Almost 40 years ago, in April 1980, the California Mu chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon (SigEp) was a novelty on campus.
For almost 30 years, the fraternity ran smoothly, recruiting new members every year and showing what the organization stood for, until a hazing incident destroyed it all.
During a March 2009 ceremony in the high desert, a recruit was accidentally burned with gasoline, leaving him with second-degree burns on his arms, legs and chest.
Also, all the potential recruits were blindfolded and seated around a bonfire. A member of the fraternity poured gasoline onto the fire, so when the recruits removed their blindfolds, the fire would look dramatic.
University authorities did not find out about the hazing incident until May of that same year.
An investigation led to the suspension of nine students, 45 placed on disciplinary probation and another 20 were cleared of all infractions.
Ultimately, the episode resulted in the termination of the chapter at Cal Poly Pomona.
Now, 10 years later, the National Board of SigEp wants to return to campus.
For the past two years, the Office of Student Life and Cultural Centers (OSLCC) has worked with the fraternity to set policies and procedures for the return.
“In 2017, the National Board of Sigma Phi Epsilon expressed interest in returning to campus and for the last two years the Office of Student Life and Cultural Centers (OSLCC) has worked with them to launch the re-establishment of Sigma Phi Epsilon on campus,” said Ronnisha Holden, interim coordinator of Greek life and education.
Since the 2009 incident, the fraternity has tried to find new ways to avoid something like that happening again.
In August 2015, the fraternity introduced the Balanced Man Programs (BMP), a member education experience that converted all members into full members on their first day.
The BMP is a web and mobile-based application where each member creates a personalized profile where he can view his past, present and future challenges, new activities, contact his mentors and gain access to see how his brothers are doing in their progress.
SigEp New Chapter Development Director Benjamin Bowles said he believes that SigEp members should be given another chance to prove themselves.
“I firmly believe that we have the great opportunity here at Cal Poly Pomona to really implement a lot of our new initiatives to craft a different experience on campus and establish what a fraternity can be,” Bowles said.
SigEp Expansion and Senior Chapter Services Director Paul Andersen said he thinks that there needs to an understanding of changes introduced to the fraternity in order for the campus to be considered ready for the return of SigEp.
“We’re really intentional that we have that commitment, that our staff is ready for the return and [to] help it be successful and guide it in the direction that we want to go,” Andersen said. “SigEp has changed a lot over the years and we want all of our alumni committed to those changes and when those things come together that’s when we feel it’s right to return.”
Allison Nacario, a third-year apparel merchandising and management student, said she believes that bringing the fraternity back is inconsiderate because someone was badly wounded but she says she can see why CPP would bring it back after so long.
“I think starting with a bad name is bad and it’s still disrespectful for the man who got injured and his family that the fraternity is allowed back because there’s other organizations that can come to campus instead,” Nacario said. “However, they’re allowed back for a reason and I’m sure Cal Poly [Pomona] would not allow it unless all of the old members were graduated and the organization rebranded itself.”
Since January 2019, Andersen and Bowles have been working with the OSLCC to re-introduce SigEp back to the Greek and campus community and they said they hope to bring a positive experience for new members.
In fall 2019, SigEp will be able to register as an active and functioning student organization on campus and will also be able to recruit for the first time in a decade.
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