A letter from the University’s legal counsel threatened the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity with a potential lawsuit if the fraternity’s members do not curb their behavior, said Frank Ginocchio, assistant executive director of Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s field office.
As more information about the letter becomes available, discord persists between GW administrators and the fraternity, which remains unrecognized by the University.
Karen Warren, manager of Student Judicial Services, said administrators decided to send the letter last spring after the University Police Department received reports that a brick was thrown from the rooftop or a window of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon house at 2034 G Street.
“This was a red flag warning for us,” Warren said. “We need to protect the GW community and walkers-by.”
Warren said University administrators met following the incident and she began to create a chronology of GW’s history with the fraternity and its national organization. That chronology kept growing, Warren said.
“In the letter, we ask that they heed our requests to cease this behavior,” she said.
She said the letter also asks the national organization to intervene because all other attempts have failed to quell the chapter’s behavior.
The Sigma Alpha Epsilon house is owned by alumni of the organization and is considered private property that is not under GW’s jurisdiction, Ginocchio said.
“To my knowledge, (GW) has no case,” said Ginocchio, who is an attorney.
But Warren said the public nuisance charge is the last resort for universities that try to restrict the use of private property.
University administrators said they feel GW is justified in its complaints against Sigma Alpha Epsilon.
In 1997, the University received 21 police reports that cited Sigma Alpha Epsilon as the subject, Warren said. The reports accuse the chapter of committing various violations, including intoxication, fire, disorderly conduct, noise complaints, physical altercations and destruction of University property, she said.
She also said 31 charges were made the same year against individual former Sigma Alpha Epsilon members for a variety of violations including physical abuse, assault, alcohol and weapons violations, Warren said.
“The men who get into trouble individually also get into trouble as a group,” Warren said. “It’s no coincidence.”
Ginocchio said the fraternity’s national organization does not intervene unless the University reports the incidents to it, because he said it cannot possibly know about every violation committed by its 209 individual chapters.
“At times, they haven’t been the best citizens,” Ginocchio said. “But, we’ve gone to our local (alumni control board) and we’ve punished the individuals involved.”
Ginocchio said the national organization was as embarrassed as the University after a shirtless member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon posed for a photo chugging beer on the front page of The Washington Post’s Style section in the fall of 1996. The individual who was photographed was immediately expelled from the fraternity, he said.
GW administrators contend the fraternity’s national organization has not done enough to maintain high standards of behavior.
“Nothing is getting better and we’re concerned,” Warren said.
The University administrators and Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s national organization disagree about the reason the fraternity is no longer recognized by the University or GW’s Interfraternity Council.
In January 1994, Warren said the administration sent a letter that immediately suspended the fraternity because she said its members violated previous sanctions brought against it in October 1993.
Ginocchio said the national organization was willing to comply with the University suspension at first. However, he said the University’s regulations would prevent the chapter from accepting new members during its suspension. As a result, the organization decided not to register with the University, he said.
“We were afraid we would not make the mortgage payments on the house if we were not taking in new members,” Ginocchio said.
Tim Beresford, president of the GW chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, said the national organization always has wished to maintain better relations with the University. He said the national organization would appreciate if a University administrator contacted it about violations and concerns.
Ginocchio said the national organization had not been contacted by GW administrators for five months before it received the letter threatening the fraternity with legal action.
Warren said the fraternity still needs to redeem itself and she said the University stands by the sentiments in the letter from the general counsel’s office.
“Perhaps the time has come for the men of (Sigma Alpha Epsilon) to revisit their (“True Gentleman”) credo and take heed to the responsibility that brotherhood carries with it,” Warren said.
“Throughout history, all (members) try to carry out the virtues of our credo,” Beresford said. “We all carry copies in our wallets and there’s a plaque in our house.”