Western Kentucky University’s Sigma Nu fraternity chapter has been placed on interim suspension and faces an investigation by WKU’s Office of Student Conduct after it held activities the university said violated COVID-19 guidelines.
The alleged violations are discussed in email correspondence obtained by the Daily News through an open records request. One email said the fraternity chapter was notified about the interim suspension Sept. 2.
“The Dean of Student’s Office or the Office of Student Conduct has the authority to take appropriate, immediate action against a student organization that does not follow the health and safety guidelines,” Michael P. Crowe Jr., director of WKU’s student conduct office, wrote to chapter President Jacob Sanders at the time. “The actions reported posed a significant danger of imminent or serious health and physical harm to others at the university.”
Sigma Nu is also under investigation for purported alcohol policy violations promoting student misconduct, Crowe confirmed in emailed comments to the Daily News on Wednesday.
“Individuals and organizations that demonstrate a willful disregard for the health and safety of their peers, the WKU Community and the greater Bowling Green Community can be subject to disciplinary action. WKU has zero-tolerance for these kinds of actions,” Crowe wrote in comments forwarded by WKU spokesman Bob Skipper.
Student conduct records show the investigation was triggered by reported activities that took place Aug. 29 and “demonstrate a violation of the Healthy on the Hill; COVID-19 guidelines and provisions of the university and Student Code of Conduct.”
Timothy J. Braddick, director of fraternal operations for Sigma Nu fraternity, responded to the notification in a follow-up email to Andrew Rash, WKU’s coordinator of Greek Affairs.
“Obviously, I am disappointed at the apparent disregard for the President’s message regarding the size of gatherings,” Braddick wrote Sept. 3. “Given today’s environment and the efforts universities are taking to reinforce guidelines and best practices, it seems inexcusable that our chapter, or any chapter, would violate such guidance.”
In an emailed statement, Sigma Nu Fraternity issued the following statement:
"Sigma Nu Fraternity is aware of the recent activity at the chapter house of the Eta Rho Chapter of Sigma Nu Fraternity at Western Kentucky University that was allegedly not in compliance with the University’s COVID-19 guidelines. The Fraternity is currently investigating this matter and working to learn more from the University about any decision issued by the University’s conduct office. A further statement by the Fraternity, as may be appropriate, will be made after completing these necessary measures. Sigma Nu Fraternity expects collegiate members to be aware of and observant of COVID-19 related policies and expectations of their college or university."
During the investigation, Crowe wrote in his letter, the chapter is barred from any activities except chapter meetings and warned that “any incident(s) during the investigation period can lead to additional sanctions.”
The records also indicate Crowe prompted Sanders to arrange an immediate meeting with him, and follow-up emails show that the meeting was slated to take place Labor Day. The university remained open Labor Day consistent with changes to its academic calendar in light of the pandemic.
The alleged violation and the resulting investigation comes after WKU President Timothy Caboni met with campus sorority and fraternity representatives at the start of the semester to warn them about the potential penalties if they hold social gatherings larger than 10 people and don’t wear masks or social distance together.
In an interview with the Daily News last month, Caboni described the nature of his call with campus Greek life representatives as amicable but firm.
“I was also very clear if there are organizations that intentionally violate the policy – or individuals who don’t take this seriously – the university’s reaction will be severe and swift, and they won’t want to endure what those penalties are,” Caboni told the Daily News at the time.
Caboni said individual students who don’t honor this could be referred to WKU’s student conduct office or face harsher consequences.
“If there is an organization that is intentionally organizing functions off-campus with more than 10 people, I am absolutely within my power as university president to suspend them for a semester or a year,” Caboni said.
“We are not playing around with this virus or with the restart. Too many people have worked too hard for a handful of selfish individuals to lose this for us,” Caboni said.
– Follow education reporter Aaron Mudd on Twitter @BGDN_edbeat or visit bgdailynews.com.