On Nov. 14, a student at West Virginia University died after being found unconscious and not breathing at the Kappa Sigma fraternity house two days earlier.
Fox News reports that WVU suspended all greek life activities, indefinitely, the day after the incident occurred. No timetable has been set for when those activities will resume.
Adding to the negative publicity surrounding the university’s greek community was an incident that occurred at its Sigma Chi fraternity house on Nov. 6. Police say 19 pledges were either arrested or issued a citation, after a street brawl broke out around 1:30 a.m. The members then told police they were part of a rival fraternity, and now face obstruction of justice charges, according to NBC.
Almost a week after the tragic death, greek life nationwide continues to face major scrutiny. However, it also gives those associated with K-State’s greek community the opportunity to review policies and to make sure greek life is as safe as possible.
Ben Hopper, director of the Office of Greek Affairs, confirmed that there are several policies set in place for greek organizations at K-State.
“We have a responsibility policy and anti-hazing policy that all chapters abide by and we have them educate their chapters about it,” Hopper said. “Those policies are in place to ensure the safety and responsibility of the members.”
According to the K-State Greek Affairs website, the hazing policy states “any instance of physical abuse, psychological abuse or improper obligations, requirements or improper activities for maintaining membership is forbidden.”
The website also includes a risk management policy which prohibits the possession of alcohol at any greek-sponsored event on campus, the purchase of alcohol through chapter funds or the sponsorship of any event at an alcohol distributor.
When asked how greek organizations can prevent these kinds of instances from happening, Hopper pointed to education as the primary resource.
“We are going to work on developing our student leaders into better men and women so that they can live out their organization’s values during alcoholic events,” Hopper said. “We are also working on educating our organizations about alcohol consumption so that they can make safe decisions.”
Hopper also pointed to a safety group called the Social Responsibility Committee, which also helps monitor social functions and ensures Greek Affair policies are being carried out.
“Every organization registers their social events with the SRC and from there the SRC does a pre-check of the social function to make sure the events are set up so that we know our policies are being carried out,” Hopper said.
From the chapter level, many greek leaders across the country are taking the time to educate their members about safety, reinforce current policies or develop new ones to make sure tragic events don’t happen at their chapter.
Justin Beyer, junior in marketing and president of K-State’s Alpha Kappa Lambda fraternity, said he believes that the prevention starts even before the members are offered a bid into the organization.
“The guys that we recruit know why we recruit them and when they pledge to our standards, they know what their expectations are,” Beyer said. “We are very careful about who we recruit.”
Andrew Moore, sophomore in wildlife conservation and risk management chair for K-State’s Beta Sigma Psi fraternity, described his job as one that eliminates risk.
“My most important job is to make sure we have policies that keep our members safe,” Moore said. “We have a (designated driver) system to make sure that people get home safe. We are a dry house and the fraternity cannot supply alcohol at any time. If we co-host a party with a wet house, we set up a guest list to make sure we know who’s coming and have wristband system to make sure underage people aren’t drinking.”
The West Virginia incident as previously reported by other news outlets
According to NBC News, West Virginia police were called to the Kappa Sigma fraternity house around midnight and found 18-year-old Nolan Burch from Williamsville, New York lying on the floor receiving CPR from another male. Burch was taken to Ruby Memorial Hospital, part of the West Virginia University Healthcare System, where he spent the better part of two days before he died.
WCHS-TV, a station serving the Charleston and Huntington areas of West Virginia, reported that Burch was a pledge at the fraternity and was majoring in pre-sports management.
According to Fox News, Morgantown Chief of Police Chief Ed Preston did confirm that alcohol was the reason behind the call to police, though officials are not sure whether or not alcohol caused Burch’s death.
Kappa Sigma released a statement regarding the incident on their website:
“We are distraught and saddened by the news about West Virginia University student Nolan Burch. Kappa Sigma is still investigating the circumstances surrounding the event. This proves difficult, as the operations of this chapter have been suspended since mid-October due to previous, unrelated violations of Kappa Sigma’s Code of Conduct.”