EMU fraternity worries sex assault review would be 'kangaroo court,' separates from school

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

One of two fraternities at Eastern Michigan University under review amid lawsuits stemming from sexual assault allegations is no longer associated with the school, officials announced Monday.

"Rather than participate in the University’s review of its policies and practices, and adhere to required protocols for affiliation with EMU, the local Alpha Sigma Phi (ASP) chapter informed EMU last week of its decision to disassociate from the University," EMU President James Smith said in an online statement. "Therefore, the fraternity is no longer a recognized EMU student organization."

However, officials with the fraternity's national group said they were willing to participate but the university failed to address member concerns about the process.

The Alpha Sigma Phi house near Eastern Michigan University on Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2021.

"Unfortunately, those questions were never answered, leading us to believe the University was making this process up on the fly, and the chapter was not going to participate in a kangaroo court where basic due process protections were not provided," said Gordy Heminger, president and CEO Alpha Sigma Phi, in an email.

"It appears that this organization review process was a ploy by the University to take attention away from the apparent failures of the Title IX office to support the survivors of sexual assault at Eastern Michigan."

Last month, facing pressure from students to ban two Greek life organizations following the allegations of sexual assaults on and near campus, the university started reviewing Alpha Sigma Phi and Delta Tau Delta to evaluate their future status on the Ypsilanti campus.

Both fraternities and EMU have faced lawsuits from 24 Jane and John Does alleging they were sexually assaulted in incidents dating back to 2016. The suits claim 19 of those reported incidents have connections to the two fraternities.

Delta Tau Delta also is under review but is participating, Smith said.

"Delta Tau Delta has complied with and participated in the review process to date," Smith said in his statement Monday. "We are moving forward vigorously and hope to have additional information to share on the status of the review in the next few weeks."

It was unclear how long a review would last.

"While we remain deeply concerned about their activities, ASP's decision to disassociate eliminates the University's ability to provide oversight and to directly intervene in its operations because ASP is no longer affiliated with the University," Smith said.

With their separation, the Alpha Sigma Phi chapter can no longer use the school's name, logo, gain student support for its recruitment events or borrow office space, meeting rooms, auditoriums as well as other university spaces, Smith said.

The chapter also no longer is eligible for university funding and cannot participate in student organization fairs, workshops, training sessions or on-campus fundraisers.

Smith added that the fraternity members "no longer elect to abide by University standards and guidelines for student groups. People who are concerned about ASP's operations should contact the national headquarters of Alpha Sigma Phi to voice those concerns or, if they observe illegal activity, contact 911."

Heminger rejected the characterization.

"The chapter still has to follow the law and our policies and guidelines, which quite frankly are a lot more stringent than the policies at Eastern Michigan," he told The Detroit News. "In fact, I would challenge the President of Eastern Michigan to have the University adopt our Health and Safety Guidelines for the entire study body, including every student organization."

Heminger shared an email Danny Miller, the group's senior director of prevention and accountability, sent to EMU on Oct. 3 explaining the decision to disassociate.

"We regret that we are forced to make this decision," Miller said. "However, the last 10 months have shown that the University has not supported our Chapter and has no intention to do so."

Among his claims, Miller said EMU launched the review to target the fraternity, forced members to contact Ypsilanti and not campus police when they faced vandalism or harassment, and this year issued an interim suspension for longer than allowed under the school code of conduct.

His email added that staffers "aim to scapegoat the fraternities for their own negligence in student adjudication, and sanction students (via the chapter) who were not even in college when the events occurred" cited in litigation.

Miller said the chapter "will continue to operate, recruit new members, conduct new member education, participate in service and philanthropy events (including our national partner, RAINN), and host brotherhood gatherings, albeit without the benefits of University recognition."

Early Tuesday, the university responded.

"The allegations made against the University by Alpha Sigma Phi (ASP) are just plain false," said Walter Kraft, EMU spokesman. "We have simply asked them to follow the practices and protocols that are required of every other fraternity and sorority, and student organization, on our campus.

"This is clearly an example of a group that is determined to operate independently without the appropriate oversight of the University into its practices. Unfortunately, this action is not a new approach for the fraternity. Alpha Sigma Phi similarly disassociated its University of Michigan chapter in 2019. We are well within our rights to review the actions of associated student groups, especially in order to maintain the safety of our campus community."

Several assaults detailed in lawsuits are tied to three former EMU students. One was Dustyn Durbin, a former Alpha Sigma Phi member accused in lawsuits of assaulting nine women and faces 13 sexual assault charges in Washtenaw County.

In his email to EMU last week, Miller said: "We immediately expelled the former member after learning of the incident. To date, Alpha Sigma Phi has done more than Eastern Michigan University to protect survivors and create a safer community."

Heminger said Monday: "To be very clear – Alpha Sigma Phi and the chapter support the survivors and believe anyone found responsible for committing sexual assault should be suspended from Eastern Michigan and go to prison.  And furthermore, the chapter is still expected to follow all of our Health and Safety Guidelines, Michigan law, and the students will still need to follow the Student Code of Conduct."

Meanwhile, Smith's update this week shared more details on initiatives announced last month to address sexual assaults on campus.

He said all students are required to complete mandatory online training before registering for winter semester courses. The training covers topics such as rights and protections of students under Title IX.

"This training is an important component of the University’s larger initiative to prevent sexual assault and relationship violence, and will therefore be required every year for all students," he said.

A survivors handbook and Faculty/Staff Title IX Resource Guide also are being completed, according to his update.