The new Sigma Chi at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln doesn’t look much like the Sigma Chi you might have heard about.
The old Sigma Chi is the one that was suspended in 2009 after lawsuits and a police investigation exposed hazing and a booze-filled fraternity house. It was sanctioned again in 2012 and suspended indefinitely until it could prove to UNL administrators the problems were under control.
UNL administrators have agreed to allow Sigma Chi back into the Greek community starting in May. Members say that’s because they’ve become a new Sigma Chi — one that boasts a $2.6 million renovation to its house, an alcohol-free rush week and a pared-down membership focused on being leaders and good men.
“If you don’t want things to come back from the past, you have to fix them,” said chapter president Alex Moore. “We fixed them.”
In 2009, the fraternity was suspended after nine members faced misdemeanor offenses of hazing or procuring alcohol for minors. Police said fraternity members paddled pledges and forced them to drink vodka and Tabasco sauce until they vomited. One pledge reported being sexually assaulted by a stripper at an off-campus party, though no charges were filed. Two recruits sued over their pledge week hazing.
The suspension was briefly lifted but reinstated after members were ticketed in 2012 for procuring alcohol for minors at an off-campus party.
Sigma Chi’s reinstatement means it will be able to participate in university events. But the ban on freshmen living in the house will remain for the first year of reinstatement, said Juan Franco, vice chancellor for student affairs.
Franco said the goal when fraternities make mistakes is to work with them and solve the problems. He hopes Sigma Nu, another UNL fraternity that was suspended indefinitely for fire code violations and an apparent planned hazing, learns from what Sigma Chi has done.
“We want to make sure we do what we can to educate them to do things right, instead of taking the easy route and saying ‘You’re suspended forever,’” Franco said. “We do make sure they take it seriously and put into place some safeguards.”
Moore, a 21-year-old architecture major, joined Sigma Chi between the two suspensions because he wanted to be part of the chapter’s rebirth. He and other members got lots of training. Alumni and their new live-in adviser brought in speakers each week to the Vine Street house to talk about topics including alcohol and drug abuse, resume building and networking.
The goal has been to get Sigma Chi members to become better men, said J. Steve Davis, a 1967 alumnus who’s been involved in rebuilding the chapter and fundraising for the house renovations.
That involved letting go of some members, Davis said, and showing the ones who remained what it means to Davis and others to be Sigma Chi.
“Being suspended at that point in time really drove the guys to a point of insisting they be accountable to one another,” Davis said. “Now they realize they held Sigma Chi’s brand in their hands.”
They boosted community service and fundraising for local charities. Pledging is now an alcohol-free, eight week process that includes a solid education of the fraternity’s newly emphasized values. But the work hasn’t ended, said Jack Ehrke, the graduate assistant serving as the Sigma Chi in-house adviser.
All the fraternity’s members know they’re now being held to a higher standard. They discuss the future often, thinking about what sort of things that can do now that they’d be proud to see continuing 10 years down the line, he said.
“Nothing stops on May 1,” Ehrke said.”We have to continue growing.”