Students removed from Sigma Phi Epsilon after internal investigation by fraternity

By Mike Pesarchick

Two Canisius students have been removed from the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity and three others have been punished for a misconduct incident that occurred in March, according to a representative from the fraternity.

The five were punished according to the fraternity’s national bylaws after a hearing held last month, according to Sigma Phi Epsilon Chaplain Jared Westhoven. The punishments were given after an investigation by the fraternity into what were described as racist jokes made at a mixer party held at an off-campus location.

“A joke was made in humor, in lightheartedness, but eventually came across as a racial remark, a racist remark,” said Westhoven. “They decided to try to hide the meaning of what they said until it came out later and several people at a separate location were personally affected, felt uncomfortable and that was brought to my attention the next day.”

According to Westhoven, once he received the complaint, the fraternity immediately launched into the disciplinary protocol, which included a hearing by members of the chapter. Sections 25 through 47 of the national Sigma Phi Epsilon Grand Chapter bylaws detail the process.

The bylaws state that a formal complaint is drawn up and given to the chaplain, in this case Westhoven, which leads to a special hearing by the chapter’s Standards Board. Regular members are not admitted to a Standards Board meeting, per the Grand Chapter Bylaws.

The trial itself, Westhoven said, included testimony from both accused members and from witnesses to the incident in question. The Standards Board then met to determine the appropriate punishment from Section 30 of the bylaws. This can range from a fine to expulsion, which is a rare occurrence.

None of the five members came forward at the trial as having made the offensive jokes in question; Westhoven said the decision was made in the aftermath and was based upon other members’ testimonies of the event and actions of the five members. The five members were present at the trial.

The affair was internal to the organization; no Canisius College officials and only one member of the national Sigma Phi Epsilon organization – chapter counselor Ray Georges – were present at the trial.

The two students expelled from the fraternity, a sophomore and a freshman, appealed the decision but were not reinstated. The appeal process required another hearing from the Standards Board, which included testimony from the accused members, followed by a pro-and-con debate. The Standards Board concluded the appeal with a secret ballot vote.

Georges was not present at the appeal, Westhoven said, because he was satisfied that the fraternity followed the national protocol exactly as the bylaws dictated.

The other three students were disciplined but remain members of the fraternity. “Each brother in question received a certain punishment based on what they were accountable for,” Westhoven said. The first two members’ actions were deemed more “severe,” resulting in the maximum punishment.

Should the two members wish to return to Sigma Phi Epsilon, Westhoven said, they can appeal at the national level or wait a period of no shorter than six months to appeal for a vote by current members.

Sigma Phi Epsilon was founded in 1901 at what is now the University at Richmond. The fraternity boasts more than 220 chapters, more than 15,000 undergraduate members and more than 325,000 lifetime brothers.

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