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Fraternity’s fall from grace

The PHOENIX investigates the events behind Sigma Pi’s suspension

Sigma Pi’s mannequin stands against an American flag in the account’s now-deleted Facebook profile photo. After a series of conduct issues led to the fraternity’s probation, the university’s discovery of the account resulted in a three-year suspension from Loyola. Photo from sound cloud.com.
Sigma Pi’s mannequin stands against an American flag in the account’s now-deleted Facebook profile photo. After a series of conduct issues led to the fraternity’s probation, the university’s discovery of the account resulted in a three-year suspension from Loyola. Photo from sound cloud.com.

The new academic year at Loyola University Chicago started with one fewer fraternity on campus.

Sigma Pi’s chapter at Loyola was suspended by the university for three years for hazing new members and engaging in inappropriate conduct, according to an official statement published on the website of the fraternity’s national chapter.

It was a crudely named, headless, legless Victoria’s Secret mannequin that ultimately got the fraternity’s chapter suspended from the university and revoked by the Grand Council of Sigma Pi Fraternity International.

The fraternity’s Loyola chapter, founded in 1962, was shut down after school administrators looked into an anonymous tip about the scantily clad mannequin.

Saleena Chatterc–t, as the mannequin was called, was the subject of a sexually themed Facebook profile the fraternity hosted. With more than 370 friends on Facebook, the mannequin was the central subject of numerous lewd pictures and posts.

“The thing[’s] sole existence was to degrade and make fun of women,” said Tim Love, Loyola’s assistant dean of students and director of the Office of Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution (OSCCR), adding that the Facebook profile included offensive photos and posts regarding sexual acts in relation to the mannequin.

Love added that Sigma Pi also used the mannequin to haze new members by forcing them to take photos with it and carry it around. Although several members of the fraternity denied that hazing had taken place, Love said that Sigma Pi members in leadership roles came forward during the investigation and admitted having such practices as part of new member initiation in the past.

“Those types of behaviors and the nature of the pictures that were taken I think constituted … demeaning conduct towards the members themselves,” Love said. “The fact that that was a requirement is not in alignment with what we would expect for an organization when it comes to the education of their new members and it’s not in alignment with Sigma Pi’s own values either.”

Loyola’s Director of Student Activities and Greek Affairs Angela Taylor said she believes Sigma Pi’s conduct was a poor representation of Greek life at Loyola.

“I think absolutely it’s offensive to women. I think it’s offensive to the whole community. I think it’s offensive overall,” she said. “I’m a sorority woman … I think it’s disappointing, but I think it can be a lesson to other organizations.”

Loyola’s Panhellenic Council, the governing body for sororities, had no influence on the decision to suspend Sigma Pi.

Junior Joseph Antonini, a member of Loyola’s Sigma Pi until its suspension, said the mannequin’s Facebook profile was created by a Sigma Pi brother around 2011, before Antonini was part of the fraternity.

The member who, according to Love, worked at Victoria’s Secret at the time, got hold of a mannequin and created the Facebook profile, which was deleted in 2014 when Loyola was notified of its existence.

“As you can imagine with 19- and 20-year-olds, there was a lot of vulgar stuff on there,” Antonini, a marketing major, said

referring to multiple posts showing and referencing sexual acts made to the mannequin.

The mannequin’s Facebook profile identified the fictional character as a member of Loyola’s Sigma Pi chapter and said that it “lived” at Sigma

Pi, even though there are no fraternity or sorority houses at Loyola. The mannequin was kept at various residences off campus, Antonini said.

Facebook friends on the profile included not only Sigma Pi members, but also sorority officers and former USGA members, according to Love.

Screen Shot 2014-09-17 at 9.11.08 AMThe mannequin’s profile photo showed it in front of an American flag, and the cover photo of its Facebook profile was what appeared to be zebras engaging in sexual activity.

Love showed photographic evidence depicting Sigma Pi members imitating sexual acts on the lingerie-dressed mannequin, such as groping and kissing its breasts. These photos could be found on the mannequin’s Facebook profile before it was deleted earlier this year.

Antonini said that while the profile was not created with harmful intentions, he sees how it was offensive.

“Kids just thought it was funny … men and women,” he said of the mannequin, adding that it was a “funny decoration.”

Love said that when the university brought the issue to the attention of Sigma Pi officers, the fraternity members were embarrassed and remorseful for having taken part in this type of activity.

In an email exchange between a member of Loyola’s Interfraternity Council and The PHOENIX, the member said students were asked to refrain from commenting on anything regarding Sigma Pi.

Matthew Brown, Sigma Pi’s president until the suspension, did not respond to The PHOENIX‘s inquiries.

Michael Ayalon, executive director of Sigma Pi Fraternity International, did not comment on the chapter’s suspension. In an email to The PHOENIX, he sent the fraternity’s official statement on the issue, which mentioned instances of hazing and misconduct, but not the mannequin.

Taylor noted that the suspension of fraternities and sororities is a rare occurrence at Loyola. The last suspension happened in 2012, when fraternity Alpha Delta Gamma was suspended for four years after being found guilty of selling and distributing alcohol to minors at a house party, The PHOENIX reported then.

When a fraternity is suspended by the university, it can no longer engage in any type of recruiting activity or social events. In other words, a suspended fraternity or sorority ceases to exist for the assigned suspension time.

Suspended fraternities and sororities can go through an appeal process to restore their chapters at the university.

Taylor said that Sigma Pi appealed the decision to suspend its chapter, but the original ruling was upheld.

“Sigma Pi will be eligible to petition to expand on campus, but their national organization would have to support that,” she said. “It’s like any other student organization.”

For Love, the situation with Sigma Pi could have been avoided had someone stepped in and stopped the Facebook profile.

“That didn’t happen,” Love said. “And it existed for years and was posted on and added to and became this thing with no redeeming quality to it.”

The assistant dean added that the profile had no purpose, and that it contained what he characterizes as hate speech toward women, including sexual acts and “demeaning, really gross stuff that just falls so outside of our value system.”

The suspension is not the first time Sigma Pi’s conduct came under the scrutiny of the university. Love said that Loyola had previously worked with the fraternity regarding issues of mistreatment of women. In January 2013, the fraternity was investigated by OSCCR and found guilty of hazing. As punishment, the fraternity had to hold an anti-hazing prevention workshop, do work for the National Hazing Prevention Week held that September and stop all new-member education.

In January 2014, Sigma Pi was put on probation after a fight almost broke out between a group of new members of the fraternity and a student who had dropped out of Sigma Pi. In that instance, the fraternity had to undergo anti-bullying and harassment programs, according to Love.

“It was stopped before it really got anywhere, but it was alarming,” he said. “[They were] yelling stuff and calling him names and had also sent him text messages … It was sort of a pattern that we considered to be bullying. And they acknowledged responsibility for it, and took responsibility for their actions.”

Sigma Pi’s suspension this year was especially difficult for Love, who was a member of the fraternity when he attended Loyola almost 15 years ago.

“It was a really hard thing to watch my own chapter be suspended from the university, but in this case I strongly support the decision of the [OSCCR],” he said.

He added that the fraternity’s conduct put the chapter officers in a hard situation.

“I want it to be known that the officers who were in charge at the time were really placed in a difficult situation by their members. Some of the officers were really quite outstanding guys,” Love said.

Love said the fraternity lost sight of its values when it supported the type of inappropriate conduct that ultimately got them kicked out.

“When an organization starts to rally around the wrong stuff and starts to think the wrong stuff is funny and starts to support each other as they’re doing harm in the community … then it gets all messed up,” Love said. “For a fraternity to lose sight of their values is a dangerous thing, because then it becomes sort of a gang — a group of people who are out there with letters on causing hurt. That’s not what I see as a fraternity and that’s not what fraternities say that they are,” he emphasized.

Alex Via, a Sigma Pi member, said the fraternity did not have any questionable rituals involving the mannequin during the initiation of new members. He added that Sigma Pi has been a good influence in his life.

“[Joining Sigma Pi] was definitely the best decision I’ve made in college,” he said. “The people I’ve met have all impacted my life in a positive way. Everyone there I would vouch for as being a great guy, so it’s unfortunate to be perceived so differently.”

Love said that everyone at Loyola is responsible for preventing these types of conduct.

“It shouldn’t be solely the university’s responsibility to prevent stuff like this from happening,” he said. “In a perfect world, if fraternities all lived out the values that they espoused and sororities did the same, a fraternity house would be the safest place on campus,” he said.

Loyola’s is the third Sigma Pi chapter in the U.S. to be suspended in the last three years. The other two suspensions took place in Indiana Tech in 2012 and Sacramento State University in 2013, according to the national Sigma Pi website.

About nine percent of Loyola’s male students are part of a fraternity, which means that around 900 of Loyola’s undergraduate men are involved in Greek life, according to U.S. News and World Report.