “super fun” frat party, except less claustrophobic and with better beer.

“As pretty much a direct result of all the big frats being suspended, there’s pretty much nothing going on. ... The whole thing [Frat DJs] kind of took off because people didn’t have anything to do,” Weinstein said, adding that people who used to go to frat parties are now hitting the local bar scene more, or going downtown.

Weinstein said that holding nonexclusive parties in public venues has helped bring Greeks together, but others said the misfortune of the three fraternities has helped lift others up. “All you need to know is … [we] are fuckin’ awesome and we’re going to throw the most fuckin’ awesome parties soon,” one freshman at Mel’s says of his organization. A friend returned from the bar with beers and agreed, adding that the three drug bust fraternities are “totally fucked.”

Other Greeks said that things are very political behind the scenes. The fraternity Phi Gamma Delta has been on the housing waitlist for nine years, and the sorority Alpha Chi Omega has been waiting to for a brownstone since the 1990s. Several Greeks said there are tensions between the organizations, as some hope to receive long awaited brownstones on 114th.


In the coming months perhaps there will be continuing dialogue on “Operation Ivy League” and its ramifications which has largely become an in-joke with students. Martinez said now that her review is complete she hopes to hold two forums on the issue. Tan said the IRC has been trying to put together a workshop or two on crisis intervention. But Greeks, by and large, have said they’d rather not talk about it. At Mel’s, one member of a Greek organization not involved in the drug bust said frats are anxious about what the future holds.

“I think a lot of us are concerned that the incident has damaged our relationship with the administration, that they’re going to buy into all these stereotypes now. … We just want this to go away so we can get back to moving forward with them productively.”

Around here, the national media spotlight comes and goes, but conversations usually linger. The debate about whether or not to bring Reserve Officers’ Training Corps back to campus really heated up one month ago, and there have been numerous public community forums wherein students voiced their opinions. Six students currently participate in ROTC at Columbia. Over 1,000 participate in Greek life, but aside from one poorly-attended public forum in December, there has been virtually no conversation on campus about what the fate of these organizations ought to be, how Columbia was presented in the media, or how to intervene when friends are in need.

© 2011, The Eye, Spectator Publishing Company, Inc.

Powered By Blogger