Exploring the dark side of Greek Life: FOIA request details more than a decade of accusations against Phi Sigma Phi
Don’t go into the basement.
For years, sorority sisters and other women who attended Phi Sigma Phi parties shared that advice with each other. Stepping inside was worth the risk for many women – the fraternity was known for hosting the best parties. The brothers are described as charismatic and good-looking. They also are notorious for doling out a lot of alcohol to women at their events.
"Alcohol is practically shoved down your throat as soon as you walk through the door," wrote "A concerned alumna" in an August 2018 email to Central Michigan University administrators.
While PSP maintained a high profile among students because of those popular parties, the Greek community was also aware of its darker reputation.
From 2015-18, complaints about PSP to the Office of Student Conduct and Greek Life were submitted at an increasing rate. In October 2018, Steven Johnson, vice president of Enrollment and Student Services, took unprecedented action against the fraternity, removing them from Greek Life, forever.
Unaffiliated from the university, though still supported by its national organization, PSP now operates with less oversight and without having to follow any Interfraternity Council rules or restrictions.
As the semester comes to an end, warmer weather will entice students outside looking for the next big party. PSP continues to host parties even as the university is still investigating a sexual misconduct complaint reported by a CMU student.
Students might have heard about PSP – rumors about drugged drinks, allegations of sexual assaults or stories about fights at parties. It's important to understand what the fraternity members were accused of, dating back to 2006, and how they responded to those charges.
"I saw what they were doing and I didn't feel safe there so I stayed away," The "concerned alumna" stated in her email. "Unfortunately many students don't know or understand what atmosphere they are about to walk into."
CMU's case against PSP
Nationally, PSP is a small organization – there are only 11 chapters listed on its website. At CMU, however, the fraternity gained a large following. There are 50 affiliated members listed on its Spring 2018 roster.
The Xi Chapter at CMU was chartered Nov. 18, 1995, making it the ninth chapter of PSP, according to the national fraternity's website. Over the course of its history, the fraternity has racked up a number of complaints against it. Members have been accused of sexual assault, drugging women and hazing. One complainant even suggested they have hazed members of sororities.
On Oct. 22, 2018, Central Michigan Life, through a Freedom of Information Act request, sought the documents that the Office of Student Conduct used to investigate the allegations against the fraternity. On Dec. 13, 2018, CM Life received 33 documents – totaling more than 1,300 pages – and was charged $1,055.52 by the university.
The condition of the heavily-redacted documents sometimes makes it difficult to understand the chronology of events and how administrators responded to specific complaints. Included in the request are police reports, a 2015-18 case summary written by Tom Idema, Office of Student Conduct director, emails from administrators and law enforcement and other documents. Most of the pages were heavily redacted by the General Counsel's office – dates, locations, photos, police report narratives, statements from students and copies of social media posts were removed or altered.
After CM Life received the documents, several attempts were made to schedule interviews with administrators to help gain further insight into the investigation. Many were reluctant to be interviewed.
Interfraternity Council President Connor Drake and Panhellenic Council President Morgan Victory both declined to comment for this story.
During an April 1 interview with Associate Vice President of Student Affairs Tony Voisin, Director of Student Activities and Involvement Damon Brown and Assistant Director of Fraternity and Sorority Life Molly Schuneman, Voisin said they would not answer certain questions because PSP's national office had threatened to sue the university.
Idema's case history cites 14 incidents involving PSP from 2015-18. That number of complaints is more than three times as many incidents involving any other Greek Registered Student Organization still in good standing at CMU, his report stated.
“It is based on these reports that the university has determined there is significant concern that the group’s activities and behaviors are dangerous and pose a credible threat to members of the CMU and greater Mount Pleasant community,” the case history states. “To this end, the university believes that it must act, with or without the cooperation of complainants and witnesses, to permanently disband the fraternity.”
Multiple allegations of sexual assault
Four of the PSP incident reports were related to sexual misconduct or sexual assault complaints. One heavily-redacted 2016 report describes the story of a woman who was sexually assaulted in the basement of the PSP house located in Deerfield Village in Union Township. The woman reported the assault to her resident assistant, who filed the report.
She told her RA that she arrived at the fraternity house with a friend one evening before a CMU football game – the date of the game and the opposing team were redacted in the report. Based on the Michigan State Police incident report, the woman is describing Western Weekend – a 7 p.m. game on Oct. 1, 2016. She described seeing “hundreds of people” at the party. The woman recalled consuming half of a fifth of Smirnoff vodka. She was eventually separated from her friend inside the house.
She never made it to the football game.
Four men brought her to the basement of the PSP house, she told her RA. She reported that they brought her into the laundry room of the basement, placed her on the ground and shut the door. They touched her in ways she “didn’t like being touched."
“They kept grabbing me,” she told her RA, according to the report. Several men held her down throughout the night so she was unable to leave. She noted that at least one of the men was a PSP member.
The Michigan State Police report stated that the woman said she had sexual intercourse on the basement floor with two different men. She also said she was assaulted in the bathroom of the house and was “held down by force," even though she said “stop” several times. Because of the heavily-redacted report, it's difficult to determine whether the assaults were by repeat attackers or separate men.
She reported she was forced down by a man in the bathroom as he performed oral sex on her. He placed her on the bathroom countertop, pulled down her pants and underwear and held her down, she reported. During a 20-minute period, she reported that she said stop several times and tried to get up and leave.
In the Michigan State Police report, she said she was very intoxicated during all three sexual acts that took place in the PSP house. She told state troopers she thought she remembered consenting to the intercourse with the others, but during the oral sex in the bathroom she was held down by force. At the end of the night, a PSP member drove her to her residence hall. She left the house without her underwear.
After speaking to her RA, the woman was brought to the Residence Hall Director to report the incident. The woman said that she felt embarrassed and unsure of what to do after that evening. She repeated several times that her roommate told her the way she was treated was her own fault, “because she was too drunk.” Her roommate was friends with several PSP members.
“Those guys don’t deserve to get in trouble,” the roommate reportedly told her – she was the one “hoeing around.” The woman's roommate texted members of PSP, who reached out to her on Twitter.
According to university records, retaliation and harassment are themes in the complaints against PSP. Women often feel pressure from friends, members of Greek Life, members of their own sororities and PSP members to drop complaints. Many women stated they were discouraged from speaking out against the fraternity.
The woman eventually went to McLaren Central Michigan hospital for a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner test.
A search warrant was executed on Oct. 3, 2016. A trooper searched the fraternity house to try to find the woman's underwear. Nothing was found.
The PSP president met with the Office of Civil Rights and Institutional Equity and the Office of Student Conduct. The woman never followed up with OCRIE. Information from an Advocate Report showed that the woman’s roommate was sharing information with PSP during the investigation.
After Idema's office met with PSP, it chose not to pursue the case. Without the victim’s cooperation, the office felt there was not enough information to conduct an investigation. Though the investigation ended, PSP removed a man from its chapter.
Shawn Head, PSP's National Risk Management Director, said the man who was accused of sexual assault in this case was a probational associate member who had been offered a bid, but not yet been added to the fraternity roster. Upon hearing of the accusations, Head said PSP immediately suspended the man's involvement.
"When we were aware of accusations, we took swift action," Head said. "That is the only time that I recall ever hearing any accusation of sexual assault."
According to Head, the university never provided PSP with any information about the woman's complaint. Head said PSP reached out to the university for more information to conduct its own investigation, but the fraternity never received a response.
In a 2017 Office of Student Conduct report, a summary was given from a senior who alleged she was raped by a PSP member in Fall 2015 at the PSP house. She was told by the PSP president that the fraternity “handled it."
The report lists allegations that PSP hired strippers for a Fall 2015 pregame house party. It also accused PSP of providing alcohol, including bags of wine, at parties to heavily encourage women to drink.
Fear of retaliation
“I am writing to inform you that Phi Sigma Phi needs to be watched.”
Brown received an email from an anonymous sophomore in 2006 stating that her boyfriend had recently pledged the fraternity. She claimed he was forced by PSP's president to "chug over a pint of alcohol and beer." The student suggested that PSP be "investigated further because it is ridiculous. Someone is going to end up dead.”
Brown asked if the student would be willing to testify.
“I am sorry," she wrote, "but I do not want to be targeted around campus."
Twelve years later, the Office of Student Conduct received a message from an alumna who shared remorse for not speaking up against PSP during her time at CMU. According to the 2018 report, she said PSP subjected CMU students to harm and abuse both in and out of Greek Life. She also alleged that members haze not only fraternity brothers, but also sorority women.
“Party at their ‘house’ and the risk you take is great," she wrote. Solo cups intended for guests are drugged and men sexually assault women, she reported. Women like her are afraid to come forward for fear of retaliation, she claimed.
Retaliation, such as social stigma and targeting, is a concern expressed in several complaints against PSP. According to CMU's sexual misconduct policy, retaliation is defined as an adverse action taken against a person because that person reported sexual misconduct or retaliation, or cooperated in an OCRIE investigation. She said members of Greek Life have retaliated in the past and CMU failed to intervene.
“To say it simply, men in this fraternity treat others inhumanly," she wrote. "I know the allegations I just made are serious but what I have said is just the beginning of bringing PSP into the light. It is only the tip of their iceberg; the rest of it is in their basement.”
An August 2018 email between Idema, Sherry Knight, vice president of University Communications, and others referenced the alumna's allegations.
“Please note the lines that mention notifications have been made and CMU failed to intervene,” Idema said. “That makes it sound like we are no different than MSU.”
Any kind of retaliation against accusers would not be acceptable, Head said. He added that he has never been aware of any form of retaliation and that PSP would not condone that kind of behavior.
"We would not punish the accusers. We would hold ourselves to a higher standard," he said.
CMU cannot take any action to coerce victims to file a complaint if they fear retaliation, Voisin said. Although many women stated they were discouraged from speaking out against the fraternity, it is not within the university's powers to encourage them to come forward.
"I can't answer why some individuals would not come forward," Voisin said. "If you're asking me, if anyone is causing harm to another individual, I want to know about it. But it is an individual's preference to decide to come forward. I can't force someone to file a complaint."
Allegations of 'non-consensual pornography'
In 2017, PSP members were accused of distributing photos of a student taken during a sex act, which were photographed without the woman's consent. The images of her performing oral sex on a fraternity brother were then allegedly shared among PSP.
The woman reported to the CMU Police Department that she had been texting a PSP brother, whom she met on Tinder. They decided to hookup. At 2 a.m., she arrived at his residence hall room, the report stated. She told police and her Campbell Hall RA that the man asked her if she would “let his boys hit it.” She said no.
The two had sex in the main room of the dormitory, which the woman reportedly thought was “weird." While they were having sex, the woman reported that the man’s roommate – another PSP member – walked through the main room and said, “Oh, I’m next.” He then implied he was going to “tap in.” He asked if they could have a threesome and the woman declined, the report stated.
After they finished having sex, the man asked her if she would have sex with his roommate. She said no, the report stated, but did agree to give him oral sex.
While she was performing oral sex on the man's roommate, she became aware of someone standing behind her, the report stated. The next day, she received a Snapchat message from a former boyfriend: the image of a half-naked woman performing oral sex on a man who was wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat. The woman’s face was not in the image, but the student recognized herself.
She captured the image and sent it to the man she met on Tinder. She told him she was not OK with the photo and she would be contacting police. He offered to tell her who sent the photo if she agreed to keep his name out of the report. He told her the photo was shared by his roommate. The woman told her RA that she believed all of the men who lived in the room were PSP members and the photo was shared in a group message with fraternity brothers.
The man then blocked her on Snapchat and unmatched with her on Tinder.
She provided CMUPD with the photo and screenshots of conversations between her and fraternity members. In the report, the woman said she felt violated and uncomfortable knowing the photo was taken and shared. Police explained the image was a possible violation of Michigan's "non-consensual pornography" law, which prohibits the dissemination of photos or videos of sexual encounters without consent.
Because the sexual act was consensual, and took place in the common space of the residence hall room, the Isabella County Prosecutor's Office declined to move forward with the case. Although the "common room" is part of a student's living space, along with a bathroom and bedroom, the student was told she had no expectation of privacy, according to a Dec. 18, 2017 email between Idema and CMUPD Lt. Mike Sienkiewicz.
Sienkiewicz explained that the elements of the photo did not fit the non-consensual pornography law. Because there was no nudity showing in a photo, nor was the woman's underwear showing, there was no evidence that a sex act was actually being performed, he said.
The criminal complaint was dropped. As of December 2018, the university is still investigating the complaint as an OCRIE case.
Another complaint describes a PSP member videotaping himself having sex with an intoxicated woman and sharing that video with fraternity brothers. The report was filed by the man’s RA (the name of the hall was redacted by the university). The RA overheard men arguing about rape allegations made against one of them.
Although the man said he did not sexually assault the woman, he did admit to recording their sex act and explained he had apologized to her. After the RA filed her report, no formal OCRIE or criminal charges were pursued.
Allegations of using date rape drugs
As far back as 2012, the university received complaints about PSP drugging women at parties. The Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities cited an attempted sexual assault that was reported by a faculty member. The only information reported about this incident through the FOIA request shows that a PSP member reportedly used GHB (a central nervous system depressant commonly known as the "date rape drug") to incapacitate a woman.
Before a sexual assault could occur, others stepped in, the 2012 report states, and "removed the woman from the situation."
In 2017, two other women reported that PSP members put Xanax in women’s drinks at social events. They claimed fraternity brothers put drugs in a wine bag and served the drink to their guests.
In a report filed by Joseph Finney, assistant director of Student Conduct, members of Panhellenic Council requested to meet after receiving allegations that PSP was drugging women. They said they had spoken to women who observed others coming home after a PSP social event in a coherent state, but then suddenly being “out of it.”
One of the women reported an incident that happened during her freshman year. She and another woman shared one beer that a fraternity brother had given them. It was the last thing they remembered until they woke up the following day.
In the report, she stated that the party was on Main Street in a house with no letters, later identified as the PSP “B house.” She was told by a sorority sister that she couldn’t stand up on her own and kept falling over. She also vomited throughout the night.
In another 2017 complaint, an RA described caring for a woman who had been throwing up for four hours after attending a PSP house party. After the RHD and police arrived at the room, the woman's roommate told them she drank two Smirnoff Ices, wine and some shots. Although the woman drank less than usual at the party, the report stated that she said she felt much worse than usual. The woman was transported to McLaren and given a toxicology screen.
The report confirmed that she had a date rape drug in her system.
Encounters with police
Isabella County Sheriff's Deputies responded to a report of a nuisance party in 2015 at PSP's house in Union Township. More than 200 people were clearing out of the party when a PSP member ran toward the door.
“Fuck ‘em,” he said, and slammed the door on Deputy Jon Szafranski, who later went to McLaren Emergency Room with injuries. X-rays showed a fracture in one of his fingers. The PSP member was arrested, according to the report. Two members of PSP were issued tickets for hosting a nuisance party and three other members were cited for attending a nuisance party.
In an email sent to the PSP member who injured the deputy, Idema outlined how the student had violated the CMU Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities and Disciplinary Procedures. A typical sanction for this type of violation is a one-year suspension, Idema said. However, the student only received a one-semester suspension. The man was allowed to resume classes during the Spring 2016 semester.
“Due to your attitude, remorse and well thought out educational and career plan, I have reduced the sanction,” Idema said in the email. “I hope you have learned a very important lesson about how alcohol can impact our judgment."
On March 17, 2018, PSP reportedly hosted a St. Patrick's Day social event at their chapter house. According to a report filed by the Office of Student Conduct, there were 200-300 people in attendance.
The report stated that PSP had submitted documentation to host a social event on St. Patrick's Day to the Office of Student Activities and Involvement, but that request was denied.
The Isabella County Sheriff responded to the party and reportedly found broken bottles thrown at the apartment building and people standing on cars.
"I was told that CMUPD may have arrested the fraternity president during this event but I don't have any confirmation or information on that," the sheriff told the Office of Student Conduct in the report.
Death of a brother
At 12:43 a.m. on April 29, 2018, the Mount Pleasant Police Department and medical authorities were dispatched to 503 S. Main St.
Kevin Ajluni, a PSP member, was airlifted to Saginaw Covenant Hospital after falling down a flight of stairs. He suffered from a skull fracture and a brain bleed, according to the police report. Ajluni died May 3, 2018 from his injuries.
Earlier in the day on April 28, PSP hosted a "Senior Send-off" event, when outgoing seniors would traditionally say their farewells to fraternity members, Head said. That event ended in the early afternoon.
Later that evening, several fraternity members were at the former PSP president's house on Main Street getting ready to go out to a bar, Head said.
Sometime later, after people left the house, a PSP member who stayed behind heard noises coming from the basement. He went downstairs, found Ajluni and called the police, according to Head.
Ajluni, who was 21, had been drinking throughout the night. Police determined his blood alcohol level was .242 percent, which is more than three times the legal limit of .08 percent. The death, Head emphasized, was not a result of hazing or any kind of violation of the Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities and Disciplinary Procedures.
"(Kevin's death) was a huge loss," Head said. "But instead of being able to come together to grieve, (PSP members) were met by a visceral response from the university."
On Aug. 21, 2018, PSP was charged with violating three sections of the Code of Students Rights, Responsibilities and Disciplinary Procedures, one of which was an alcohol-related violation. The fraternity was temporarily suspended. The Office of Student Conduct cited the March 17 and April 28 events as part of the investigation.
"Instead of having respect for your own student body, (CMU) took sanctions that they couldn’t even afford to have a hearing over," Head said. "It’s insulting."
Future of Phi Sigma Phi
Though the severity of the punishment might have surprised some in Greek Life, few were surprised that PSP seemed to have finally crossed a line with university administrators from which they could not return. After the fraternity was banned, social media was filled with comments and questions from people wondering why the university waited so long to take action.
After years of complaints and investigations, CMU chose to disassociate itself from PSP, though the fraternity had not been charged with crimes or been successfully investigated by Idema's office or OCRIE.
"The relevant offices to which the allegations were reported did what they could to investigate," Voisin said. "Given the lack of cooperation from complainants and witnesses, there were no findings. However, as the allegations continued to mount, the university determined that it had to act to remove the group's recognition."
Head said CMU relied heavily on unproven allegations when it revoked recognition of the chapter. He also said the university did not state in its revocation letter to PSP that any of the past accusations related to sexual assault or hazing.
"The university saved any mention of sexual assault and hazing for its salacious press release and announcements to the student body," Head said. "That is how our members first heard that there had been anonymous accusations of sexual assault, from an unspecified time periods, by some unnamed alleged members. How can our current members respond to or defend themselves against such vague accusations?"
Other than having its status changed to an "unaffiliated fraternity," not much else has changed for the members of PSP. They reside in the same fraternity house. They have the full support of their national office. They even continue to do philanthropy work, according to recent social media posts from the fraternity.
Greek Life organizations at CMU continue to fraternize with PSP.
And yet, the fraternity's darker reputation remains: If students attend a PSP party, they may be putting themselves at risk.
One sorority woman – who refused to be identified for this story out of fear of retaliation from her sorority sisters – was asked: If you were standing in the doorway of the PSP house and a group of freshman girls walked up, asking you if they should go inside, what would you say?
The woman said she would urge the girls to leave immediately.
She would tell the girls that PSP had been kicked off campus and share the story of how she had been drugged by a member of the fraternity.
“I would tell them to turn around and walk away.”