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Four years after Sigma Nu at WSU lost charter, group returning

Michael Herseth, 20, Jordan Tiegs, 21, Alex Winter, 19, Matthew Burlingame, 19, and Cody Wagner, 19, are recruiting new members for the re-opened Sigma Nu fraternity at Washington State University. (Dan Pelle)
Michael Herseth, 20, Jordan Tiegs, 21, Alex Winter, 19, Matthew Burlingame, 19, and Cody Wagner, 19, are recruiting new members for the re-opened Sigma Nu fraternity at Washington State University. (Dan Pelle)

Embroiled in allegations of hazing and alcohol abuse, the Sigma Nu fraternity at Washington State University was kicked off campus in 2007.

Now the fraternity’s Delta Iota chapter, purged of all former members, is seeking new recruits in an effort to rebuild its ranks and reputation on campus – a reputation that doesn’t involve hazing.

“Right now we are very careful to prevent anything that can lead to hazing,” said chapter Vice President Michael Herseth.

“That’s the culture we’re going to set,” added Matthew Burlingame, recruiting chairman.

Details on what led to the disciplinary action are unclear, but the fraternity’s new president, Jordan Tiegs, said a pledge – a member who had not yet gone through the initiation process – tipped off the national organization about hazing in the house.

That prompted an investigation by the school’s Student Conduct Board, which denied the chapter recognition for three years and recommended the fraternity’s national headquarters revoke its charter, meaning the members had to move out of the fraternity house on WSU’s Greek Row.

In a 2007 news release issued by Sigma Nu headquarters, then-International President John Pitts said, “We deeply regret the loss of any chapter, but are especially saddened by the loss of this historic 97-year-old institution.

“We are also disturbed that images related to these violations were posted by chapter members on Internet Web sites such as Myspace and Facebook,” he added. “The glorification of conduct like this is very concerning and simply not acceptable in our honor fraternity.

“However, the fraternity remains resolute when responding to misconduct that defies our most basic values and principals,” he said.

Four years later, the fraternity is ready to start fresh and move back into the historic house for fall semester. Currently, the fraternity is about 50 strong, and members hope to recruit heavily this summer.

Anita Cory, director of WSU’s Center for Fraternity and Sorority Life, said that while hazing happens from time to time, most involved in the Greek system – students, schools, alumni and national officials – have worked to put a stop to it over the last decade.

“I don’t think fraternities are crocheting doilies on Friday night,” Cory said. “I don’t think anyone expects that.”

However, she said, she has seen a cultural shift within the Greek system and students, compared to a decade ago, have little interest in hazing.

“They want to have a balance,” she said. “They want to belong to an organization that adds value and worth to their educational experience. I think that’s what they’re looking for and that’s what they get.”

She said that despite efforts to prevent hazing, movies such as “Animal House” and the television show “Glory Daze” perpetuate the image that hazing and excessive alcohol consumption are acceptable and expected.

“You really can’t grow up in the U.S. and not have media messages in your head about being Greek, (that) it’s about partying,” she said. “That’s so not what it’s about.

“You get a sense … people are having a healthier, positive experience,” she added.

However, 55 percent of college students involved in clubs, teams and organizations experience hazing, according to a 2008 study conducted by Elizabeth Allan and Mary Madden of the University of Maine.

The study also found that two in five students are aware of hazing – defined by Washington state law as any activities in a student organization or living group that can cause physical or serious mental or emotional harm – on their campus. More than one in five reported having witnessed hazing personally.

But current Sigma Nu members say they are committed to preventing hazing in their house and hope to offer their new recruits a positive experience, one that includes philanthropic fundraising and academic achievement, which is defined by the fraternity as maintaining a 2.75 grade point average.

“We do push academics,” Burlingame said. “You’re in college for academics. You have to maintain grades.”

They said that while they hope recruits will be attracted to their fraternity, they encourage everyone to go Greek – whether it’s as a Sigma Nu or otherwise – to meet people, make connections and prepare for life after college.

“Greek is probably the closest thing you’ll have to a team or family in college,” Herseth said.

Sigma Nu, which was founded in 1869 as an anti-hazing fraternity at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va., has more than 180 active chapters throughout North America.

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