OXFORD — Miami University students and alumni were shocked this week by news that two sororities have been suspended for drunken behavior at their spring formals.
Headlines spread across the country after Pi Beta Phi and Alpha Xi Delta were suspended for one and two years, respectively, for underage drinking, vomiting, littering and damaging a Butler County lodge and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in Cincinnati.
“Everyone is just shocked because it’s so embarrassing,” said 2007 Miami University graduate Ali Murray, a member of Kappa Delta.
Four fraternities and sororities at Miami currently are suspended. There are 50 organizations on the campus — where one-third of undergraduates are members of Greek life.
Sigma Chi fraternity is suspended through Dec. 31 after members were accused of drinking, damaging and stealing from a Columbus hotel in February.
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Delta Delta Delta last year was suspended for hazing through Dec. 31. Sorority members forcibly took new members to an off campus location, where they were blindfolded and given alcohol. Some required medical assistance.
University officials said they hope the recent actions of sororities at their formals were isolated events, but they can’t treat them as such. Miami President David Hodge said the university will review the Greek system.
“I’m almost ashamed to be associated with the Greek community,” Murray said. “Now you don’t want to say ‘I attended a sorority at Miami’ because people immediately think it’s out of control.”
“I don’t think their actions were responsible at all,” said Katey Clark, a 2006 Miami graduate and Alpha Xi Delta member. “But they’re making it sound like they burned the place down ... with the hype it’s getting. This has been going on for years now. I just didn’t appreciate how these two sororities were targeted. They acted like these students were criminals.”
Greek communities under review
Miami University President David Hodge said Greek organizations must raise their standards in light of “intolerable” behavior by students and their dates at two recent sorority formals.
Pi Beta Phi and Alpha Xi Delta were suspended after drunken students damaged Lake Lyndsay Lodge in St. Clair Twp. and the National Underground Railroad Museum in Cincinnati.
Although university officials said they hope the out-of-control parties are a one-time problem, they will address the issue with the entire Greek system when students return for fall semester.
“I would hope it’s an isolated incident, but we won’t treat it as such,” said Barbara Jones, vice president for student affairs. “We have to address it with the entire Greek community.”
Jones, who is part of a national committee looking at issues in Greek communities, said she was surprised the behavior came from sororities.
“That’s really new,” Jones said. “Some of the behaviors that have impacted the fraternities in the past, are impacting the sororities now.
“I haven’t seen anything to this extent,” Jones said. “It certainly seems to have escalated.”
The destructive behavior isn’t exclusive to Greeks at Miami. A sorority chapter of Alpha Phi at the University of Dayton is facing discipline for trashing a banquet hall at their spring formal – ripping the sink off a men’s room wall, urinating and vomiting on carpet, stealing alcohol, and spraying mustard and ketchup on the walls and floors, according to Dayton police.
Hodge issued a letter to the community this week assuring the university would implement new policies to deter future problems.
“The reputation of the entire Greek community rest with every single member. That’s the kind of discussion we’ll be having,” Jones said.
Miami has long been home to a strong Greek system – dating back to 1833. The university has earned the nickname “Mother of Fraternities” for the six fraternities and sororities that were founded in Oxford.
About 2,580 women and 2,000 men are currently a member of the 50 Greek groups at Miami.
Many alumnae were embarrassed as details of the parties made headlines across the country with stories of Greeks vomiting, urinating and having intercourse in public places. Someone left a pile of human feces outside Lake Lyndsay Lodge at the Pi Beta Phi formal and a male was stopped short of urinating on the historic slave pen at the National Underground Railroad Museum during Alpha Xi Delta’s event.
“I was really shocked,” said Ali Murray, a 2007 Miami graduate and Kappa Delta member. “I attended formals … I never, ever encountered anything so out of control.
“It’s very disappointing because I feel like the Greek community provides a lot for Miami,” she said.
Miami Greeks contributed 37,451 hours of community service and raised about $306,700 for philanthropies during 2009. As a whole, their grade point average is higher than that of the general student body.
“They do wonderful things all the time,” said Katey Clark, a 2006 graduate and member of Alpha Xi Delta.
Clark said she read the letters from the businesses and was surprised they did not anticipate the behavior with so many college students coming to the events.
“Clearly lessons are to be learned here from everyone involved, but I truly hope it doesn’t affect the way that Miami University’s Greek system is looked at,” she said.
“My colleagues and I who participated in Greek life at Miami acted very similar to the actions in the letters and are now lawyers, doctors, business owners, work for the U.S. government,” Clark said. “I am confident most all of them who will spend their college years combining hard work and too many $1 drafts on a Tuesday night will be successful individuals in the real world. They will join the thousands and thousands before them who got too drunk at a formal.”
Changes to the system
Last year, Miami invited a review committee to study the university’s Greek system. With that report, Miami formed a group of alumni, faculty and students to make recommendations on how to improve Greek life.
“The feeling is there is a lot of things our Greek community does very well,” Jones said. “There are definitely some things that they can improve on.”
“They really focused on what does the Greek community need to do to get back to its core values system,” Jones said.
Hodge announced Miami will review its Greek system and implement the changes recommended to increase accountability.
The committee recommendations included developing visionary leaders, eradicating bystander behavior toward substance abuse and hazing, and promoting more interaction with Miami faculty.
Jones said the work has already been happening and discussions will continue this summer with students who are on campus.
Miami’s Cliff Alexander Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life and Leadership also will be involved.
“I think we all have to take the time to reflect and think about everything that has happened on campus, not only recently, but in the last couple years,” said April Robles, its director.
“When members join our organization, we all make a pledge or a vow to uphold certain standards or values,” she said. “So any time the actions are not a good reflection … it causes disarray.”
While Pi Beta Phi accepted its campus suspension, Alpha Xi Delta is appealing its two-year suspension. Proceedings in the case could take several weeks.
Fraternities and sororities can be suspended for as little as one semester and as much as five years.
Discipline is decided on an individual basis, said Susan Vaughn, director of ethics and student conflict resolution.
“It would be based on the nature of the offense, whether or not the organization has any prior disciplinary action … what the response has been from the organization based on the situation,” she said.
Organizations and individual students alike can face discipline.
“The accountability is the same,” she said. “Our code of conduct says we address the behavior of students and organizations whether they’re on or off campus.”