Operating in the shadows

Article By Andrew Mullin

Photo By Cody Scanlan | Photo Editor

After investigating claims of sexual assault and bad behavior that date back to 2015, Central Michigan University permanently removed its chapter of Phi Sigma Phi in 2018. 

If national trends at other universities are any indication, losing affiliation with the university won't have much of an affect on the fraternity. In fact, it might make the situation within the fraternity, and the university community, worse. 

Losing affiliation from the university doesn’t mean fraternities stop partying and recruiting members, said Damon Brown, director of the Office of Student Activities and Involvement. 

CMU has virtually no control over unaffiliated fraternities and sororities that are still recognized by their national chapters.

“We recommended that students stay away from (Phi Sigma Phi) and don’t affiliate with them,” said Tony Voisin, associate vice president of Student Affairs. “There really isn’t anything more we can do.”

When PSP was kicked off campus last fall, it joined a growing list of suspended Greek organizations. It became the fourth Greek organization to lose university recognition in the past 24 months, joining Phi Kappa Tau, Pi Kappa Phi and Sigma Lambda Gamma Sorority, Inc.

Some fraternities and sororities lose recognition from the university, while other groups lose affiliation from its national chapter, according to CMU’s website. When a fraternity or sorority loses university recognition, they are no longer allowed to participate in CMU-sponsored events.

These groups were suspended due to incidents involving alcohol misconduct, hazing and sexual assault, according to CMU’s website. 

Organizations permanently removed from CMU:

  • Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity 
  • Delta Chi Fraternity 
  • Phi Sigma Phi Fraternity 

Organizations currently suspended by CMU and/or national organizations:

  • Theta Chi Fraternity
  • Alpha Chi Rho Fraternity
  • Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity 
  • Phi Kappa Tau Fraternity 
  • Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity 
  • Sigma Lambda Gamma National Sorority, Inc.

Pi Kappa Phi, one of the recent suspensions, was suspended for reasons relating to alcohol misuse and hosting events after being temporarily suspended. Sigma Lambda Gamma was suspended after hazing allegations.

Many suspended and unrecognized Greek organizations continue to operate with little to no oversight, which can still pose a risk to students. Former student Andrew Seely was hazed in an incident in 2016 while pledging with an unaffiliated fraternity, Alpha Chi Rho. Fraternity brothers spread peanut butter all over Seely’s face, who was highly allergic to peanuts. Seely had to be hospitalized. A fraternity pledge, who took part in the ritual, ended up turning himself in to police. 

Nationally, there seems to be a trend of hazing with unrecognized fraternities. According to a TIME magazine article, a State University of New York freshman died after an off-campus party. He was a pledge to Alpha Pi, a fraternity unaffiliated with the university. The house he was found unconscious outside of had fellow fraternity brothers living in it. He died with alcohol and drugs in his system, with toxicology reports citing benzodiazepines, amphetamines, THC and a small amount of alcohol in his system, the article stated.

Unrecognized fraternities operating at universities might prove to be a greater risk to students. In 2019, the book, “Fraternity: An Inside Look at a Year of College Boys Becoming Men” was published. In the book, report and author Alexandria Robbins discusses her experiences following two fraternity brothers throughout a school year. 

When it comes to unaffiliated fraternities, Robbins said students in these organizations feel they don’t have to follow their university’s rules.

“Unrecognized fraternities may feel that they have no one to answer to, which means they may not think they're accountable for their behaviors,” Robbins said. “That's not to say all of them are bad groups — just that there's less supervision and less accountability, which in some chapters could be problematic.”

Despite not being recognized by a university, many fraternities continue to operate without university oversight. According to an article from the Chronicle of Higher Education, many of these fraternities continue to recruit new members and host events. They might even look desirable to undergraduates to join since there are less rules to follow, the article stated. 

Along with lack of control from universities, the national chapters who disaffiliate with specific chapters also feel they have lost control of these “rouge” chapters. In the article, Wynn Smiley, chief executive of Alpha Tau Omega, said he lost all control of their chapter at American University when the national chapter became unaffiliated. The article stated the fraternity became more reckless after disaffiliation. 

Mount Pleasant City Planner Jacob Kain said that fraternities and sororities are only allowed to have Greek letters on their houses if they are recognized by the university. Phi Sigma Phi's letters are still up in sight at their house in Deerfield Village Apartments. Kain said this is because the house is located in Union Township, which is outside of the city's jurisdiction. 

Phi Sigma Phi and Pi Kappa Phi and are also still active on social media. When it comes to recognized chapters hosting events with unrecognized organizations, Voisin it's up to the national chapter to enforce discipline. Therefore, he said there is very little the university can do to stop this from taking place. 

A student could take a trip to the CMU Bookstore, or it’s website, and purchase a variety of Greek merchandise from suspended and disaffiliated groups. This includes a Phi Sigma Phi decal, flags from Sigma Lambda Gamma and a Delta Chi lavalier. According to the bookstore’s website, the store, “..is owned and operated by Central Michigan University. Every penny spent in our store stays here on campus to help fund campus programs and course material scholarships.”

CMU Bookstore vendor Deborah Stack said the bookstore buys the products from the company Affinity, who manages royalties for Greek organizations. She said the CMU Bookstore still sells these items because it sells items to other colleges and universities. 

Voisin said some national chapters take matters in their own hands and force fraternities to disband and take their letters down. The national chapters will sometimes come in and take down letters from the houses that they no longer want to affiliate with.

“They come in the middle of the night sometimes and pull composites off the wall without even telling (the chapter) that they’re coming,” Voisin said.

As far as the university goes, they are are unable to control what unrecognized organizations do or how they operate, Brown said. They can only remove university recognition and warn students not to get involved with them.

“Students will walk down Main Street and they see that so-and-so is here but not on the (Greek Life organizations) list and say ‘Why are they not on the list?’” Brown said. “Put two and two together, they’re not here. But they still promote (and) they still market themselves as (affiliated).

“As a university we only do so much to inform students. At the end of the day, students will make their own decisions.”

© Central Michigan Life