I need to preface this article with a disclaimer: I have been abroad for the past semester. I was not here when Sig Ep was put on suspension. I barely checked my Muhlenberg email so I don’t really know what is going on. But here is what I do know: Sigma Phi Epsilon has had a chapter on Muhlenberg College’s campus for years. Their brothers raise countless dollars for charities. Their brothers are active members of the Muhlenberg community, starring in plays, running clubs, helping out at campus events. Just as we all do. So when Sig Ep was put on suspension this past semester, I was shocked, simply because I think highly of my fellow Greek Community members.
I want to stress that I am not defending the actions of the particular brother or brothers who led to the fraternity’s suspension, but I am simply reminding everyone that while there were brothers who did something inexcusable, something I’m still not sure of what it was, the entire chapter is not at fault. What they are at fault for is creating an environment where a brother thought it was OK to act in this manner, whatever act he did. However, Muhlenberg is dealing with this. The fraternity has been suspended and their actions are being reviewed by a judicial committee, which is the proper course of action for the school to take.
A few days ago, The Morning Call released an article entitled “Muhlenberg College adding temporary dorm after banning frat from its campus house” (If you want to read the article, here it is.) The article goes on to insinuate that Muhlenberg’s new housing unit, The Courts, aptly named because of their position on the East Quad Basketball Courts, were built solely because Sig Ep got kicked out of their house. The brothers of Sig Ep would be living in South/Robertson Halls along with various other off and on-campus housing units. Being the generation of click-bait, many of my fellow Muhlenberg Students, including myself, wrote impassioned Facebook statuses and tweets about the injustice we felt was occurring without actually either reading the article or asking the school if this was really the case. How could our school, a school that prides itself on equality and feminism, punish innocent women and let a fraternity of rule breakers live in nice apartments? It wasn’t right.
This article and the rumor mill led me to believe that girls, some of whom could very well end up being my sorority sisters soon, and all of whom are fellow Muhlenberg community members, were being stuffed in trailers. The article led me to believe that my college didn’t care about these students. That just didn’t sit right with me. So I asked the Muhlenberg Community how they felt about The Courts. One of the actual residents of The Courts, Ali, Class of 2018, was quick to come to ORS’s defense.
She said that, as opposed to being forced into The Courts, “[ORS] asked me if I wanted to switch since I was on the waiting list for a single in East. They sent me the room dimensions and facts about the dorm and then told me to let them know. I'm actually really happy about it because my room is about twice the size it would have been and I'm paying a standard price for a single.” Ali went on to stress that while she’s closer to her friends, she still doesn’t “think it's right that they are letting Sig Ep still live in Robertson and South." However, she is happy with her decision and will remain in The Courts. She even sent me the letter ORS sent her about what amenities The Courts would have, and a laundry room that isn’t in a basement sounds like a dream come true. So maybe The Courts themselves aren’t bad, but I still felt like the housing situation wasn’t fair.
My friend Meghan agreed with me. Meghan was planning on living in South/Robertson for her senior year but ended up getting a single in Brown instead. I asked her why that was and she told me that, after Sig Ep’s housing was taken away, the brothers were “put back in the regular lottery which took all of the suites [in Roberton and South] away from seniors who hadn’t planned to live in on-campus housing." Meghan isn’t wrong, a large number of brothers will now be living in South and Robertson. People who were planning on living in MILE and other off-campus housing options had to scramble due to the influx of students. According to Meghan, “there were only 5 apartments in all of South/Rob that were not [occupied by Sig Ep brothers] and all the seniors ended up scrambling for singles or doubles anywhere they could get them which screwed over all the other grades." Once again, Meghan is not wrong that the housing lottery filled up quickly. But I felt like there was more to the story than Sig Ep’s house being closed. After all, my own sorority has only 18 people live in the house at the most. Surely there couldn’t be that many more brothers in Sig Ep. Did they really mess up the housing lottery that much?
At this point, it seemed to me that the only thing left to do was ask ORS themselves why all of this was happening. However, Aaron Bova, Senior Associate Director of Residential Services, beat me to it. Bova and I are friends on Facebook. He saw my original status and commented on it that he would like to talk about the situation at hand. So, I sent him an email with three questions, hoping he would answer so I could tell all of you about it. Bova responded within an hour, and the first thing he did was give me a timeline. According to Bova:
“When the last part of the lottery had to select Brown Hall this was not at all a surprise to us. This happens almost every year. Brown usually remains 10-15-percent upper-class women. Also, most of these women are not always happy to only have Brown as a selection, but it's a lottery and that is the reality of available housing for sophomores. This year as in past years most of them signed up on every waitlist to get out of Brown. Post lottery as we started to learn that the total incoming class size was going to be larger than expected we started to plan for where we would relocate the women in Brown Hall. Since only Prosser, Brown and Walz are for first-year students the only way to create space for a bigger class is to move women from Brown Hall. Also, classes coming in are usually 59-60-percent women. In past years when bigger classes came in (2009 for example) we had to move women to off-campus apartments or force women into the only space we had Benfer. As we moved into May and June it was obvious that retention was also higher than projected and past years. By the way, these things high retention and more people wanting to come to Muhlenberg are good things for you and me as an alum. It means Muhlenberg is gaining in reputation and your degree will be worth that much more. So we started planning for where we would move students to make the room for first-year students in Brown. Since retention was so high spaces were not opening in East or ML or elsewhere. So we discussed all possible scenarios and fully explored each of them. We looked at going off campus more but the options were not to our standards or available to the extent we needed. We then looked at modular housing options which brought us to the Courts. We looked at other schools like Muhlenberg that had used these types of options successfully. We also researched and tapped our in-house technical trades experts to make sure we could make this type of housing top quality and equal to or as nice as other housing on campus.”
This led to my questions:
Samantha Narciso: How did the Court's idea come into play? Was it in direct correlation with Sig Ep’s suspension or did it have more to do with the influx of female students?
Aaron Bova: I feel I answered the first part above in my background info. So the Sig Ep closing of the house really has a small impact in this situation but sure it played some part. 18 men were scheduled to live in Sig Ep this coming Fall. As it turns out technically only 15 were reabsorbed into the lottery since 3 were given the option to go off campus on their own. Our housing deficit was actually closer to 55-65 beds. So even without Sig Ep, we would have had to move women from Brown Hall. We covered the deficit by allowing 15 more late off-campus applicants to go off campus and 40 women in the Courts. So as you can see from those numbers we actually nearly covered the deficit created by Sig Ep just in the Off-Campus number increase. We will open this fall with 13 more people off campus than last year. Also just a correction it was not just an influx of female students it was men too. [On the note of Sig Ep filling up Robertson and South:] Only 3 suites went to groups who were originally suppose to live in the [Sig Ep] house. Any other suite that has Sig Ep men in them were men that were never slated to live in the house. Keep in mind the total brotherhood is far larger than 18 men. Also, there were 26 suites available this year which is 4 more suites than in 2014 and 2015 lottery. Robertson/South closed right around the senior lottery number that it has in past years with the exception of 2015 when it closed at the start of Juniors. The real reason that Robertson/South closes faster some years is more seniors pull sophomores or juniors in with them. That happened a ton this year.”
SN: What was the reasoning behind Sig Ep being placed in the regular housing lottery instead of immediately in the courts?
AB: Unfortunately I cannot go into a lot of details here since Judicial Hearings and sanctions are confidential. But let me say this we discussed at length if Sig Ep should be included in the lottery. My feeling is that they received the punishment through our formal judicial process. That process can remove lottery if it would choose to based on the issues that come up. In this case, it was a group being charged and they received the sanction that was appropriate. Keep in mind that many of the people slated to live in the house may have had nothing to do with the situation in Sig Ep or had just become new members. I believe you are a member of a greek organization yourself. Surely you have had sisters do things that may reflect poorly on the full group and as a member, all members are often punished for the acts of a few. In this case, I feel they were. If members had done something wrong in your house and you had just joined the organization do you think we should not have given you the opportunity to live in an apartment your senior year? Again I cannot go into details any further but I and others did not feel that punishing each individual member further was warranted in this case. Nor did we feel giving lottery numbers that were the priority should happen. Lastly, the courts were not even being discussed at the time Sig Ep was placed into the lottery. But let’s just say hypothetically they were. Sig Ep would only be taking up 15 of the 40 beds in the building and we would still need to move women in from Brown along with the men. Also, think about the logic of a fraternity house being closed and then the College essentially reopening it a couple hundred feet away in another building. Doesn't make sense.
SN: What would you like the Muhlenberg Community to know about how the college is proceeding with this new housing situation?
AB: We are proceeding with the best interest of our students in mind. We are working to make sure this temporary housing will meet or exceed other housing options that sophomore and juniors normally live in. We have no interest in hiding things from you as students. If you have questions ask us rather than taking to the internet. Don't believe the hype- the article in the Morning Call was wrong and sensational because that is what sells the paper/online stories. Do your homework, get the facts from the source before you get angry. Will the building look like the other buildings on campus? No. The other buildings on campus are beautiful historic architecture. This is a flat roof one story temporary housing. But the inside will have rooms as big as or bigger than ML rooms where many sophomores live, it will have central AC, it will have a full newly furnished lounge with kitchen, it will have laundry and its on the same floor no going to the basement, it will have a better ratio of showers and toilet stalls to students than ML. It will be directly next door to most of your friends in ML and East...and lastly, it will be at Muhlenberg a place that cares about you and has many people that care about you. OK, one last side note it is also one more building to find Pokemon in LOL..that was meant to be a joke..wow that has blown up on campus this summer.
With that, Bova added in a reminder that he and the rest of the Faculty and Staff at Muhlenberg College are always welcome to talk with us as students. I was really impressed with his email, and I feel better about the Courts in general. Bova is right: we need to sit down, get the facts, and not just ramble without knowing what we’re talking about. However, that isn’t to say that what Sig Ep did wasn’t wrong. It was. They deserve to be suspended and have action taken against them. That’s what’s happening. What is not happening is The Courts being caused by Sig Ep. Sure, they were a factor, but they weren’t the cause. That would be like saying Sarah Bedwell is the reason I’m living on Tilghman Street because she got the apartment I wanted in the Housing Lottery. It’s not fair.But on the same note, Muhlenberg students have every right to be angry at the school for not addressing the actual cause of Sig Ep’s suspension. Sig Ep has a huge influence on campus, and a lot of Muhlenberg students feel that the main issue with the Courts is that it’s not addressing the real problem: Sig Ep did something wrong and we still don’t know what it is. Nate, a member of the Class of 2018, said, “Regarding Muhlenberg's rhetoric when speaking of why Sig Ep got kicked out of their house, I find it troubling that they described Sig Ep’s actions as just ‘misbehaving’, because that language helps to propagate the ‘boys will be boys’ narrative. That narrative implies that men don't have to be held responsible for their actions….” And he’s absolutely right. There is no excuse for what that particular member of Sig Ep did. But I wasn’t there, and I don’t know what exactly happened, so I’m not going to write here what the rumors are saying. For all we know, Sig Ep got suspended because they were running an animal shelter in their basement and Muhlenberg doesn’t allow pets in their student housing. However, I do know what it is like to have an organization be suspended. My sorority has been suspended before, and from experience, the school usually releases the information once they have all the facts. Someone did something wrong at Sig Ep, just like someone did something wrong in my sorority. Once the investigation was finished, an email was sent out to the school saying what we did, and we received the punishment the school believed we should. So I think we’ll know before long what led to Sig Ep’s suspension. We may not get the full details, but the college will tell us if it concerns our safety and freedom at our school. But until then, it’s time to take a breath, douse the torches, give the pitchforks back to the farmers, and wait. Muhlenberg DOES have our best interests at heart, it just takes them a little bit longer to prove it.