Scandal comes to close
Former SigEps reflect on ‘bittersweet’ end to incident
Published: Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 17, 2012 21:10
It was the question that launched a thousand reactions: “If you could rape someone, who would it be and why?”
UVM suspended the Sigma Phi Epsilon (SigEp) fraternity last December when this survey question surfaced among some members, triggering a media storm and protests by women’s rights activists.
Now, two former brothers are speaking out for the first time since the incident in response to UVM’s investigation results.
SigEp as an organization had not been found responsible for the survey, administrators stated in an email to the UVM community Sept. 20.
Former SigEp president Alex Haller, class of 2012, and senior Justin Adelman said this conclusion of the University’s investigation was bittersweet.
“We’re happy our names are cleared,” Adelman said. “We felt like we weren’t represented — like we were left in the desert with nowhere to go.”
Vice President of Student Life Tom Gustafson said he was prohibited by federal law to provide information on the individual student who was responsible, but said that the student was held accountable for his actions.
The entire process was completed in late April, Gustafson said, but the administration waited until this semester to come out with the results.
“We decided at that point we wouldn’t subject the students to any of that during finals,” he said.
Haller and Adelman said they understood the University’s rationale and were more concerned about the treatment they received from the national SigEp organization.
When the case gained international attention, Adelman said he felt his former chapter was abandoned by their national fraternity.
“The national organization was telling us not to speak out, but we felt it was for their benefit, not ours,” Adelman said.
In hindsight, Haller said he thought things could have been handled better if the brothers had been allowed to talk to the media.
“I wanted to form a press release right away,” he said. “Accept responsibility and set the record straight.”
Andrew Lemens, national director of SigEp’s fraternity operations, said the national organization responded quickly and responsibly, sending a representative over within 24 hours after the incident was reported, who coordinated directly with University officials.
There were ongoing issues that made shutting down the chapter necessary, Lemens said.
“The information from the investigation suggested there were a number of other issues with the SigEp experience that the brothers were giving,” he said. “An experience that did not align with Sigma Phi Epsilon’s values.”
Still, he said that it was the national organization’s intention to return to UVM, and that headquarters had already taken steps to ensure the house would be available when the time came for re-affiliation.
Adelman said that despite the positive contributions SigEp had made to the community — including 2010 UVM Greek Life Chapter of the Year and a $3,000 donation to the Ronald McDonald House — Greek Life tends to be denounced in the public eye.
“They look for us to mess up,” he said. “You never see a headline that says, ‘fraternity did community service’ – it’s always ‘frat suspended for rape survey.’”
Despite this, Haller said this incident brought awareness to the more serious issue of rape culture across college campuses.
“It’s so common with fraternities across the country,” Haller said. “Up here in Vermont, UVM Greek Life is much more focused on creating leaders — UVM Greek Life promotes good things, good ethics … we’re not the root of the problem.”