MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Surprise.
That’s one of the reactions to the news that four fraternities had initially declared their intentions to dissociate from West Virginia University.
Two of the fraternities, Alpha Sigma Phi and Phi Sigma Kappa, rescinded their dissociation letters following meetings with WVU President Gordon Gee. Two others, however, are still on track to sever ties with West Virginia University.
Those two — Sigma Chi and Kappa Alpha — had actually been reinstated by WVU after approval of their respective action plans ahead of the August 1 launch of the “Reaching the Summit” plan. The new plan offers universal changes like deferred rush; new guidelines on sexual assault, hazing, and racism; and adopts more stringent academic standards. Additionally, a committee came up with personalized suggestions for each plan eventually approved.
“The alumni leaders that I spoke to seem to be thinking that that was reasonable,” Matthew Richardson, WVU’s Director of the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, said Wednesday. “I was very caught off guard by this, but they certainly weren’t singled out. I don’t think that’s a fair statement.”
Kappa Alpha’s national headquarters issued a press statement Tuesday, suggesting they supported the actions of their local chapter in Morgantown and suggested fraternity men had been singled-out “with restrictions of rights and onerous requirements not applied to any other student organization or athletic team.”
“I guess I would be curious as to why they think that,” Richardson said. “Kappa Alpha went through the Reaching the Summit organizational review and action plan development just like everybody else. We certainly did not do comparitive analysis. We didn’t compare one chapter to another, and the review was blind.”
Richardson called the ‘blind’ aspect of committee hearings the most crucial part — no chapter’s name was revealed to the committee during the process.
Leaders from the national Interfraternity Council (IFC) and from the national chapters of the dissociated fraternities met with Gee Tuesday evening, but with very few details revealed.
Gee released the following statement: “While there is still much work to be done, we had an open and honest conversation. I believe we more clearly understand each other’s position, and we are hopeful that we can come to an agreeable resolution. Nevertheless, West Virginia University will not deviate from its goal to provide for the safety and welfare of its students. We are also dedicated to working with our student leaders who remain steadfast in their commitment to strengthen Fraternity and Sorority Life on our campus.”
Richardson said the vast majority of those involved with campus Greek life are ready to move on under the new more stringent standards.
“I think there is a minority of people who hold a minority belief, and I just think they are being more vocal than those who don’t hold it,” he said. “The rest of the students are ready to move forward and get on with their lives and build a community that is the model fraternity/sorority community in the country.”
He expressed disappointment as well, hoping that a campus-wide buy-in of “Reaching the Summit” could help light a path for institutions around the country facing difficult questions about the future of Greek organizations.
“I think Reaching the Summit is a great thing,” Richardson said. “I think other universities can use it as a tool. I would encourage them to take the document and make it their own. We eventually will have data that shows us the various initiatives worked or didn’t work, and we’ll share that too.”
To do that, Richardson is hopeful that Kappa Alpha and Sigma Chi rejoin the rest of the chapters that had been declared in good standing.
“We want all these groups to be a part of it, but if they don’t want to, we’re still going to continue with what we’re doing,” he said.
“We’re moving forward full steam ahead. We’re planning our big programs. We’re moving forward with where we’re at. And these organizations, I hope that they get the advice to come back and we can start this year off the way wanted to, and that’s with harmony.”