Fraternity members question suspension, criticize college conduct process policies

The Phi Sigma Xi house (pictured above) was allegedly the site for a party, which may result in the suspension of the fraternity. Members of the fraternity have challenged the administration’s suspension and their claims that the fraternity violated the code of conduct. (Malachy Dempsey/News Editor)

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly attributed information about the status of Phi Sigma Xi to Dean of Students and Director of the Center for Community Leonard Sancilio. Sancilio did not provide that information. Additionally, the article stated a student gave a statement while intoxicated that claimed he was encouraged by members of the Phi Sigma XI fraternity to drink while underage. He instead claimed that a member of the fraternity was present while he drank; the fraternity member he claimed he was with later said in a sworn deposition that he was not present on the night in question." 

The college put the Phi Sigma Xi (Phigs) fraternity on a five-year probation following a conduct process that determined the fraternity had violated college policies. The fraternity has the right to appeal the decision from the conduct board and the probation has therefore not been completely finalized.

The fraternity was previously suspended in March 2015 after the Geneseo Police Department investigated a party with underage drinking on the premises of the fraternity’s house, according to an article from the Livingston County News. Before the suspension, Phigs member 20-year-old Alex Davis overdosed in May 2014, according to the article. Some members of the fraternity feel the latest suspension was a punishment for past transgressions despite the fraternity’s reforms after it was reinstated in January 2017, according to fraternity president senior Mel Ackley.

"The Phi Sigma Xi Fraternity has . . . made massive changes over the last year since I joined. It is tough to see that the university could choose such a harsh punishment based on history that none of the current brothers contributed to,” Ackley said. “I guess the school administration could care less about a group of guys trying to make a positive impact on the community.”

Due to the incomplete nature of the conduct process, Associate Dean of Students for Fraternal Life and Off-Campus Services Wendi Kinney declined to comment for the article and Dean of Students and Director of the Center for Community Leonard Sancilio declined to comment on specific matters in the fraternity’s conduct process.

Political science major senior Patrick Vullo provided The Lamron with the defense the fraternity made to the conduct board.

The suspension revolves around events on Feb. 16, when an underage pledge to the fraternity allegedly drank alcohol and called the Geneseo Police Department, according to the fraternity’s defense at the conduct board. The student, who allegedly was administered a toxicology test revealing marijuana, alcohol and Adderall in his body, claimed that he was with members of the fraternity when he consumed the alcohol, the defense said. The fraternity denied this claim based on a sworn deposition to the Geneseo Police Department from one of the members this brother claimed to be with, who asserts he was not at the house that night.

The fraternity’s primary justification revolves around the fact that the student choice to participate in underage drinking without any influence from fraternity members, according to the fraternity’s the defense.

The underage student who drank made three separate statements to the Geneseo Police Department, according to the defense. The student gave the first statement after the police came while the student was still in a “manic state,” the second statement multiple days after the event while sober and the third statement, which was a written deposition under penalty of perjury, days after the event, the defense said. The fraternity argues that the student emphasized the independence of his decision to drink in the latter two statements, while in the one where the student was intoxicated he mentioned that a member of the fraternity was with him while he illegally consumed alcohol.

Regardless of the fraternity’s arguments, the conduct board decided that the fraternity would be suspended pending appeal. This decision has caused concern among members of the suspended fraternity, given the College Policy on Student Organization Affiliation, which sets certain procedures for organizations that the college ceases to recognize.

“Upon [losing recognition], students are prohibited from affiliating with any organization or group that has had its College recognition withdrawn,” the policy, states. “By affiliation is meant joining; rushing; pledging; accepting an offer of membership; residing in facilities that are owned, rented, or controlled by the group; or being involved in any activity that would normally be associated with being a member of the group.”

The policy has been challenged by some members of the fraternity on the basis that it violates the First Amendment clause that guarantees the freedom of assembly, according to applied mathematics major sophomore Matthew Cotroneo.

“The big issue I have is that this college has this affiliation policy on the books because I view it as a violation of First Amendment rights,” Cotroneo said. “They shouldn’t have this affiliation policy in place for anything.”

The policy was cleared with SUNY General Counsel when Geneseo created the affiliation policy in 2009, according to Sancilio. Sancilio feels that since Geneseo and a “handful” of other SUNY colleges have this policy as vetted by the Counsel, the policy is unlikely to violate the First Amendment.

The college also may have some difficulty dealing with the various measures of the policy, Sancilio said. Although it clearly would mandate that members of the no-longer-recognized organization should cease to meet as a group, hold parties as a group or wear their Greek letters as a group, the issue of the Phi Sigma Xi house is more “dicey,” according to Sancilio, because the house is located off-campus.