IN DEPTH: Sigma Nu shut down & police continue criminal investigation into fraternity party

Monday, December 23, 2013

In-depth coverage from WCN 24/7, including on camera interviews, unedited podcast interviews and reaction from fraternity members, students and faculty.

The Sigma Nu house on State Route 956 just south of the Borough limits sits boarded up with no trespassing signs.

NEW WILMINGTON, Pa. (WCN 24/7 Staff)--  Nine months after an end of the semester celebration at the Sigma Nu Epsilon Psi house outside of New Wilmington, local police are continuing an investigation into possible criminal violations in connection with that Saturday frat party. 

New Wilmington police say they can't go into the details of the investigation, but they are connected to the day fraternity members staged what campus officials and national fraternity leaders call an illegal party with a beer keg and open punch bowls.  Both are forbidden under the fraternity charter and Greek life rules.  The violations also received a swift and serious action from the National Board that governs the fraternity.  Leaders from the Sig Nu headquarters in Lexington, Va., yanked the local charter.

"The violations related to alcohol misuse and hazing, as well as violations of the policies of Westminster College," said Brad Beacham, Executive Director Sigma Nu Fraternity, Inc.

WCN confirmed with New Wilmington police chief Carmen Piccirillio in October that a criminal probe was ongoing.

"We initiated our investigation in May of 2013," Piccirillo told WCN.  "We are continuing to conduct our investigation vigorously. I can't tell you exactly what the end result is going to be because there is still a lot of work to be done."

The police chief is not saying when the investigation will wrap up and stresses it is ongoing.

Fred Dobry, Director of Risk Education for Sigma Nu Fraternity says he will not comment on ongoing police investigations. 

"Members of the collegiate chapter engaged in activities and behavior inconsistent with the police and principles of Sigma Nu Fraternity and Westminster College," Droby told WCN.

When it comes to the fraternity house, National leaders say that's up in the air.

"The chapter property is owned by an alumni housing association," Droby said.  "They are currently in the midst of reviewing options for the property."

The association could sell the house and the property.

Sig Nu Closed

Displaced Frat Members Find New Housing
Toby Bonitz is currently in his fifth year student here at Westminster where he among many has to deal with the changes of the fraternity Sigma Nu losing their charter.

Because the charter was suspended within such a short notice,  Bonitz says many of the brothers had to find housing either with by apartment like Bonitz, or try to find open rooms on campus. 
As for the ongoing investigation, he did not know much other than the fact that Sigma Nu is going through the appealing process to try to get there charter back in four years. 
As for being singled out to make an example for other frats Bonitz thinks there is a bit of bias toward their fraternity.

With many alumni coming back to Westminster during homecoming weekend, many of the brothers wanted to keep the distractions away from the Sigma Nu investigation.  But with no Sigma Nu candidate on the Homecoming Court and the house being boarded up it probably hit many alumni hard. 

Pledging with Sig Nu
When Feb. 2nd of the 2014 rolls around, fraternities on campus will stage Spring Pick Up Day.  There will only be four fraternities to choose from this year.   For the first time in the collective campus memory since the 1980s, there will be no Sigma Nu pledges.  Last year, Sigma Nu had the largest pledge class of 2013, picking up 24 independent males. 
First year student John Arcuri agrees the Sig Nu shutdown has made a major impact on freshmen considering Greek life.
"I have heard a lot of stories about Sig Nu, but I will never actually got to go there so losing it does not have much impact personally on me,  said Arcuri.  "I know it affects a lot of people because I have heard such good stories about it." 

First year Matt Lawrence does not see it affecting how he views Greeks on campus.  "One incident on campus doesn't make all the organizations bad. I still plan on joining a fraternity in the spring."

Listen to our raw interview with John Arcuri and Mat Lawrence.

Greek Life After Sig Nu
With the Sig Nu house shuttered, Greek life on Westminster's campus faces a unique challenge.  While some may assume that it is just the Sig Nu brothers and alumni that are affected, the entire Greek community could feel the aftershock from this turn of events. Having a frat house closed and the chapter suspended is a major scandal on a small campus.  How can the Greeks repair their image in the eyes of the campus and community?  

"We've lost that tenth or fifth option," Greek Life advisor Scott Renniger said. "It doesn't cripple us, but it makes us less broad than we were previous to that."

Renniger points out that Greeks at Westminster differ greatly from many other campuses, notably in philanthropy work and in membership, breaking national averages.  However, one thing he seemed very adamant on was the structure and adherence to the rules for all Greek organizations.

Hazing specifically was something he noted strongly as something you "may not do anymore" again stating that Greek life has certainly changed over the past 15 years. On this topic the campus as a whole has done well to keep hazing to a nonexistent minimum, going as far as hosting anti-hazing events and producing videos to bring about awareness on hazing.

However, hazing is not the issue at hand and Scooter again through our interview pointed to responsibility within the remaining Greek Organizations in order to uphold their reputable names in the light of Sig Nu's closing.
"You are a host, I won't buy into and I never have, the idea of well I want have fun and t doesn't fall on the risk manager or risk managers, the responsibility falls on the fraternity," said Renninger.         

Again he was very adamant about behavior when hosting a party.  

"How they are going to move through it remains to be seen" he said. "They came back before" he said in closing "but is there going to be a strong enough core? I don't know."

Listen to our entire interview with Scott Renninger.

Sigma Nu Fraternity

Sigma Nu through the years at Westminster
Sig Nu's 2013 charter suspension is not the first time the chapter faced such a crisis.  Alumni from the '80s tell WCN the fraternity bounced back from a suspension then.  However, some of the newly minted alumni concede they will not be around after the graduate to push for a comeback of the local chapter.

The Epsilon Psi chapter of the Sigma Nu international fraternity began at Westminster in 1947 while its predecessor, Kappa Phi Lambda, began in 1862.

Campus officials say the National Board has listed the chapter suspension of Sig Nu at Westminster as being indefinite, they admit students could request a new one some day in the future.

"Sigma Nu regrets the loss of the Epsilon Psi Chapter. However, in keeping with our mission to develop ethical leaders, the Fraternity cannot tolerate repeated violations of its law, policies and principles," said Executive Director Brad Beacham. "For more than 65 years Sigma Nu Fraternity has supported the growth and development of students at Westminster College. We will work with Epsilon Psi alumni leaders, University officials and student leaders to re-establish this legacy of leadership at Westminster in the future. We are grateful for our strong partnership with Westminster College and we appreciate the College's continuing support."

Created with flickr slideshow.

The local chapter had maintained a weblog, the Snake Pit Blog.  The Sigma Nu Epsilon at Westminster College Facebook and Twitter pages continue online.  However, at the time this article was posted, the last posting on the Facebook page was from April 30, 2013.


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The Sig Nu house outside of town is closed and shuttered. Campus officials confirm alumni of the chapter are considering selling the property.


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WCN 24/7 reporters who contributed to this story include Corey Benedict, Stephen Bendig, Anthony Thomas, Lance Conrad, Taylor Heinrich and Lance Conrad.


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"Sigma Nu regrets the loss of the Epsilon Psi Chapter," said Brad Beacham, Executive Director Sigma Nu Fraternity, Inc.


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The Epsilon Psi chapter of the Sigma Nu international fraternity began at Westminster in 1947 while its predecessor, Kappa Phi Lambda, began in 1862.


Click image to enlarge.