ROANOKE — On Thursday, Virginia Tech released a report calling eight unrecognized fraternities a “significant threat … to student safety, well-being, and town-gown relationships.” A week later, one of those fraternities is set to host a reunion that features talks with high-level administrators and tours of campus.
It’s just one example of the complex situations that universities such as Tech face when regulating Greek life on campus.
Though the alumni members attending the reunion were Tech students in the 1970s, the present-day version of their fraternity Delta Kappa Epsilon operates off-campus as a rogue fraternity ineligible to be back in the school’s good standing until 2028.
The challenges Tech faces in maintaining its Greek system were reviewed over the course of the previous school year by a commission appointed by Tech Provost Cyril Clarke. He tasked the commission with reviewing and recognizing strengths and identify areas that needed improvement, according to a letter creating the commission.
Virginia Tech released its “Fraternity and Sorority Life Task Force Report” on Thursday; it had been given to the provost in May. The report outlines the university’s Greek culture and makes recommendations to improve it. The commission recommends taking action against troubled fraternities and sororities, improving transparency about issues Greek organizations have faced and increasing resources available to all groups, while recognizing those that haven’t faced behavioral issues.
“I’m proud Virginia Tech is being proactive and transparent about the benefits and challenges of fraternity and sorority life,” Frank Shushok, the commission’s chairman and senior associate vice president for Student Affairs, wrote in an email. “While many institutions have been forced to look inward as a result of a crisis, we’re clearly trying to take honest stock, harness the good, and look squarely where improvements can and should be made.”
Fraternity and sorority life is growing at Tech, and the report notes some benefits from membership. In 2009, there were 3,372 students participating in Greek life — in 2018, there were 5,005. Those members outperform the general student population’s grade-point average and first- to second-year retention rates are much higher for students in Greek life.
For Greek organizations that perform well, the report recommends an “opt-in” certification program by fall 2020. Certification would come from an annual review of chapter housing and educational training on a variety of topics.
Greek organizations do have several issues to work out, the report noted.
Members of fraternities and sororities accounted for 23% of total alcohol violations, despite being only 16% of the student population.
Tech has found nine fraternities or sororities responsible for hazing in the past five years.
One of the chief threats to Greek life culture, though, the report says, are unrecognized fraternities that continue to operate off-campus after being reprimanded by the university. Those fraternities lose recognition after being found guilty of violating university policy and are no longer allowed to meet on campus.
“The overall fraternity and sorority community at Virginia Tech experiences reputation erosion when the general public cannot distinguish between recognized and unrecognized fraternities, the latter often operating outside the bounds of generally agreed upon standards,” the report said.
By this fall, the report recommends a “comprehensive response and communication plan informing all students and their families about unrecognized fraternities and sororities, and their aliases, operating outside the bounds of university recognition.”
That includes a letter to all incoming students, postings on social media and in newsletters and a twice-annual advertisement in the Collegiate Times, a student newspaper. Scorecards for Greek organizations are already being given to students attending orientation at Tech that lay out recognized organizations’ cumulative GPAs, conduct status and the percentage of individuals involved in conduct hearings.
But eight fraternities aren’t on that scorecard, and the university is telling its students to stay away from them.
Those are: Alpha Epsilon Pi, Center Club (formerly Sigma Chi), Delta Kappa Epsilon, Kappa Sigma, Lambda Chi Alpha, Omega Alpha Kappa (formerly Kappa Delta Rho), Theta Delta Chi and Sigma Alpha Epsilon.
Delta Kappa Epsilon is the fraternity that is hosting the alumni reunion on campus next week.
That itinerary includes tours of Hokie sports facilities and the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. University administrators including Vice President for Advancement Charles Phlegar; founding managing director of Tech’s Northern Virginia Innovation Campus, Brandy Salmon; and Honors College Dean Paul Knox are also slated to give talks to the group.
The organization, though, in its present state has had “egregious and repeated violations of the Student Code of Conduct,” according to a university statement about unrecognized chapters. The fraternity, commonly called DEKE, was found responsible for policy violations in 2018 related to hazing, alcoholic beverages, interference with the student conduct process, and failure to observe rules and regulations.
Tech spokeswoman Tracy Vosburgh said that the university does not support current members of the fraternity participating in group events on campus. However, she said, alumni who want to come back are welcome in Blacksburg.
“Alumni in good standing are alumni in good standing,” Vosburgh said. “This is their home and they’re always welcome back on campus.”
The Roanoke Times had requested the task force report via the Virginia Freedom of Information Act last month. Earlier this week, a Tech official said the university needed more time to complete the request.
On Thursday, Tech posted the report on its website along with a news release titled “Study on fraternity, sorority culture offers opportunities for enhancing student experience.”