Sigma Phi Epsilon racial incident reveals a grey area for clubs reporting incidents to school

Mike Pesarchick

News Editor

As officials in the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity handled their investigation into a racial incident that occurred at an off-campus event in March, they decided to keep their inquiry completely internal.

This means that no Canisius officials, including their faculty advisor, Brian Smith, and Director of Student Life Rich Kennedy, were aware of the trial that resulted in the expulsion of two Canisius students from the fraternity. Both officials told The Griffin that they only became aware of it after the paper’s initial story published April 5.

While this does not violate any Canisius College regulations, Kennedy told The Griffin on Wednesday that it is very unusual for a club to not report to Student Life or to their advisor when such incidents occur.

“In order for us to interact, we have to have some starting point,” Kennedy said. “Technically, should ‘Sig Ep’ have let us know? Yes, Sig Ep should have given us some information that this incident was happening.”

Kennedy went on to say that Student Life is not a “punitive” organization and can only look into misconduct issues when someone files a bias report or communicates with them in some fashion.

This creates a “grey area” in the relationship between clubs and student life. Because there is nothing in Canisius’ policy handbook that says clubs are required to report misconduct incidents, things can be hidden from public knowledge.

Jared Westhoven, Sig Ep’s chaplain and the only one authorized to speak on the investigation, pointed to the fraternity’s National Bylaws that it followed after the incident. He released a statement to The Griffin on Thursday Night.

“The Sigma Phi Epsilon Standards Board is responsible for keeping brothers in line with our three cardinal principles. Upon receiving a complaint, the Standards Board conducted a trial 100 percent accordance of the Sigma Phi Epsilon Grand Chapter Bylaws. Because the brothers’ actions did not align with our principles, we used our process to hold them accountable.”

There is nothing in the National Bylaws that state that the fraternity chapter is required to contact its host institution. It remains unclear as to why Sig Ep declined to inform officials at Canisius, including their faculty advisor, of their investigation.

Sig Ep has also not updated its Canisius Life profile to reflect its new president, Matthew Kazmierczak. The chapter profile has been updated on the fraternity’s national website, www.sigep.org.  

Kennedy said that some conflicts were “ok to be handled internally,” but “while clubs and organizations are associated with their national affiliates, they’re Canisius College organizations first, and that’s something we need to make sure is known.”

Mark Piatkowski, Canisius’ Associate Director of Student Life, echoed this sentiment Thursday. “At the end of the day, the college does oversee the organization, the college can intervene,” he said, referring to Canisius’ Code of Conduct. “You’re a Canisius student and you represent the college on or off campus.”

Without an incident report, though, Piatkowski said there is not a lot for Student Life to go on. As Title IX legislation evolves, he said, colleges may be able to launch investigations of their own without a complaint report. Until then, information must be delivered to them.

“The college can only address what we know about,” Piatkowski said. Sig Ep’s National Bylaws do not make it immune to Canisius’ laws.

News of the racial incident also did not reach the ears of several officers in Sig Ep’s National Chapter until after the trial. This includes District Governor David Roman, who said in an email Tuesday that he only became aware of the investigation from Lieutenant Governor Robert Mead-Colegrove.

Mead-Colegrove himself told The Griffin that he learned of the incident through a contact that he had at Canisius. Neither he nor Roman were involved in any way in the investigation.

What exactly transpired at the off-campus event remains known only to those that were directly involved, with the exception of Sig Ep’s chapter counselor, Raymond Georges, who was present at the fraternity’s expulsion hearings.

Georges, who graduated from Canisius in 2013 and was a member of the fraternity, was on vacation at the time of publication and was unavailable for comment, according to a spokesperson for Sigma Phi Epsilon. He is the only one outside the active members of the fraternity with knowledge of what happened.

The Griffin reported on April 5 that five students had been punished in total for a “racist remark” that was made at a party, according to Westhoven, leading to a hearing by members of the fraternity and subsequent expulsion.

The two students that were expelled from the fraternity appealed the decision, he said, but were not reinstated.

UPDATE: Statement from Sigma Phi Epsilon:
Sigma Phi Epsilon’s Standards Board process allows each chapter to hold members accountable when their actions do not align with the organization’s principles and membership obligations. The chapter at Canisius did just that, and they followed the process as SigEp’s Bylaws outline it. The chapter worked with one of its key volunteer advisors throughout the process and were in contact with SigEp national fraternity staff. 

Nolan Hopkins and Emyle Watkins also contributed reporting to this story.

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Comments

  1. Bud Richey says:

    Good for the students for acting in a courageous manner to hold members accountable.

  2. So this chapter had members who made offensive comments at an off campus event and decided to expel those members for their behavior. What reason would this organization have to involve the school? Did the expelled members break any school rules? Does your school require students or student organizations to report this kind of behavior? It seems to me that this fraternity chapter held their members accountable. Not only did they do it without the urging of their host campus, but they did it without fanfare or drawing negative attention to greek life.

  3. Reblogged this on Emyle Watkins.

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