Fraternities have been a part of Ohio State’s campus since the late 1800s, and in the more than 100 years since their establishment, nothing has ever caused the university to remove a frat from campus — not even death.

A Cycle of Sanctions

How repeatedly disciplined fraternities stay on campus

Kaylee Harter | Editor-in-Chief

Sam Raudins | Campus Editor

Delta Tau Delta house. Jack Westerheide | Former Managing Editor for Design

Joey Upshaw died in his Ohio State fraternity house in 2000 due to alcohol and drug ingestion. His death was ruled an accident by the coroner.

Upshaw was a fourth-year in industrial and systems engineering and a member of Delta Tau Delta, a chapter established in 1894 at Ohio State that has initiated 2,600 Ohio State students since its founding.

Following his death, the university put DTD on probation through June 30, 2001, requiring the fraternity to add a live-in resident adviser, remain incident-free, meet with the university’s Greek adviser and submit reports at the end of each quarter, according to a Sept. 19, 2000, Lantern article. If the fraternity was found in violation of Ohio State’s Code of Student Conduct, its status as a student organization would be revoked. 

“Unfortunately, the occurrences leading up to and surrounding Joe’s death made the event even more troublesome. It is apparent that the priorities of the Delta Tau Delta members and the culture within the … facility … need to change,” Bill Hall, then-interim vice president of student affairs, said in a September 19, 2000, Lantern article. 

Not even four months after the probationary period ended, two men — an Ohio State student and a Columbus State University student — were assaulted at a party at the chapter’s house and taken to the university’s medical center. 

The chapter’s charter — the official document drafted by a national fraternity to allow for the creation of a university chapter — was then revoked in 2002 by the fraternity’s national office and the organization’s alumni committee. Issues included members failing to adhere to minimum GPA requirements and comply with investigations, which resulted in the fraternity’s closure until it was eligible for recolonization in 2004. 

Proponents of the three-year suspension said it would allow the fraternity to start fresh and bring in new types of members. But DTD was placed on disciplinary probation for alcohol violations in April 2018 and hazing in June 2019. 

Repeated disciplinary sanctions like DTD’s are not unique among some Ohio State social fraternities. Despite repeated disciplinary histories, no fraternity has ever been forbidden from returning to campus, university spokesperson Dave Isaacs said.

“I think our goal would be that they do come back after whatever period is involved, but that they come back better and stronger,” Isaacs said.

According to university documents and Lantern archives, there have been at least 57 fraternity incidents that resulted in investigation or punishment over the past 20 years, not including the university’s 2017 blanket suspension of all 37 Interfraternity Council chapters.

There are likely more, as the university only provided The Lantern with documentation of the past seven years, and sanctions can sometimes fly under the radar from the public eye: There’s a seven-year gap in Lantern archives in which no sanctions, suspensions or investigations were reported. 

Despite the histories, Isaacs said fraternities and Greek life as a whole provide students with a positive experience. 

“Greek life can be very beneficial to students who wish to take part. There, they are founded on principles of philanthropy and good works. They provide connections. They provide a community. They provide a network of alumni that can be very helpful throughout their life,” Isaacs said.

Violations for organizations can range from issues involving alcohol to hazing to endangering behavior, which involves taking or threatening action that jeopardizes the safety, health or life of a person or causes fear of such action. 

Alcohol violations of the Code of Student Conduct are defined as “use, underage intoxication, production, distribution, sale, or possession of alcohol in a manner prohibited under law or applicable university policy or facility policy.”

The code defines hazing as “doing, requiring or encouraging any act, whether or not the act is voluntarily agreed upon, in conjunction with initiation or continued membership or participation in any group, that causes or creates a substantial risk of causing mental or physical harm or humiliation.” 

Examples include alcohol use, creation of excessive fatigue and paddling, punching or kicking in any form. The failure to intervene in or report such actions could result in violations under this section, as well.     

If the violations are severe enough, the university will suspend the chapter, meaning its registration as a student organization is revoked. 

However, some say suspending them can cause more problems if they continue to operate “underground.”

Although hazing has been at the forefront of the national conversation around fraternities after hazing-related deaths such as Colin Wiant at Ohio University in November 2018 and Penn State’s Timothy Piazza in February 2017, hazing is not the only dangerous behavior fraternities at Ohio State have been sanctioned for in the past. 

In November 2017, Ohio State halted all activity of its IFC chapters indefinitely after 11 fraternities were investigated for student conduct violations over the course of the semester, according to previous Lantern reporting. The next month, the university released a plan to lift the suspension, which required organizations to submit plans for recruitment and education about health and safety to be approved by the university and chapter advisers. The goal was to lift the suspensions in time for January recruitment.

Tau Kappa Epsilon house. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Former Managing Editor for Design

In December 2017, for example, Tau Kappa Epsilon was placed on disciplinary suspension for endangering behavior, alcohol and hazing, losing its status as a student organization. According to previous Lantern reporting, a student conduct investigation found that the fraternity allowed “conditions that create an environment ripe for druggings to occur to remain in place.” 

Kevin Kruger, president of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators — a national organization representing student affairs administrators in higher education — cited sexual misconduct and alcohol abuse, as well as toxic masculinity, as some of the cultural issues within Greek life. Kruger said that although these issues go beyond fraternities, it in no way “absolves us of the responsibility to try to make changes to protect the health and safety of our students.”

As you look at some of the challenges around Greek life, I think it’s important to look at more than just hazing because that hazing is one component of it,” Kruger said.

There are currently eight organizations that are suspended and six on probation. Four chapters are under investigation —  two of which were already on probation. 

Since 2000, DTD has faced sanctions for violating the Code of Student Conduct at least five times, with the most recent probation being issued June 2019 and ending in December 2019.

Jean Lloyd, brand communications manager with DTD’s national office, said in an email that the fraternity “believes in the education of youth and the inspiration of maturity,” and that Ohio State’s chapter has been nationally awarded. In the past 20 years, the chapter has been recognized as a top 20 DTD chapter five times, received the Hugh Shields Award for Chapter Excellence twice, and in 2018, received an award for outstanding chapter facility.

“We believe part of our proven education process is holding men accountable when they make mistakes,” Lloyd said. “Making mistakes and learning from those mistakes is fundamental to developing leadership. The results speak for themselves.”

No other chapter responded to requests for comment.

The Cycle

For example, Ohio State’s oldest fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, has been sanctioned at least seven times since 2001, but six of the seven have been in the past three years, according to Lantern archives and university disciplinary documentation. SAE has been on disciplinary probation since December 2018. 

In 2001, SAE’s charter was revoked, effective until December 2002, following violations of IFC  — the student governing body of social fraternities — and Women’s Panhellenic Association’s alcohol policy, which included hosting a party during rush season with alcohol present. SAE was eligible to return to campus during a probationary period beginning Jan. 5, 2003, until Jan. 4, 2004.

In 2014, SAE nationally dropped its nine-week pledge process — the time between receiving a bid to join and being initiated as a member of the fraternity — for the “True Gentleman Experience,” which condensed initiation into 96 hours, according to Lantern archives. A national spokesperson for SAE at the time said reports of deaths and hazing during the process were part of the decision. Months before, SAE had been called the “deadliest fraternity” in a Dec. 30, 2013, Bloomberg article. 

In September 2017, SAE received a cease-and-desist order from Ohio State’s Office of Student Life while it was being investigated for student conduct violations. By November, it was found in violation of endangering behavior, hazing and alcohol policies and was placed on disciplinary probation until December 2018, according to Sorority and Fraternity Life’s Greek judicial information. 

While on probation, SAE was found in violation of endangering behavior, alcohol, failure to comply with university or civil authority, and disorderly or disruptive conduct provisions in the Code of Student Conduct, according to judicial information. Its disciplinary probation was extended to December 2019 and it was punished with a gradual return of social privileges.

Sigma Alpha Epsilon house. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Former Managing Editor for Design

In March 2019, SAE failed to comply with one or more sanctions imposed by the student conduct office, which extended the organization’s disciplinary probation to May 3, 2020. While on probation, the frat had to hire a “trained and insured security service and third-party bartender for all events with alcohol,” was prohibited from hosting social events with alcohol until August 2020, and was limited to 10 events with alcohol during the fall 2019 semster with compliance documents, according to judicial information. 

That June, SAE violated alcohol rules, and in November, it violated alcohol rules again while failing to comply with sanctions. SAE was put under membership review by the national office and its disciplinary probation was extended to May 2023. No events with alcohol are permitted, and the frat can only hold five social events with alcohol in the fall. 

SAE is not the only Greek organization to repeatedly face sanctions from the university.

Zeta Beta Tau house. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Former Managing Editor for Design

Zeta Beta Tau was put on disciplinary probation in November 2017 through May 2019 for hazing, alcohol and endangering behavior. 

Soon after the probation was lifted, ZBT’s status as a student organization was revoked in October 2019 until August 2023 for endangering behavior, alcohol and failure to comply with university or civil authority.

Beta Theta Pi was placed on interim suspension in 2005 for hazing, according to Lantern archives. During interim suspension, the organization was not allowed to “participate in any recognized student organization activities, including intramurals, chapter social events or social events with other student organizations.” In 2012, Beta “closed” and could not return to campus until 2014 following a hazing allegation, a lack of transparency during the subsequent investigation and an “on-again, off-again cycle of unacceptable behavior,” according to Lantern archives. 

In October 2017, Beta was placed on disciplinary probation for about six months for hazing and alcohol violations, but in the following January, the fraternity was found in violation of endangering behavior and alcohol policies, extending its probation to December 2019. 

Beta is currently on disciplinary probation for violation of alcohol policies, “discouraging an individual’s proper participation in or use of a university conduct system,” and failure to comply with university or civil authority through May 9, 2021.

Beta Theta Pi house. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Former Managing Editor for Design

Operating Underground

Though suspensions are intended to curb dangerous and prohibited behavior, many chapters continue to operate underground.

Drew Fitch, president of Ohio State’s IFC and a third-year in finance, said this could be the reason some organizations don’t comply with their sanctions. 

“I think a cause of why a lot of sanctions — or maybe not a lot, but at least some sanctions — aren’t being followed is that organizations are seeing these groups that were previously fraternities here at Ohio State get removed from campus, and then continue to operate. Not as a fraternity because they lost their status, but just hosting these parties and then people from the community are still going to these events,” he said. 

Fitch said he estimates that six of eight currently suspended organizations continue to recruit new members and host events. 

Once chapters are no longer recognized as a student organization, the university has no jurisdiction over the group as an organization — only individuals, Isaacs said. 

The same issue over jurisdiction applies to the IFC, which Fitch said is problematic. Those who join underground organizations are never placed on a roster that is sent to the university or national organization, so it can be hard to keep track of who is participating. 

“Until something happens at that event, and there’s some type of police report or conduct report, there’s nothing we can really do because we don’t know those people,” he said. “We have to react to things with those organizations, which is just not in the best interest of the health and safety of our community.”

Kruger also said the danger of becoming more restrictive with Greek life is that organizations could completely disaffiliate from the university, creating more underground activity with no university influence. 

“I think it’s also exposed, sometimes, the conflict between the campus and what the campus goals are, and sometimes, some of the national fraternities and sororities themselves who may be engaged in behaviors that maybe don’t necessarily support the institution’s mission and goals and some of the terms of behaviors. That’s a bit of a tension point,” Kruger said. 

There are several different players when it comes to fraternity discipline, each with varying levels of power — sometimes making for a murky process. 

The Office of Student Life, which houses Sorority and Fraternity Life and the student conduct office, makes most of the decisions about Greek life at the university and is the major player when it comes to issuing sanctions, Jake Severyn, former IFC president who held the position before Fitch, said.  

Severyn said the IFC and student conduct office share incident reports with each other, but the partnership stops there. 

“I want the IFC to find some way to hold the fraternity accountable, as well kind of as a partnership process,” he said. “So you’re getting sanctions from the university, but your peers are holding you accountable. That’s what needs to happen in the future but doesn’t really happen now.”

National organizations typically require chapters to be recognized as registered student organizations and will revoke a chapter’s charter and close the chapter upon suspension by the university, Severyn said. 

But this isn’t always the case. Some national organizations will allow their chapter to keep its charter and continue to operate. 

Alpha Epsilon Pi house. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Former Managing Editor for Design

One such chapter at Ohio State is Alpha Epsilon Pi. AEPi was suspended in May 2018 for violations of hazing, alcohol, endangering behavior and failure to comply with one or more sanctions imposed under the code, but continues to operate under its national charter — its website refers to the organization as AEPi of Columbus. 

Chapters that keep their charters aren’t the only ones to continue to operate despite suspension — Sorority and Fraternity Life’s website openly acknowledges it.

“You should know that even after being suspended, some of these organizations continue to operate despite the action taken by the university,” the website states. “We encourage you to review an organization’s status before becoming involved with it, especially because sometimes an organization’s status is revoked due to serious concerns like hazing and other behavior that risks your health and safety.” 

However, Fitch said some students might not be aware of this when they join the organization, and some might even see a benefit in joining a suspended group. 

“It’s pretty much impossible for an organization that is following all IFC and university policy to sort of compete with that organization socially because that organization doesn’t have to follow any policy, any laws about responsible drinking or consumption or distribution,” Fitch said.

Returning to Campus

When a chapter’s suspension is up and the chapter has the chance to come back to campus, or “recolonize,” the student conduct office, national organization and IFC all play a role. 

“When we issue that sanction, there will be a series of steps that the organization must comply with in order to be eligible to return, and we work with them beginning before the end of that period so that they’re in position to succeed,” Isaacs said. “Because they are — fraternities and sororities — are part of national organizations, that’s who we’re working with to recolonize.”

Organizations often must complete educational programming before returning, according to the judicial information. 

Though IFC also must approve a chapter’s recolonization, Severyn said there’s a “gentleman’s agreement” to let any fraternity back. 

“Let’s say there’s specific, additional things that the IFC on that campus wants them to do as part of coming back. They absolutely enforce that, but we basically have to let them come back,” he said. 

Isaacs said these sanctions are often issued to try to institute a shift in the types of people and practices in the fraternity. 

“One of the things that, in some of these cases, needs to be addressed is a change in culture, and if we find that this was not an isolated decision, an isolated, inappropriate decision or a wrong choice, but that this is a more systemic issue, then it’s important in order to change the culture that they lose their status as a registered organization for a long enough period to turn over memberships and start anew,” Isaacs said. 

Fitch said that in the best-case scenario, newer organizations have an ingrained culture of wanting to be a “model chapter.” 

“With all of us being college students, there is a lot of turnover in these organizations and one culture that might have existed in a chapter can pretty much fade out in two to three years. So these, these are like constantly changing,” he said. 

However, he said in more problematic organizations, the shift will need to be more intentional, with “a lot of introspective thought.” 

“It’s likely going to take a group of most likely younger guys that are joining that are able to see these issues and identify where the flaws are in our organization,” he said. 

Although a chapter might be suspended with the hope of bringing in a new group of individuals, Kruger said fraternity alumni would still be around to influence the organizations, and he said suspension might not be enough. 

“If there’s not a real tangible penalty to engaging these behaviors that resulted in the suspension in the first place, what is the incentive for the national to really kind of get concerned about this if they think, ‘Four more years, we’ll come back again and recolonize with a new groups of students?’” Kruger said.

The Future of Fraternities

Kruger said because these organizations are so deeply entrenched in society, the solutions to issues often seen with fraternities nationwide — such as hazing, alcohol abuse, academic performance and sexual assault — are not simple, and he said he is troubled by the idea of simply suspending chapters. 

“If the solutions were easy, we would have come up with them 30 years ago,” Kruger said. “I mean, hazing, for example, has been around for hundreds and hundreds of years — it predates even college universities.”

But universities don’t often disband organizations that keep getting in trouble, Kruger said, and it has never happened at Ohio State. It might come down to balancing interests, he said. 

“There’s a lot of political pressure from the outside,” Kruger said. “Many state legislators are Greek themselves, alumni, donors, and so this is not — it’s no simple thing just to say, ‘You know what? Let’s just not do Greek life anymore,’ because you’re gonna have a lot of pushback from critical stakeholders outside the institution.”

Kruger said if the same level of scrutiny is directed toward Greek life in the next 10 years, organizations could see less involvement or elimination all together. 

However, Kruger said that while he is not willing to overlook negative consequences involved with some fraternities, Greek life is valuable to campuses and students and contributes to the overall university community. 

“If it’s a group that is really reinforcing academic performance, you can see that in those results from many of the groups,” he said. “They engage in community service or service learning, giving back to the community, which I think is also a very positive experience for students to engage in. And then lastly, the connection to alumni. I think the alumni of fraternities or sororities who are employed, create really powerful linkages back to their students.”

Kruger’s organization is working with colleges and universities nationwide to help better the presence of Greek life on campus, with goals such as creating more transparency and metrics around how the organizations are functioning for students and parents, deciding the role alumni will play and developing more effective training and education. 

“I think the solutions are gonna have to be about a partnership between campuses, the nationals and the students themselves and trying to get students to want to make this cultural change,” Kruger said. 

Fitch said he hopes the IFC can move toward rewarding good behavior rather than simply punishing bad behavior and that people in the community can hold underground organizations accountable when the university and IFC cannot. 

“If, as a community, people stop showing up to their events, then they would just not host them anymore, and they would pretty much die out within a semester or two because that’s the only reason they’re still operating is for that social aspect,” he said. “So it’s sort of on us as a community to actively discourage that by not attending their events.”

Fitch said it can be frustrating when the actions of certain groups overshadow the good work other organizations are doing and that he expects big changes for the better in the coming years as organizations “rewire” how they think about behavior. 

Kruger said Greek life on campuses offers many positive aspects, but the conversation around the culture is evolving following high-profile incidents nationwide.

“College presidents are much less likely now to sort of give second- or third-choice chances to organizations who are engaged in these kinds of activities,” Kruger said. “That story has changed. We have more public dialogue about: Is this worth it?