One of Emory’s oldest sororities, Alpha Epsilon Phi (AEPhi), has lost its charter following an investigation regarding allegations of hazing that began mid-February. The sorority will not have the opportunity to return to campus until 2015.
The investigation began when a “University staff person observed what the Office of Student Conduct and the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life would consider hazing,” Director of Student Conduct Eric Hoffman wrote in an email to the Wheel
As soon as the allegations were made, AEPhi was immediately ordered to “cease and desist,” which Hoffman wrote is a type of probation period that forbids the sorority from holding all new member activities and social functions until the completion of the investigation.
During this period, the organization was still allowed to hold chapter meetings and service activities. After working with the Office of Sorority and Fraternity Life (OSFL), the group was also allowed to proceed with their annual fashion show fundraiser and previously planned parent’s weekend activities with some modifications, according to Goizueta Business School junior and President of AEPhi Annie Cheslin.
Both Hoffman and Cheslin wrote that the chapter did violate the terms of the cease and desist by holding an impermissible social event, which Hoffman noted was observed by Director of OSFL Buck Cooke as well as various house directors.
Cheslin, on behalf of AEPhi’s executive board and AEPhi’s national executive director Bonnie Wunsch, wrote in an email to the Wheel
that the sorority accepted responsibility for their actions on March 28.
During the investigation, the University did not provide the chapter or the national organization with specific details concerning which events and activities were in question until the investigation was completed on April 4, and the official sanctions were confirmed by the Office of Student Conduct on April 8, Cheslin wrote.
Members of AEPhi, the Office of Student Conduct and OSFL did not disclose the specific incidents of hazing that were being investigated and which the sorority ultimately lost their charter over.
“The organization had the right to appeal the severity of the sanction imposed and exercised that right under the Code,” Hoffman wrote.
The sorority’s appeal proposed sanctions that included but were not limited to a full membership review, anti-hazing educational programming within the chapter as well as among the Emory Greek life community in general and an extended period of social probation, Cheslin wrote.
Hoffman explained that the appeal was reviewed and considered by the University Appeals Board which consists of a faculty member, a staff member and an undergraduate student.
The board then made a recommendation to Senior Vice President and Dean for Campus Life John Ford, who made the final decision concerning the organization’s appeal and ultimate status.
Both Ford and the board, Hoffman wrote, believed that revoking AEPhi’s charter was appropriate based on the “nature, duration, pervasiveness and severity of the conduct.”
Though members of the sorority expected harsh punishment for their actions, Cheslin wrote that the actual outcome was unexpected.
“We assumed our sanctions would be severe but ... assumed closure would not be an option since we have no prior disciplinary issues,” she wrote.
The loss of the sorority’s campus recognition was an outcome of the University’s zero tolerance policy for hazing, Hoffman explained.
“Sufficient evidence was discovered that verified that the hazing in AEPhi was systematic and ongoing,” he wrote of the adminisration’s decision to remove the group from Emory. “The investigation also revealed that the hazing was pervasive throughout the chapter and the leadership, where dozens of individual members were actively engaged in it or knowledge acquiescing in it.”
Cheslin wrote that both Emory’s chapter as well as the national organization were against the administration’s final decision to remove AEPhi from campus.
“We believe this was a totally unfair response; this was the grounds for our appeal, supported by our national organization,” she wrote. “Nationals was not brought into the process at all and was unable to partner with the University on sanctioning.”
There was communication between the OSFL, the local chapter, advisors and the national office during the investigation, Hoffman wrote, but added that though the organization’s national office offered suggestions as to how to proceed with sanctioning, the Undergraduate Code of Conduct follows a policy independent of outside input.
Hazing, according to Cooke, is forbidden on campus not only because it is illegal in the state of Georgia, but also because it is “against the policies of all the sororities and fraternities on campus.”
“It taints what should be a positive, transformative experience, whether someone is physically injured or not,” he wrote. “Many students erroneously believe that hazing is something that happens to other groups or that their group will not be caught, but what I have communicated since my arrival is that any group that hazes puts their charter at Emory in jeopardy.”
The goal, he added, is not to make an example out of any particular group, but rather to hold offending organizations accountable for their actions.
Moving forward, Cheslin wrote that the executive board hopes AEPhi nationals will grant its current members alumni status. She said whether or not new members are given the same recognition is still to be determined.
The sorority’s removal, she added, will negatively impact the University because of the mark that AEPhi has made on the Emory community over its time on campus.
“We believe [the Greek and Emory communities] are losing a vital organization,” she wrote. “We are consistently ranked No. 1 academically among sororities and excelled in our philanthropic endeavors. We were one of the original sororities to come to campus over 50 years ago and have produced many leaders for the Emory community and our national organization. It is a shame to lose this legacy.”
AEPhi’s Emory chapter was founded in 1959, along with sororities Alpha Delta Pi and Kappa Alpha Theta.
Members of the organization will continue to reside in the sorority lodge until the end of the semester, but 11 Eagle Row has been opened up to current freshman as an option for sophomore housing next year.
Cooke wrote that OSFL will be working with the national leadership and local alumnae as the semester closes to plan AEPhi’s return to campus in 2015.
This will include planning for the local infrastructure that will be necessary to support the recolonization effort, he added.
“Our national organization has made a commitment to continue to help ensure cultural change on campus and will be in regular communication with OSFL over this time period,” Cheslin wrote of the group’s plans to return to Emory. “While we cannot do anything as a group or as AEPhi, we will make sure our behavior is above reproach.”
— Contact Alice Chen.