UTSA’s oldest fraternity survives off campus

For as long as UTSA has fostered an active social scene, Sigma Phi Epsilon has had a strong presence on as an organization on campus, until a suspension almost a year ago removed them from UTSA for violating anti-hazing rules.

Amidst a storm of rumors, Zachary Rodriguez, senior finance major and president of Sigma Phi Epsilon, sat down with the Paisano to discuss the fraternity’s removal from campus and how they’re coping with their three-year suspension. 

Founded in 1979, Sigma Phi Epsilon is UTSA’s oldest fraternity chapter. The “SigEps,” as they’re commonly called in the Greek community, built a brotherhood based on the cardinal principles of “virtue, diligence and brotherly love.”

As with any fraternity or sorority, Sigma Phi Epsilon must fulfill social, and philanthropic expectations. The national fraternity headquarters officially champions the cause for youth AIDS. San Antonio, however, lacks any major youth AIDS charitable organization, so the local chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon donates their time to the Boysville Orphanage. The brothers interact with children and help clean up the area surrounding the orphanage.

According to Rodriguez, Sigma Phi Epsilon is always looking to diversify their potential members and to remain flexible. He believes the ideal characteristics of a future brother include someone who exhibits “leadership experience, drive, and is eager to gain knowledge and make the most of their college experience.”

Rodriguez also believes that these characteristics make SigEps stand out from other fraternities on campus. “Every fraternity is similar, but it’s our members that set us apart,” he said.

The majority of fraternities and sororities require their recruits to undergo some sort of initiation ritual. When rituals cross the line between a test and mistreatment, it can be construed as hazing. Unfortunately for the SigEps, the hazing accusations brought against them have resulted in the removal of Sigma Phi Epsilon from campus for the next three years.

A publication on the UTSA Student Affairs website states that Sigma Phi Epsilon was found to have committed violations of: failure to report hazing, consumption of questionable liquids, partial nudity and burning of the skin.

“After everything we’ve been through with Student Judicial Affairs, I’m not going to say it wasn’t hazing- it was hazing,” said Rodriguez, who was present when the incident in question occurred. “The event was an accident, no pledges were involved, no alcohol was involved. It was just bad planning.”

While details of the incident cannot be shared in order to comply with Student Conduct and Community Standards, formerly known as Student Judicial Affairs, and to protect the privacy of the fraternity, Rodriguez made it clear that what happened was “hazing by definition but because of improper planning, someone was injured, and that was construed as hazing.”

Word of the event then came back to Student Conduct and Community Standards when a concerned parent called the school to determine what was going on. Associate Vice President and Dean of Student Life Kevin Price said of the event, “we were informed that a student had been injured during a fraternity ritual process.”

When the office of Student Conduct and Community Standards receives a complaint or allegation involving violation of the student code of conduct, they can then decide to either dismiss or investigate the case.

“There was ample evidence indicating that hazing may have taken place and that further investigation was necessary,” said Price, “if we have credible evidence that hazing may have occurred, we will investigate.”

On September 5, 2011, Sigma Phi Epsilon was temporarily suspended from campus until a full investigation could take place. According to Price, during an investigation, Student Conduct and Community Standards conducts an investigation by extensively interviewing witnesses.

Rodriguez eventually received an email before the 2011 Thanksgiving break notifying him of the fraternity’s four-year suspension. The SigEps appealed to the university for a shorter sentence and, as a result, their suspension was reduced to only three years.

When determining how severe a punishment might be, Price said Student Conduct and Community Standards takes into consideration the severity of the hazing, past history of conduct and how well the group responded to the problem.

Sigma Phi Epsilon first encountered trouble with the office of Student Conduct and Community Standards in 2008 but was allowed to remain on campus. Other UTSA Greek organizations that have been found to be in violation of hazing are Phi Mu in 2010, Gamma Delta in 2009 and Delta Sigma Phi in 2007.

When the brothers of Sigma Phi Epsilon were notified of their temporary removal from campus, they were in complete shock. “None of the alumni or the national headquarters thought the event was severe enough for suspension,” claimed Rodriguez.

“The national fraternity has seen much larger instances of hazing… we knew we would have consequences, but we didn’t expect suspension,” he added.

Because they are banned from campus, Sigma Phi Epsilon is not recognized as an official fraternity at UTSA, and because of regulations placed on them by Student Conduct and Community Standards, the SigEps cannot recruit members.

Instead, the brothers must identify themselves as members of a national organization. Rodriguez and the other SigEps still maintain a fraternal bond. They engage in other student activities such as studying together and going to football games- but not as an official fraternity.

After three years, when Sigma Phi Epsilon is allowed back on campus, the national fraternity will once again regain a presence at UTSA. Rodriguez is graduating and plans to help out as a member of fraternity alumni.

For now, the SigEps must be content with life as unofficial members of the Greek community.