Sigma Phi Epsilon Fraternity's national board of directors has revoked the Auburn University SigEp Chapter's charter, closing the fraternity effective immediately after an investigation conducted by the national fraternity and the University showed evidence of hazing, drug use and alcohol violations.
The national board announced the decision, which was unanimous and made with the support of chapter alumni and University administrators, according to a statement issued to The Plainsman Friday. With the termination of the charter, the local chapter must immediately cease all activities and operations.
The board and the University launched an investigation this fall following allegations of hazing.
"Since 2012, members of the Auburn Chapter have consistently refused to align with the mission and purpose of our fraternity," the statement reads. "After reviewing the evidence, it was determined that the chapter's violations demonstrated a continued desire to perpetuate an experience rooted in alcohol, drug use and hazing."
It isn't clear what specific allegations led to the termination of the Auburn chapter's charter. But the national board and Auburn's Greek Life Office have said they are focused on safety, particularly in recent years as scrutiny of Greek life, and fraternities, in particular, has increased.
"SigEp's National Board of Directors has made it clear that member safety is paramount, and when chapters fail to live by our values it will take immediate and appropriate action," the statement from SigEp's national office said.
Just this week, Sigma Phi Epsilon National Fraternity announced it adopted a substance-free policy for all fraternity facilities across its network of more than 200 collegiate and university chapters in the U.S.
In the last two years, SigEp removed "pledging" from its terminology and member experience, requiring all new members to be treated as such — full members. Those changes were adopted by a vote of all undergraduate fraternity members.
But even with the changes, SigEp has still been forced to battle hazing and safety issues at several of its chapters nationwide — and apparently at Auburn.
"We believe these steps will create a new normal for our fraternity and have a profound impact on our members' success during and long after college," the statement went on to say.
Earlier this week, Florida State University indefinitely suspended all Greek Life on their campus after the death of a 20-year-old Pi Kappa Phi pledge who had attended a fraternity and was later found unresponsive.
The ban at FSU comes only weeks after several fraternities were suspended at LSU after 10 students were arrested and charged with the death of a freshman Phi Delta Theta pledge, who died of alcohol poisoning after a night of playing a drinking game during his pledgeship in September.
Nine of the students face hazing charges and one student is facing a charge of negligent homicide. Other incidents in recent years, including fraternity-related deaths at Penn State and Clemson, add to a long string of issues facing fraternities nationwide.
Greek Life Director Jill Moore and Interfraternity Council adviser Chris Lucas said Auburn is being proactive to ensure Auburn's Greek activities are safe, including IFC issuing an executive order in recent weeks increasing scrutiny of fraternity band and date parties.
"I want the fraternity community to flourish but to be a healthy and a safe one while it's flourishing," Lucas said. "Penn State, LSU and FSU, that's the sort of thing that keeps Jill and I up at night."
Since 2013, at least five fraternities have been suspended either by the University or through their national boards. The Beta Zeta chapter of Theta Xi at Auburn was suspended in August of this year with the possibility of returning in 2019. And the Alpha Mu chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon at Auburn was suspended in October 2016 with the possibility of re-applying for recognition next year.
No specific allegations were made public in any of the incidents. Sigma Chi fraternity was suspended in 2013 following hazing allegations reported to a national hotline. The chapter has since been allowed to return to campus after an extension of their suspension in 2015.
Auburn suspended Phi Delta Theta's Alabama Beta Chapter in 2014 after receiving two separate accounts of hazing at their chapter house and two alcohol-related violations within the first three weeks of school that year. They have also since returned.
The timeline for SigEp's return to campus isn't clear, though the national organization said they plan to bring the chapter back to campus at some point. No specific suspension timeframe was provided because the national fraternity closed the chapter itself, as opposed to other instances in which the University enforced a suspension.
Moore said fraternities often go silent when allegations arise instead of cooperating with the University and their national chapters to assuage problems. When organizations cooperate and work to solve their problems, the University will often levy lesser restrictions and sanctions when appropriate.
"We've got to help them find a way that they can have this good experience, a positive, enjoyable experience, that still is safe and within the boundaries of the law," Moore said. "When a chapter is suspended we have literally thrown up our hands and said we don't know what else to do."
Moore said a letter like the one written to SigEp could have been written for every fraternity suspended or closed since 2013. Other fraternities have also faced complaints but took corrective measures before being suspended.
"We've also had other groups where maybe they've started down that path, but when we've been able to work with them and they cooperate with us, we're able to get them back and they stay," Moore said. "That's what we want. We want them to still be here."