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ANALYSIS: CMU's bookstore pulls merchandise from banned Greek organizations

Merchandise from Phi Kappa Tau sits in the Central Michigan University Bookstore on Sept. 6, 2019. The fraternity was suspended in January of 2018.

Up until September, merchandise from fraternities and sororities banned from Central Michigan University could be purchased from the campus bookstore. That changed on Sept. 10.

First, a little context: During the Spring 2019 semester, I wrote an article about the challenges that universities face when banned fraternities and sororities continue to operate after being kicked off campus. While researching for that article, I came across a lavalier from Alpha Chi Rho being sold on the bookstore's website.

Alpha Chi Rho is a national fraternity that had a chapter at CMU until 2011 following hazing incidents, according to an article from Central Michigan Life. Though it was no longer affiliated with CMU, this chapter received nationwide attention in 2017 for a hazing incident. Fraternity members spread peanut butter across the face of Andrew Seely, who had a deadly allergy to peanuts.

An Alpha Chi Rho product was still for sale on the CMU Bookstore’s official website well after the peanut butter incident occurred. I was surprised at first, then quickly grew more curious. After searching the bookstore website, and taking a visit to the bookstore itself, I was stunned to see products such as lavaliers, flags, license plate frames and decals from these banned Greek organizations:

· Phi Sigma Phi

· Alpha Chi Rho

· Sigma Phi Epsilon

· Sigma Lambda Gamma

· Phi Kappa Tau

· Pi Kappa Phi

· Delta Chi

· Kappa Alpha Psi

I was stunned that all of this was being sold in the university's official bookstore. According to their website, “The CMU Bookstore is owned and operated by Central Michigan University. Every penny spent in our store stays here on campus.” So, I asked Deborah Stack, apparel & merchandise buyer for the bookstore, some questions. 

The bookstore absorbed an embroidery business from the SBX six years ago. The bookstore had a lot of left-over products to sell off, she said in an email, including the merchandise in from banned Greek organizations. She also explained the bookstore sells to other people from other universities.

This didn’t sit well with me. When I read this, my thought was, “Surely they can give away the merchandise to some other university that actually wants to associate themselves with these fraternities and sororities. They can’t be missing out on that much money if they do so.”

A decal from Phi Sigma Phi sits in the Central Michigan University Bookstore on Sept. 6, 2019. The fraternity was permanently suspended from CMU in October of 2018 following accusations of sexual misconduct, hazing, dangerous behaviors and the death of one of their members in their fraternity house.

Stack said the bookstore would be discounting the merchandise and start focusing on custom clothing and paddles. Towards the end of the Spring semester, I saw less and less Greek merchandise in the bookstore.

At the start of this semester, when I went to get my textbooks, I noticed the display of Greek merchandise on the back wall. All the merchandise from banned Greek organizations was still there. 

Nothing had changed.

I reached out to the director of the bookstore, Barry Waters, to see why these items were still being sold. The next day, I received an email from Executive Director of Auxiliary Services Calvin Seelye telling me that he spoke with Waters, along with other faculty members, about the merchandise. He also answered the questions I sent to Waters. 

Seelye said the selling of these products were being sold as inventory reduction and that most of the Greek merch sold to people from outside of CMU were for “paddle parties.” 

In the email, Seelye said the bookstore will no longer be selling any merchandise from fraternities and sororities banned from CMU moving forward. 

I went to check for myself. It appears all the merchandise was removed from the bookstore.

When I brought this topic up to academic senate representative, Michael Mamp, he said he was not aware of the situation. However, he was glad to hear that the merchandise was removed and said the university should not be selling these products.

“The Central Michigan University Bookstore should be consistently monitoring the sale of their products to ensure they are not representing organizations that are no longer affiliated with CMU,” Mamp said. “While I’m glad to that the product(s) have been removed at this point, I do believe that they should more closely monitor that in the future.”

And one final thought: The fact that the merchandise was pulled from shelves proves that change can happen on this campus. 

You just need to be persistent.