Alpha Phi sorority chapter closes
by KEVIN NELSON
with contributions from: LAURA TRESSEL,
AND BROOKLYN DIPPO
The University of San Diego sorority, Alpha Phi, was kicked off campus last month. Following a hearing on April 14 with members of the Fraternity and Sorority Life Standards Board (FSLSB), the USD chapter was ordered to shut down all operations. This decision was made following the investigation of two hazing incidents reported to have occurred on Feb. 8. The incidents involved members of Alpha Phi and two fraternities: Delta Tau Delta (DTD) and Phi Gamma Delta (Fiji). Since the sorority’s shut-down, members of Alpha Phi have officially appealed the decision, claiming that the investigation was not handled correctly.
For full transparency and disclosure, this reporter and members of the executive team are involved with Fraternity and Sorority Life (FSL). However, none are affiliated with the sorority or fraternities under scrutiny.
The USD Vista was able to obtain emails exchanged between members of Alpha Phi as well as emails between Alpha Phi and administration, along with a letter of appeal from a source in the sorority. This source chooses to remain anonymous in fear of negative repercussions because every member in the sorority was advised not to discuss the matters outside the chapter. The USD Vista also secured notice of hearing letters and sanction letters sent to all three organizations involved from the Student Leadership and Involvement office.
Alpha Phi was one of eight sororities in the USD FSL system and included 144 active members and 30 non-initiated new members. The sanction marks the first time a fraternity or sorority has been kicked off campus since Sigma Chi fraternity was shut down in November of 2004 for hazing and hosting an unapproved chapter event.
The sanction was handed down just a month after the reported hazing took place. According to a letter attached to an email sent March 4, Alpha Phi was ordered to cease all chapter activities. The letter from Cynthia Avery, PhD., assistant vice president of Student Affairs, to the chapter cited confirmed hazing allegations.
“The incident included alcohol, blindfolds, sexual exploitation, etc.,” the letter stated. “Alpha Phi is instructed to immediately cease all activities, events and meetings including initiation of new members as planned for Sunday, March 6, 2016.”
Mandy Womack, director of Student Leadership and Engagement, who oversees USD’s FSL, sent a notice of hearing letter to Alpha Phi chapter president Cassidy Kelly on March 28. The letter notified Kelly of an impending hearing for Alpha Phi’s actions. This hearing was the result of complaints Womack received against the chapter from an unknown source.
“Both events had alcohol present, sexual misconduct, and were connected to the Big Sister/Little Sister program in Alpha Phi,” the complaint letter stated. “Some of the members involved in these incidents were/are officers of the organization.”
Alpha Phi’s hearing occurred April 13 in front of the FSLSB.
After the conclusion of their hearing on April 13, Alpha Phi received their official sanction letter. The sanction letter cited that the chapter had been found responsible for violating several FSL Guidelines. These violations included hazing, the purchasing of alcohol using chapter funds or the coordination of the purchase of alcohol through a chapter member including the reselling of alcohol to members, pledges, or guests, and the presence of alcohol during any pledge/associate activity. Most notable, however, was the citing for harassment and abusive behavior. The board found Alpha Phi responsible for violating two sections under this guideline.
“Fraternities and sororities may not engage in any organizational activities involving sexually abusive behavior (whether verbal or physical) or behavior that is lewd, obscene, or otherwise inappropriate,” Section II.F.1 states.
“Fraternities and sororities may not engage in any organizational activities involving physical or verbal behavior that makes persons the subject of harassment, intimidation, or hostility because of their race, religion, color, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, or national origin,” Section II.F.2 states.
As of Wednesday morning, it is still unclear what the exact acts that occurred were. The minutes discussing what was testified in the FSLSB meeting will not be released because of ongoing investigations and hearings with individuals who took part in the events. These minutes will stay protected by Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) laws until the hearing concludes, as well as any investigative reports made by USD Public Safety.
The official sanctions against Alpha Phi also stated that the sorority would not be able to rejoin the USD community sooner than Fall 2019. Womack stated that Alpha Phi’s international administration is working with her office and will be holding a council meeting to determine any further action by the national administration.
The rumors of Alpha Phi’s closure quickly circulated USD’s campus and sent shockwaves through the USD FSL community. Alpha Phis were instructed by their executive members to refrain from answering questions about the investigation and sanctions from students, faculty, or media.
Two of USD’s fraternities, Delta Tau Delta (DTD) and Phi Gamma Delta (Fiji), were also involved in the hazing incidents. Both fraternities received similar notice of hearing letters citing the same complaints as the letter sent to Alpha Phi. According to the sanction letters, DTD and Fiji were found responsible for hazing violations and having alcohol present during a pledge/associate activity. DTD was not found responsible for any other actions. Fiji, however, was found responsible for misbehavior by a chapter officer and for activities involving sexually abusive or inappropriate behavior.
The two fraternities have each received sanctions for their involvement in the incidents. Fiji and DTD will undergo mandatory membership reviews which will be conducted by their international administrations. This sanction could lead to the dismissal of several members from each chapter. Both fraternities will also be required to participate in educational programs involving speakers on hazing, sexual assault, and bystander intervention. DTD also received probation from the university through May 31, 2017. Fiji will be suspended from all social events through December 31, 2016 and be suspended from participating in Fall 2016 membership recruitment.
The USD Vista’s anonymous source stated that several Alpha Phi members believe it is unfair that the sorority was handed such a severe punishment compared to both fraternities because they think all parties played a significant role.
ALPHA PHI’S APPEAL
After the closure of the Alpha Phi chapter, members of the sorority were upset and thought the shutdown was unjust, according to our anonymous source. In an email sent April 17, Alpha Phi chapter advisor Sara Smith informed members that there were two possible reasons to appeal the sanction: if they had felt they were not given due process or if they were able to provide new evidence. However, Smith also stated in the email that she believed appealing the decision would push the chapter’s ties with campus further away and would hurt the chapter’s chance of returning to USD’s campus in Fall 2019. She encouraged members to refrain from writing an appeal letter or getting lawyers involved.
Despite Smith’s plea to the chapter, a majority of Alpha Phi’s members sought to appeal the ruling. Our anonymous source informed The USD Vista that the mother of a current Alpha Phi member drafted an official appeal to the university, dated April 21. The appeal letter, which was delivered to Avery within FSL guidelines, stated Alpha Phi’s desire to appeal the sanction handed down by FSLSB.
The appeal letter cites that Alpha Phi’s right to procedural due process was denied for several reasons. Some of the reasons include lack of adequate written notice of the hearing, FSLSB’s failure to let Alpha Phi examine evidence prior to the hearing, and failure to allow Alpha Phi’s executive board to be present at the hearing.
The FSL guidelines allow all executive members to be present at the hearing as well as any advisors. However, Womack informed The USD Vista that it is common practice that the hearing letter is distributed to a chapter’s main point of contact only; in most cases that contact is the chapter president. This common practice occurred as only Kelly was sent the notification of hearing letter.
Possibly the most noteworthy citings of the appeal letter are that the hearing board failed to impose appropriate sanctions and failed to take proper minutes of the hearing. The letter argues that without sufficient evidence, the board handed down the most severe punishment. Further, they argue that Alpha Phi was never provided with the full written documentation, the list of witnesses that appeared, or the summary of the testimony at the hearing. Alpha Phi members argue that for this reason there is no way to determine whether guidelines were properly followed during the hearing. The appeal letter also states that the chapter is in possession of new and significant evidence, but does not state what that evidence is.
The appeal letter was signed by 99 of the sorority’s members. Chapter president Kelly did not sign the appeal that was submitted. The USD Vista has reached out to Kelly and Alpha Phi’s International Administration and have received no comment.
Alumnae of USD’s Alpha Phi chapter were notified of the chapter’s shutdown in a letter which was given to The USD Vista by Kristin Moran, PhD. Moran is a former member of Alpha Phi at USD who belonged to the chapter in the early 1990s and is now a special assistant to the Dean at USD’s College of Arts and Sciences. Moran was surprised to learn of the incident.
“I think for the people I talked with who are alumni, it was just kind of sad to learn that the organization that we had been a part of as undergraduate students was now in jeopardy,” Moran said. “I think it’s just sad that a current group of students has jeopardized the organization for many people who have been members.”
Moran also compared the incident to her pledging process and was amazed to hear how the sorority has changed in that regard.
“When I was pledging, I was trying to remember some of the things we had to do,” Moran said. “And I feel like, we went out to breakfast at Denny’s and that was the big thing.”
According to another letter attached to an email sent to Avery, assistant vice president of Student Affairs, by former USD Alpha Phi chapter president Alyssa Black on the behalf of Alpha Phi alumni, Black urged Avery to reconsider her decision.
“We encourage each other to reflect, grow, and improve,” Black said. “We are asking you [Dr. Avery] to give us the opportunity to help our chapter to do just that.”
Black’s letter further stated Alpha Phi’s contributions to charity and community and emphasized Alpha Phi’s commitment to learn and grow.
“We believe that this is an opportunity for Alpha Phi to be made an example of by demonstrating our chapter’s ability to learn from this experience,” Black said. “If given the opportunity, a refocus of our chapter values, with support and education from alumnae, would open doors for change and growth for all University of San Diego students and the greater community.”
Womack confirmed with The USD Vista that Avery will inform the Alpha Phi community know about the acceptance or rejection of their appeal by May 6. Neither Fiji nor DTD filed for an appeal within their allotted five day appeal window. If all the sanctions stand it will mark a significant change in pace for USD’s FSL. For the past two years, FSL has been focusing on expansion, including the addition of two new fraternities and one new sorority. With the loss of an established sorority, the future of Fraternity and Sorority Life at the University of San Diego is uncertain.
All documents referenced inside this article can be found at: http://www.UofSDMedia.com/aphidocuments
Correction: The USD Vista originally stated that a violation that the Alpha Phi chapter of USD was found responsible for was the purchasing of alcohol using chapter funds. The section of the Fraternity and Sorority Life Guidelines violated by Alpha Phi completely states, “No chapter may purchase alcoholic beverages through the use of any chapter funds or credits nor may the purchase of same be undertaken or coordinated by any member on behalf of the chapter. Purchasing bulk alcohol from a distributor (i.e. Beer King) and then reselling the alcohol to the members and guests at the function is prohibited. Chapters may not sell, in any fashion, alcohol to members, pledges/associates, or guests.” Therefore, The USD Vista has changed the article to reflect this guideline more accurately.