Unofficial fraternity colonizes off campus

Loyola Marymount University, News, The Los Angeles Loyolan

Originally published in the Los Angeles Loyolan. For original, please refer to: Unofficial fraternity colonizes off campus – Los Angeles Loyolan.

Photo Credit: Nick Mecham

A letter sent to the greater Greek community on Oct. 29 announced that a new chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE), the second-largest fraternity in the country, has colonized off campus at LMU. The letter was sent by senior accounting major Nick Mecham, the new chapter’s vice president.

The roster of SAE members sent to the Greek community by Mecham lists 33 active members, including ASLMU President Bryan Ruiz, who also serves as the chapter president of SAE. Ruiz, a senior marketing major, was one of the three original students who contacted the SAE national organization about forming a chapter at LMU, which he said led to his role as president.

Vice President for Men’s Recruitment for Greek Council Dane Vaughn, a junior entrepreneurship major, called Ruiz’s role as SAE president “very interesting,” and indicated that it might make any ASLMU collaboration with Greek Life and Greek Council awkward.

“He’s expected to represent the student body in a very diplomatic sense … and the actions of SAE haven’t exactly been diplomatic,” Vaughn said.

Dan Faill, the assistant director of Student Leadership and Development and Greek adviser at LMU, echoed Vaughn’s feelings, saying, “I am a little concerned that someone who’s supposed to voice the interest of the institution and the student body would not only join but become the president of an underground, unregistered group.”

Ruiz made clear that ASLMU was his priority in an interview with the Loyolan, also saying that he can perform both jobs because SAE is unrecognized by the University and is completely off campus.

“I think a lot of people, whether that’s leaders here on campus, students or administration, have a lot of off-campus involvements. And they do those well and keep those separate,” he said. “People have families and go home for God’s sake, and do a good job, … so I can confidently say [the roles can be separate].”

Alexandra Froehlich, ASLMU adviser and assistant director of Student Leadership and Development, said her expectation is that Ruiz’s work as ASLMU president will take precedence. “I will trust that [Ruiz] will not let his work for the undergraduate student body be affected by his commitments.”

However, Faill said that the real issue is Ruiz’s dual presidencies. “It’s the hearsay that you can’t serve in a leadership capacity of another student organization … and be president of ASLMU, for that whole conflict of interest,” he said.

Froehlich said, however, that she reviewed the bylaws and saw nothing specific about such a provision. The bylaws only dictate that the president must “administer ASLMU in a manner consistent with the best interests of the undergraduate student body and the University and be held accountable to the students for proper conduct.”

“All student leaders live complex lives,” Froehlich added. “What is critical is their ability to be self-aware and make congruent decisions with regards to the commitments in their lives.”

Requests for comment from Director of Student Leadership and Development Andrea Niemi about such a provision, as well as about SAE’s colonization in general, were not returned by the Loyolan’s print deadline.

Last Friday, a response to Mecham’s letter from the Greek community – signed by all 16 fraternity and sorority chapters on campus and Joe Dzida, the president of Greek Council and a senior marketing major – made clear that they oppose any sort of recognition for SAE.

Members of an SAE interest group attempted to gain University recognition as part of last spring’s expansion process. This process was first requested by the SAE interest group in Spring 2011, according to Mecham. However, according to Faill, the idea that the expansion was a direct result of the interest group’s request is “not the case at all.”

Despite being chosen as one of the six finalists allowed to present an information session on campus, SAE was not chosen to be colonized on campus; the two open spots instead went to Delta Sigma Phi and Phi Delta Theta.

Upon learning of that decision, according to Mecham, the members had a choice to make: either abandon SAE in favor of joining one of the new organizations, as recommended by Greek Life, or continue with colonization off campus with the national organization.

“It was [a] pretty quick [discussion],” Mecham said. “SAE was the only thing we wanted to do. After a year, it became something we really identified with.”

According to Faill, Greek Life first learned of plans to colonize off campus from SAE’s national organization in a letter from their Director of Expansion in mid-September. The letter said that “after careful consideration by our national extension committee and our Supreme Council, we have decided to move forward and recognize this group of students, formally starting a colony of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, comprised of men that attend [LMU].”

“This is not the first time that SAE specifically has [nationally] … ‘crashed campus,’” Faill said regarding the national organization’s pattern at other schools. “The fact that the University told them ‘no’ and they’re going to move forward is not uncommon for them.”

The colonization was met with some disquiet in the community, according to Faill. “A majority of chapter leaders have expressed their concern this happened in the first place,” Faill said. “They also feel it is disrespectful to the two organizations that were chosen for expansion.”

“We don’t think it’s fair or respectful to them for SAE to colonize and kind of steal their spotlight and … potential new members,” Vaughn agreed.

Mecham said that the members of SAE’s intentions were not to diminish any participation in the new organizations. However, in his letter, Mecham stated that “given the history of other off-campus organizations,” concern about SAE was “justified.”

One such off-campus organization is Kappa Sigma, a chapter colonized in 2007 that has unsuccessfully fought for University recognition ever since, including during last spring’s expansion process.

“We in Kappa Sigma support their decision to do what they want to do,” said Austin Wermers, a senior political science major and Kappa Sigma’s current chapter president. “I believe that SAE has just as much right as any other fraternity on campus to be on campus.”

The SAE saga bears more than a few similarities to Kappa Sigma’s first colonization, according to Faill. “Both groups were told ‘no’ from the LMU Greek Council and LMU administration. Both national organizations opted to disregard the University’s decision and move forward with their own process.” The letter sent from the Greek community last Friday mentioned Kappa Sigma as an example, expressly denying that organization recognition as well.

In summary, Vaughn said, “It’s very much the same story.”

However, Mecham said that a ban against the rushing of any first-semester freshmen, an LMU Greek Life policy Wermers said is not currently adhered to by Kappa Sigma, will be written into SAE’s bylaws and cannot be changed by future members.

For Mecham, the SAE experience has been worth any tumult or confusion. “It’s been a huge benefit to me and to every guy in it,” he said. “That’s why we stuck with it for so long.”

Ruiz summarized the colony’s decision to move off campus despite the University’s protestations by saying, “We completely respect the school’s decision, but at the end of the day, we’re a brotherhood, and we believe in each other.”

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