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Sigma Nu 'Viking party' leads to suspension

Individuals who are under 21 can legally drink alcohol in the state of Ohio with parental supervision.
Individuals who are under 21 can legally drink alcohol in the state of Ohio with parental supervision.

[media-credit name="Katie Hihn, Page Designer | Source: Office of Ethics and Student Conflict Resolution, University Disciplinary Records" align="alignnone" width="900"]Sigma-Nu-Timeline[/media-credit]

Last spring, the 33 pledges of Sigma Nu fraternity were ordered to down 100 beers each, recording every drink with a mark on their chests, according to university records.

The incident in question occurred April 2, during Sigma Nu's annual Viking party. At the time, the fraternity was on disciplinary probation with the university.

The hazing, which also prevented pledges from showering or shaving, was one factor that triggered the Epsilon Nu chapter's three-year suspension from the university, according to records released to The Miami Student this week. Miami officials also penalized the fraternity for breaking its earlier promise not to host, co-host or take part in any event where alcohol was present.

The university turned down two appeals by Sigma Nu, saying the chapter produced no new evidence in its favor and identified no fault in the university's judicial process.

Records of the university's investigation don't say how long it took each pledge to drink his 100 beers - or whether, in fact, any of them did - and Sigma Nu members weren't saying either. But university officials estimated the ordeal lasted no longer than a week.

Sigma Nu's suspension, which took effect April 20, is set to last through March 5, 2018, when the youngest members will be months from graduation.

One Sigma Nu member said he hopes his fraternity can negotiate a deal to come back sooner. Sophomore Austin Worrell was the only one of five members contacted by The Miami Student who agreed to discuss the allegations. He said many of his peers are frustrated with the university's judicial process.

"Whether it's a personal investigation or Greek investigation or any organization's [investigation], there is a feeling Miami's judicial system doesn't fairly support the rights of its students as adults in the legal system," Worrell said.

Worrell denied the hazing, calling it "outrageous," and said the tallies on pledges' chests were part of a fraternity tradition to "mark each other with tattoos." He said the marks were not intended to record the number of beers each pledge consumed.

"Injustice happens, and unfortunately it happened to us," he said. "We were given the maximum sentence for a minimal crime."

Miami's Vice President of Student Affairs, Jayne Brownell, said the university imposes lengthy suspensions for a reason.

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"The entire idea behind this [fraternity's] closure is to kind of give time for the chapter to turn around, start fresh, bring in a new perspective," Brownell said.

The national headquarters for many Greek organizations believe a clean slate starts when the last remaining members have graduated. That's why, Brownell said, a single year's suspension is often not effective.

"It doesn't change the culture," she said. "The people who have gone through it are pretty much thinking that is normal behavior."

This is not the first time Miami's Sigma Nu chapter has come under fire.

In December 1989, the New York Times reported about "sexist behavior and a lack of respect for human dignity" during Sigma Nu's fall Viking party - the very same party Sigma Nu was suspended for this spring, nearly three decades later.

And, in February 2007, Miami issued a news release announcing Sigma Nu's suspension on the grounds of prohibited alcohol use and disorderly conduct. Months earlier, in December, a fight had broken out among members of the fraternity at Golden Key Lounge in Oxford, and a bus driver transporting the Sigma Nus called them "unruly and violent."

According to university policy, the fraternity renounces all of its rights and privileges during the suspension period. But Worrell said that would not stop him from being involved with the brothers of Sigma Nu.

"A fraternity is not a house," Worrell said. "It's a group of men, a brotherhood. No one in my class would ever dream of dropping. Every single one of us cannot wait until we are back on campus and cannot wait until we begin the recolonization process."

Despite Worrell's enthusiasm, the university does not allow past or present fraternity members to participate in Sigma Nu's reorganization process following the suspension period, as no current member will be eligible for membership in the future.

At this time, 21 fraternities are in good standing with the university, and eight are unrecognized. Two fraternities are on probation - Kappa Alpha Order until May 2017 and Sigma Phi Epsilon through May 2016, according to Jennifer Levering with the Cliff Alexander Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life.

The president of Sigma Nu, William Ives, represented the fraternity in all university hearings and appeals. Ives did not respond to The Miami Student's request for comment.

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