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ECU fraternity committee takes on mission from chancellor

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ECU Chancellor Cecil Staton, right, talks to members of a task force put together to examine the Greek organizations on campus on August 8, 2018. (Molly Mathis/The Daily Reflector)

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By Michael Abramowitz
The Daily Reflector

Thursday, August 9, 2018

East Carolina University’s chancellor on Wednesday urged members of a special task force to look for ways to strengthen ECU’s sororities and fraternities.

Chancellor Cecil Staton formed the task force to examine national issues and assess the culture of Greek life at ECU, following a series of suspensions and closures of local chapters. 

“During my two years at ECU I have come to understand the importance of Greek life on this campus... an enormous positive impact on ECU for many, many decades” Staton said. “That is a wonderful thing and something we should celebrate, preserve and take care of.”

But Staton noted that headlines in Greenville and across the United States indicate that Greek life at ECU — and many other campuses — faces significant challenges.

“This past year our own campus community lost several organizations to suspensions — in some cases for years — because of activities that were judged by the national organizations to be in conflict with their missions ... and some may be lost for several years before they have the potential of coming back to our campus,” Staton said. “That is of great concern to me as chancellor.”

John Mountz, director of ECU Greek life and a member of Staton’s task force, said that 2,725 full-time ECU undergraduates —16 percent of the campus population — are members of the university’s 22 fraternities, 18 sororities and four leadership councils. Greek membership saw a 64 percent increase from spring 2013 to spring 2017, according to data shared at the meeting. 

Staton’s 16-member task force, composed of alumni, faculty, community leaders and students, was formed in July in the wake of suspensions and closures affecting five fraternities and one sorority. Five of the closures have come since January. Several resulted from drug-use, hazing and other violations of campus rules and the rules the national Greek organizations.

The series of closures began in May 2017, when Sigma Phi Epsilon shuttered its house at 505 E. Fifth St. for multiple hazing and risk management incidents, according to officials.

The Delta Chi fraternity closed its chapter indefinitely in January after an investigation that found actions by members constituted hazing and other violations of the fraternity’s policies, the university reported.

Tau Kappa Epsilon also closed its chapter in January through the conclusion of the fall 2021 semester. Neither the university nor the national organization provided details about the closure.

In February, Sigma Alpha Epsilon closed its local chapter for hazing and other policy violations, the university reported. The closure is for a period of four years.

Phi Kappa Tau closed its ECU chapter in May as a result of an investigation it conducted in collaboration with and support of the university. An April 11 police raid at the fraternity house at 409 Elizabeth St. prompted the investigation.

Law enforcement seized 2,500 bars of Xanax, arrested three members and cited another, officials reported at the time. Authorities also reported marijuana was being sold from the house.

The latest incident led to the July decision by Alpha Phi International to suspend operations of its chapter at ECU pending the outcome of an ongoing investigation by both Alpha Phi and the University. ECU officials and the sorority have yet to reveal the details of the incident. 

The task force will examine practices surrounding internal governance and accountability of Greek organizations, review recruitment and education of new organization members, assess policies and practices for social, educational and other activities engaged in by Greek organizations and review university governance and oversight of them.

Staton also asked the task force to look at Greek life on campuses across the country for common concerns and best practices and try to establish working relationships with those who also are working to improve Greek life on their campuses.

“I also want to make sure we’re telling the story of the wonderful things that Greek life is doing on our campus, and not let the negative things we have to deal with overshadow those wonderful things that our students are doing who step up to do philanthropy and make a difference in the community,” Staton said.

The 13-member task force will be co-chaired by ECU alumnus and trustee Bob Plybon of Greensboro and Kandie Smith, a Greenville City Council member and former national sorority president Megan Ayers, assistant secretary to the ECU Board of Trustees, will aid the members and serve as liaison to the chancellor.

“People from different backgrounds and positions in the community comprise this task force, so our first goal will be to come together, meet face to face and lay out the path we will take,” Smith said. “I’m a part of this community and I’m in a sorority myself, so I will try to gather information as fully, fairly and quickly as possible.”

Smith said it is a good idea to revisit and reexamine Greek life from time to time to make sure that policies and programs are effective at helping youth become successful through their membership in sororities and fraternities.

“One thing we’re going to have to find out is the role that adult sponsors and mentors play in the oversight and leadership of Greek organizations,” she said. “Everybody connected with them plays a key role in this situation. That’s why having this multi-faceted collection of (task force) members is so valuable. Their input will be excellent.”

Plybon agreed with Staton that it is serious when six fraternity and sorority suspensions occur in a year.

“There are very different circumstances (for) fraternities and sororities now than when I was involved in the ’70s, including social media and the l presence of national Greek organizations,” he said. “To a certain extent, the national organizations have tried to stay in touch with the individual campuses through social media and it’s much more transparent now.”

Plybon said the data the task force collects may show that issues of drinking and drug use may exist to an equal extent among general student populations.

“We want to find out if this is a Greek problem or a campuswide issue,” he said. “Certainly, hazing is a Greek issue, but other problems could have a much broader scope. We’re looking forward to digging in to the data that is being gathered at campuses across the country and getting a lot of input from the members of our own task force.

“I want to hear what the students have to say and what the police chief has to say,” Plybon said. “I think then we can come to some kind of consensus about what the data has to say and make some recommendations.”

As an active sorority alumnus, Smith said she understands the importance of looking at all sides of an issue, including the potential value of Greek life involvement for college students who choose membership.

“I see the benefits of the camaraderie aligned with  community service,” she said. “I think it gives people an opportunity to get involved with activities they would not otherwise have been involved with if they weren’t part of a fraternity or sorority.

“There’s some myths connected to them, and people don’t really know about the benefits that they can bring to a community,” Smith said. “I think there’s a way to make them better and still allow them to give to the community. ”

Staton asked the task force to return its findings and recommendations by Dec. 14.

Contact Michael Abramowitz at mabramowitz@reflector.com or 252-329-9507.

INFO BOX: 

ECU Chancellor Ceil Staton’s special task force to examine and assess the state of Greek life at East Carolina University is co-chaired by Bob Plybon of Greensboro and Kandie Smith of Greenville. Plybon, an ECU alumnus, is CEO of Plybon and Associates and an ECU trustee. Smith is a Greenville City Council member and immediate past president and social action chair of Delta Sigma Theta sorority. Other members are:

■ Megan Ayers, assistant secretary to the Board of Trustees

■ Jon Barnwell, chief of the ECU Police Department

■ Rhys Collins of Cary, an ECU student and president of the Interfraternity Council

■ Jeff Foster of Greenville, a Pitt County Superior Court judge and ECU Board of Visitors member

■ Katy Houser of Philadelphia, Pa., an ECU student and president of the Panhellenic Association

■ Kelly Joyner of Greenville, ECU alumna and local adviser to Alpha Delta Pi sorority

■ Carolina Juanico-Cela of Winston-Salem, an ECU student and president of the Multicultural Greek Council

■ Jordan Koonts of Raleigh, an ECU student and president of the Student Government Association

■ Vonta Leach of Fayetteville, an ECU alumnus, former ECU and NFL football player and Omega Psi Phi member

■ Fielding Miller of Raleigh, CEO of CAPTRUST, ECU alumnus and trustee

■ John Mountz, director of Greek life at ECU

■ Doug Schneider, ECU professor in the College of Business and faculty adviser to Alpha Delta Pi sorority

■ Catherine Staton, Chancellor Staton’s wife and Greek life advocate

■ KJ Staton of Greenville, ECU student and president of the National Panhellenic Council

 

 

 

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