April 4, 2013

Students Express Skepticism at Sigma Pi Fraternity Brothers’ Actions

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Almost a year after an individual threw bottles and yelled racial epithets at a group of black students by the Sigma Pi fraternity, three Sigma Pi brothers spoke Thursday about the fraternity’s subsequent involvement in campus initiatives against racism.

Sigma Pi brothers first started getting involved with campus initiatives against racism to fight off negative images the fraternity was associated with after the incident occurred, according to Zach Smith ’13, who was president of Sigma Pi last spring. The fraternity was put on probation soon after the event, and was released from probation this semester.

“At first, it was just an image. … We were fighting off probation. We didn’t want to be labeled as bigots,” Smith said.

However, Smith said that the brothers later recognized the incident went “beyond an image problem.”

“I think that the stuff we’ve done has had a positive impact on the brothers, and I think we’ve helped promote events and get other people involved to the point where it’s moved beyond an image problem,” Smith said. “It’s something that we actually care about, and want to keep working with in the future.”

Others who attended the meeting, however, expressed skepticism at the nature of the event.

“I don’t think it was an appropriate event,” said Oscar Correia ’14, president of La Asociación Latina. “It shouldn’t have just been members from Sigma Pi; it should have had a panel. They spoke out from the beginning, defending themselves, but the victims never got the chance to speak out.”

Correia added that the victims were still severely affected by the incident.

“I spoke to all [of the victims] after [the bias incident] happened … Two [of them] are afraid of their names being published and wouldn’t come to an event like this. They’re still afraid of reaching out for a variety of different reasons,” Correia said.

Echoing Correia’s sentiments, Anthony Santa Maria ’13 questioned the authenticity of the brothers’ actions.

“The fact that they can only cite a big open-body meeting that I know they were forced to go to and one workshop that I don’t really think that they gained that much from, I don’t really think that their ‘race-based training’ has any substance to it at all,” he said.

Although none of the brothers of the house were directly involved in the bias incident, it was hard to escape the labels that floated around campus and online, according to Smith.“Wearing our letters around campus, we felt judged; we felt that people were giving us these labels, and it was the last thing that we would associate ourselves with,” Smith said. “We had to take a step back and look at ourselves as a brotherhood, our actions and our procedures that we had in place that allowed this event to happen, and while it seemed unfair that we were thrust in the middle of this spotlight, we really felt like the only way to move was forward.”

The fraternity has been working on reaching out to other student groups by sponsoring events like “Power, Privilege, and Oppression,” a human board game that simulated the advantages that certain social groups have above others, according to Aram Shrestinian ’15, a Sigma Pi brother.

In addition to sponsoring official events, the fraternity has also begun to more actively engage in dialogue with students across different groups and invite them to the house, according to Heidenreich.

“This is the way you learn the most from other people,” said Bennet Heidenreich ’15, a Sigma Pi brother. “Interact in a social atmosphere rather than a forced atmosphere. What is important is to keep up the dialogue. We have to expand [on] this in the whole Greek system.”

Additionally, the fraternity has made it a priority to educate the incoming pledge class about the event, Shrestinian said.

“I think that’s one of the most touching things about this whole experience,” Shrestinian said. “We took 29 kids, and they’ve all been versed in what happened, what we’re doing, our new initiative and direction. And even though they weren’t here, they are on board with what we’re doing. I feel like that indicates that as our house moves on, the younger generations are going to continue to pass on this lesson that we’ve learned. I think it will have a really positive effect on the organization.”

As an example, Shrestinian said about 15 members of the new pledge class joined Cayuga’s Watchers at the fraternity’s recommendation, and that the fraternity has not had any incidents violating safety rules this year.

In response to the events of May 2012, guests at Sigma Pi over Slope Day weekend will be heavily screened, and there will be stronger risk management at the house, according to Shrestinian.

Original Author: Noah Rankin