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Knox Anon , Sigma Chi

Sigma Chi Disbandment Attempts Become Relevant Again

During the 2020-21 school year, TKS formed a group comprised of Samuel Lisec, Sadie Cheney, Carlos Flores-Gaytan, Sarah Eitel, Lily Lauver, and myself (at the time a first-year volunteer writer). We spent the year doing a deep dive into Title IX on this campus. The piece below was written in spring of 2021.

Recently, the Knox chapter of Sigma Chi has been starting to build their ranks again, and Knox has forgotten the events of summer 2020. Thus, I felt like it was time for this piece to be finished and published.

The summer

By now, almost all students will be familiar with the events of the Summer of 2020. 

An Instagram account, dedicated to sharing the stories and experiences of people from Knox College who are sexual assault survivors, appeared under the name @anontestimonies. The account was managed by an anonymous owner, who received and posted anonymous submissions featuring the name of a person’s perpetrator and notes on their experience. 

These posts followed after other students and Knox alumni had come forward on a dedicated Facebook page about other members of campus who had committed acts of sexual assault.

These two pages implicated just about every facet of campus—from fraternities, to sports teams, to resident assistants. The majority of the posts on this Instagram account were directed at members of Knox’s Sigma Chi fraternity.

“It was either late in the spring or early in the summer that some women who had been harmed by some fraternity members from an earlier era came onto our chapter Facebook group and started speaking out about their experiences,” X said, a former member of Knox’s Sigma Chi chapter. 

“There was a lot of anger and frustration that was warranted. The idea of the working groups that we organized was to channel some of this anger and frustration into something hopefully that would be productive. The Instagram page came out at some point during that time.” 

The stories from the Facebook group were specifically about earlier members of the chapter whom current members said they had little to no knowledge of. However, the Instagram account shed light on stories about current members of the fraternity. This forced members of the fraternity to acknowledge that it was not just an issue of the past for their fraternity.

“We were astounded that members of this page shared more details of people we had known that they had decided to share with us in the course of our relationships with them. We were astounded to find out that it was insular to our fraternity and had touched every fraternity on this campus, sports teams, so far as the Resident Assistance teams and the Dare to Care Peer Educators. After a while, everyone was just camped on that page watching the horror as everything unfolded. We couldn’t keep our eyes off that page in a sick and grotesque way,” [X]

Knowledge of the acts of then-current members sparked an internal response chain in the fraternity. Perpetrators were removed. Some students believe that the initial truthful stories of campus members became muddled after the Instagram account gained traction and social clout. 

“The people who committed these did resign from the chapter, the ones who did not were forcibly removed. One of them decided to make this weird apology post on Instagram which received a lot of hate because it did seem really manipulative as a post. This is the thing that actually launched KnoxAnon, was to talk about him. Then it got blown out of proportion and there were some posts that were fabricated. In addition, there was definitely a race problem on it. A disproportionate amount of them were men of color. I’m not saying men of color did not do this, but it is easier, socially speaking, to come forward about a man of color than about a white man,” Y said, another former Sigma Chi member.

After this initial shock and removal of the indicted members, the chapter moved on to follow their internal justice system in response to the incidents. However, when the internal justice group moved to follow these guidelines, there were none to be found.

The Initial Internal Response

For Sigma Chi, the issue was presented to members originally through Facebook posts. The original belief of members was that the issue in their fraternity was with past members. However, when the Instagram account was created, and current members were outed as assailants, new members were informed through a town hall meeting.

“This launched a town hall to talk about these things and ongoing processes to address these things. During these processes, they let us know about these more recent things which were a little bit smaller in scale compared to the things that happened six or seven years ago, but were very shocking because they were not addressed at all and hadn’t been known to anyone. Generally, the vibe was, this was a long time ago, we are a very different organization now. Then throughout that process, someone let us know that there were people who were currently in the organization that had done these things that had just gone under the radar,” [Y]

Sigma Chi, as part of their organizational framework, has an internal justice group to hold other members accountable when issues arise. When they were first informed of a current member having a Title IX case, members of this group began to work through this process, only to find that no record of a process existed. With no overall policy to follow, they were at a standstill. 

“I don’t believe there is an overarching policy for what fraternities do so I can only speak to what I witnessed, and what I witnessed was no policy whatsoever. In my second term as a member I was chosen to join the internal justice group. That was the same term where one of our members committed an act of sexual assault and when it came time to figure out what the right course of action was, we learned there was no policy. There was no recommendation. There was no writing anywhere in our google drive or anything that talked about what to do in a situation like this,” [X]

While an internal justice system is a generally beneficial group for an organization to have, members have pointed to issues in this system. This places pressure on an already broken Title IX system that perpetuates larger problems.

“Greek life is largely made up of kids, effectively, and they are being asked to judge and deliver a sentence on people who are, when you really look at it fundamentally, their friends. That sort of thing is never going to work out. So the big idea is to offload that to Title IX. But Title IX has its own slew of problems, so when you look at the people we had who caused problems, a lot of them were also Title IX problems that Title IX failed to handle successfully,” [Y]

The issues with the internal justice system were perpetuated by the actions of Sigma Chi alumni who gave no instruction to future members on the subject of sexual assault. 

“Our relationship with our alumni has always been very bare bones and I think that this is evidence of that. I asked the senior members of the org what we had done in similar situations in the past, and nobody knew. I think in our naivety at the time we thought it meant that it hadn’t been a serious problem in our past, but we now know that there was and no one decided to write anything down,” [X]

There are disagreements internally between these actions being an active coverup from alumni and just being a product of the Title IX system’s issues.

“That’s one of the main things, I think in general I do believe that members who were here in the past were not actively trying to cover up things. I don’t think there was an attempt to purposefully delude people, but I think that they received largely one side of the story, and went largely on the recommendation of the Title IX office, and I think they were trying to just make everything “better” and slap a bandaid on the whole thing,” [Y]

Another member disagrees, saying that they knew what the consequences of their actions could be.

“I’m sure that people knew what was going on and they didn’t leave any information for future generations,” [X]

The Working Groups

The solution that Sigma Chi, in connection with Knox Young Democratic Socialists of America (Knox YDSA), created working groups to the address the issue of sexual assault in the fraternity. They were made up of alumni and women with a few active members of the fraternity. These groups had the aim to give advice to members to decide the future of the fraternity.

“The working group process, I had a lot of problems with the process actually, for one thing it felt kind of like an ambush. The composition of it, for each working group there were supposed to be two active members of Sig Chi. It felt very geared towards wanting us to dissolve. People definitely felt like they were being ambushed. The working groups were supposed to be suggestions for guidelines for the chapter. They were never supposed to be binding. In my working group I told them I was thinking about leaving, they then said that my leaving would not really do anything and encouraged me to stay and try to fix the problems,” [Y]

Although some members felt like the conversations were geared towards disbandment, the groups themselves and the recommendations they came out with were mixed. Alumni, members, and survivors all advocated for different things and there was no clear consensus.

“I think that everyone involved in the discussions had good intentions but I think that everyone had different ideas of what accountability was, what justice was. Which meant there was no common ground at all…Working group one which was the working group created explicitly by survivors for survivors wrote in their official recommendation I think a very passionate argument for abolition. I thought at the time that it would push people towards the side of abolition, but it looks like that didn’t happen,” [X]

The Disbandment

When it came time to decide, the fraternity members were split between dissolution and reform. However, the members were generally set on achieving some form of justice. The fraternity voted, and the vote to dissolve did not succeed.

“As far as how that translated into reality, I would say that there were a lot of us who thought about the ways we had failed people in the past, that we didn’t want to restart the cycle. I think that the advocates for reform were those who were not as involved. Namely the newer generation Sigma Chi members who were initiated last spring term, so they had been members for a month and a half before everything happened. They believed that they had not been stained by members of the past, they had grown as people through these conversations, they thought that with them, the sexual violence that had existed from the organizations beginning to the present day would end,” [X]

With no vote for disbandment, many members (including X) who voted to disband left the organization. Some, like Y, stayed in an effort to fix the issues presented over the summer. However, as time passed, members who stayed began to question their decision, and there were more discussions on disbandment.

The Second Disbandment

After the fraternity lost several members because of the failed vote to disband, the view of the institution changed, both by current members and the Knox community as a whole.

“Over the winter break, a lot of people’s minds changed. We realized that in a lot of ways we were no different than the people who came before us, and many more people thought that leaving would be for the best,” [Y]

Y created a letter to the Sigma Chi executive explaining why he believed that keeping the fraternity active on campus was wrong. He advocated for another vote to disband. Just under half of the remaining members signed the letter and it was sent to the executive members of the fraternity.

“This message I released to the chapter in hopes it would push them to dissolve because just under half the chapter had signed it. This vote was stalled, and then two weeks later when the letter was delivered to the national organization, they demanded that we be expelled from the organization. Chapter leadership managed to negotiate them down to a suspension. Which is effectively the same thing because none of us are really planning on coming back,” [Y]

The Now [2021]

Currently, the Sigma Chi house stands almost empty. There are only a handful of current members and the fraternity did not participate in recruitment this year. The future of the chapter is unsure, and the likelihood of the chapter reforming now feels unlikely. Some fear that a new cycle of members will enter the chapter and perpetuate earlier issues.

“I think that everyone who voted to reform the chapter is an intelligent, empathetic, caring person, even if I don’t agree with what their ideas are. I hear that this generation that has been tempered by what happened this summer will be held accountable, that they will do what they can, but I know that every space on a college campus is so impermanent and I’m afraid this generation will cycle through and we will be back where we started. I fear that. I think that it is a permanent and systemic problem,” [X]

Y now understands the issue of sexual assault in greek life as a systemic and overall problem not only contained to Sigma Chi or the fraternities.

“It is my opinion that all greek life is bad for this campus,” [Y]

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