Fraternity president reflects on lost struggle for recognition, respect

Fred Wininger, president of GW’s former chapter of Sigma Chi, said he was disappointed with the hasty decision Sigma Chi’s international organization made in indefinitely suspending the chapter’s charter.

Our national made a mistake, he said.

Wininger led the chapter for nearly a year. The tough times for the chapter began in the summer of 1998, before Wininger’s tenure as president. In July 1998, Sigma Chi hosted a party during Colonial Inauguration, a violation of University rules. The fraternity received a one-year suspension from the University, a decision which meant the group could not take any pledges in the chapter or host social functions. The members were placed on show-cause probation with their international headquarters. President Patrick Macmanus stepped down from his post after the party.

I blame them (members of the fraternity) for the way they handled it, Wininger said of the chapter’s party and suspension.

To regain recognition, Sigma Chi had to make a presentation about why it deserved to return to campus to the Interfraternity Council – the campus governing body for fraternities. But in September 1999, Sigma Chi was temporarily prohibited from making the presentation after missing a Student Judicial Services deadline regarding a separate alcohol-related incident. The next week, when the fraternity was able to present to the IFC, members voted to encourage GW to recognize Sigma Chi.

In late September 1999, Wininger said the chapter was very excited to be able to participate in community and Greek events.

But on December 1, 1999, Wininger said a group of about 16 pledges kidnapped a brother and taped him up in Thurston Hall. Sigma Chi members then stopped the event when they were called to rescue the kidnapped brother and dealt with internal sanctions themselves. The chapter then faced University charges of hazing and disorderly conduct.

Sigma Chi pled in violation of disorderly conduct. A Greek-letter hearing board found Sigma Chi not in violation of hazing, said Martin Hicks, coordinator of Student Judicial Services. Hicks said GW was informed by Sigma Chi’s international organization that it was thinking of suspending the chapter’s charter. When the chapter was suspended, GW supported the international organization’s decision and in turn suspended the chapter, Hicks said.

But Wininger disagreed about the University’s chronology of events. He said GW was going to recommend suspension to the international organization based on the charge. He said the chapter realized the behavior was inappropriate and the brother who was kidnapped apologized for his actions in writing to SJS and its international organization

At no time was I hurt, physically or mentally, nor was I ever in fear of danger, Sigma Chi brother Amit Datwani wrote. I was with members of the pledge class who I trust sincerely and gave them permission to take me to the dormitory and tie me up.

A Sigma Chi alumnus and trustee of the international organization previously said the charter was suspended because of a series of complaints filed by GW over the years.

Wininger said he believes the continuous charges filed by the University were a result of GW’s desire to acquire Sigma Chi’s house. The property is owned by the Epsilon Housing Trust, which is run by local Sigma Chi alumni.

They charge us and charge us and charge us because they know it rattles the international organization, he said.

Hicks said SJS never thought about the property when determining violations and penalties.

(The claim) has no validity to it, Hicks said.

Wininger said the chapter had been working on invoking new fraternal ideals since it regained recognition in 1999. Brothers had obligations beyond pledging.

Hazing leads brothers to feel they put their dues into the fraternity and have no other obligations, he said.

But Wininger also said there are unrealistic rules to follow as a fraternity on campus and said there is no advantage to University recognition. He said he is concerned that GW is pitting fraternities against each other.

I worry about the future of fraternities on this campus, Wininger said.

He also said the international organization made its decision about the charter too quickly without listening to chapter brothers.

It depersonalized the chapter because they don’t see us, he said. They only see us on paper.

The Sigma Chi brothers currently living in the 2004 G St. property will remain in the building for an indefinite period of time. He said other GW fraternities are looking into leasing the house until Sigma Chi might return to campus. For now, there is no agreement with another fraternity, he said.

I want my guys to feel like they live there, Wininger said.

He doesn’t regret leading the fraternity through the last year.

I guess it’s been worth it, he said. The new initiates really know their stuff.

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