Tau Kappa Epsilon leaders are appealing a Student Judicial Services sanction leveled after a member of the fraternity sustained injuries three months ago in an apparent fall from their townhouse.
Of GW’s 12 fraternities, three including Tau Kappa Epsilon have been sanctioned by SJS and put on social probation since May. Being on social probation prevents Greek-letter groups from hosting registered parties.
In June, SJS charged Tau Kappa Epsilon with abuse under the Neglect of Vulnerable Adults Act, a D.C. criminal law. Tau Kappa Epsilon President Jordan Schwartz believes the sanction is too harsh, and the fraternity is appealing the University’s decision.
“The organization feels that it was treated unfairly by SJS,” Schwartz said. “There appears to be no basis for applying the law to this situation.”
Tau Kappa Epsilon’s appeal letter to the University sheds light on what may have happened to sophomore Ben Golden, the victim of the apparent fall. According to the document, Golden and another GW student were drinking on the evening of May 9. Golden and fell asleep on the roof of the fraternity’s 621 22nd St. residence, a three-story structure across from the Smith Center.
After watching Golden for several hours, his friends then left him on the roof, periodically checking on the Tau Kappa Epsilon member throughout the evening, according to the letter. Shortly after midnight on May 10, a passerby found Golden beside the townhouse on the ground.
The gathering was not a University event and Golden supplied his own alcohol, the letter stated. Schwartz said Golden, who spent a week in the hospital and suffered several broken bones, has taken responsibility for his actions.
Tara Woolfson, director of SJS, would not comment specifically on the Tau Kappa Epsilon situation but said that the University uses the Student Code of Conduct to determine the severity of a sanction. The code allows students to be charged under D.C. law, in accordance with University policy.
“When a Greek organization violates any of the University’s conduct policies, the Office of Student Judicial Services works closely with the national organization and the University’s Office of Greek Life to determine the appropriate educational sanctions, using the chapter’s current status and past history and the Code of Student Conduct as a guideline,” Woolfson wrote in an e-mail.
Tau Kappa Epsilon has hired a lawyer to aid in the group’s defense. Aryeh Portnoy, the attorney representing the fraternity, said the law that Tau Kappa Epsilon is being charged with was intended to apply to elderly citizens and the mentally ill who rely on daily care. D.C. officials have not charged fraternity members with a crime, although several Metropolitan Police officers investigated Golden’s fall.
Schwartz said it is unclear what penalties may result from SJS charging Tau Kappa Epsilon with the criminal law, as the charge is still being appealed.
“It is a very big stretch to suggest that the law was intended to impose criminal penalties upon people who fail to prevent a voluntarily intoxicated college student from injuring himself,” Portnoy said.
Inter-fraternity Council President David Upbin defended Tau Kappa Epsilon by questioning the application of the vulnerable adult law to this case.
“It’s pretty obscure, and it is telling that the city, who also investigated the incident, did not place charges on the fraternity but the University took a city law and charged this organization,” Upbin said.
Two other fraternities have also faced sanctions in recent months. Phi Kappa Psi’s sanction, which was meted out for an unregistered party, was repealed and referred to the IFC’s self-governance board. Kappa Sigma, which has also been sanctioned for damage to their 23rd Street townhouse, is appealing disciplinary action leveled against them.
Phi Kappa Psi President Michael Vogel said fraternities are under greater scrutiny than other organizations, and the recent string of sanctions are evidence of that.
“At the end of our appeals process, I believe that SJS acted fairly, in our case,” Vogel said. “SJS has a duty to enforce the rules of the campus, but unfortunately because Greek organizations have a negative connotation, they are watched even more closely.”
Tau Kappa Epsilon members said the scrutiny on their organization has been unfair. The fraternity was initially sanctioned with a nine-month social probation for a separate incident involving an unregistered party. Schwartz said that not only has the University not been fully compliant in releasing case file documents for the Golden sanction, but Phi Kappa Psi’s probation sanction was referred to the IFC, while his fraternity’s social probation charge was not.
IFC leaders said there is ambiguity in determining which cases are heard by SJS and which are referred to IFC for self-governance.
“I wish it was more clearly defined, but we are pleased with the progress that has been made over the last year in gaining self governance and its execution,” Upbin said.
SJS said only the most serious cases are not referred to IFC self-governance.
“Serious cases, such as those involving serious injury, hospitalizations, or violence are some examples of cases adjudicated by SJS,” Woolfson said.