Campus Council (CC) held a public meeting on Feb. 23. The meeting started with Jack Johanning ’17, chair of CC, outlining the process under which the Phi Omega Sigma (“Omega”) charter review was initiated.
According to Johanning, Heather Smith ’17, gender/sexual diversity representative of CC, had asked what was done relative to the Omega charter on Dec. 8. CC then learned that the suspension was lifted in October. There was concern expressed over the matter, which led to CC’s decision to look further into the matter throughout the semester.
“We never actually had a solid process in place for this,” said Johanning, referring to the power CC holds over the review process of charters and chartered organizations. “[Over} the past five weeks, we’ve been engaging with each other and with the campus community to create a strong review process that could be used in the future.”
The meeting looked at information presented to CC by Omega and other members of the campus community. Johanning clarified that a private wiki page had been established for members of Omega and CC to review any evidence, and that all evidence added to that page prior to Tuesday at noon was open to discussion. Any other documentation would have to be requested into evidence for a later CC meeting.
“This is an attempt to find more information and understand the organization, where they are now relative to where they were previously, making information clear to the public,” said Johanning.
One piece of evidence discussed was a video taken on the residential quad of alleged alumni leading a chant during the pledging process for new members of the Omega organization. Security and Protective Services (SPS) launched a full investigation, due to a request from Jess Ettell, director of student rights and responsibilities.
Ettell said that the investigation did not find enough information to charge current students for the chant evidenced in the video. “The group did disclose to us that they had alumni on campus, and alumni were participating in chanting things but none of them knew the chants and were actually confused by it,” she said. “The president of Omega shared with me that at that point they were at an impassive ‘let’s just get through with this’ […] because there were over 20 alumni present on campus,” she said.
Cole Buehler ’17, president of Omega, expressed sympathy with victims of the Dec. 12 incident, which led to the suspension of the fraternity by President Georgia Nugent in the fall of 2015. “I’ve said this numerous amount of times that we are very sympathetic towards anyone who is a victim of anything period [.…] Specifically in the comments of The Wooster Voice article, people are upset that I said it did not happen. What did not happen was the fraternity did not get together and say, ‘we’re going to buy roofies and drug people,’” he said.
However, Buehler did acknowledge that there was a party that weekend held over reading days. He also noted that the night “did seem weird […] something definitely did happen.” But Buehler claimed, “there were no sexual assaults that night.”
Smith questioned Buehler’s statement regarding sympathy toward victims who were drugged that night. “If that’s true, then why did you allow your alleged alumni to shout misogynistic and homophobic things in the middle of the quad? Do you associate yourselves with your alumni? Did you try to tell them not to do that? Why didn’t you stop them?”
When asked for clarification about what statements specifically were misogynistic or homophobic, Smith said, “They say ‘we hate those fucking queers.’”
“I don’t believe the word was ‘queers’,” said Buehler. “I don’t know the whole chant. I remember at the time thinking the word was ‘beers’ or something else […] I have not heard those chants during my four years of being here.”
However, Johanning maintained that the chant says “We hate those fucking queers” and offered to play the video for all those present at the meeting.
Buehler said it was difficult to stop the alumni from leading the offensive chant. “It’s hard to talk to someone who is four years older than you and in the exact same shoes I was, to tell them what to do and have authority over them,” he said. “I’m not saying I didn’t do the best I could.”
He said Omega later held a meeting with new members, explaining that those chants were unacceptable and never to be repeated.
Buehler made a statement focused on what changes the organization has implemented. “Last year the leadership was not to the standard that it should be in our organization. It was something that lacked and was a major problem with everything that happened,” he said. “The first action that I have decided to take becoming president was to step away from our house being next to the O.A.T.s.”
Buehler emphasized that one of Omega’s largest problems was living next to a group such as O.A.T. — an organization unsanctioned by the College — which led to any events happening within the general area being misconceived to be under the responsibility of the Omega organization. As a result, Omega members have since moved out of their house on Spink Street.
When asked about rumors that Omega has a new house on the corner of Washington and University, leadership of the fraternity, both Buehler and upcoming president Lewis Hibbs ’18, said these rumors were false, denying connections between the house and fraternity.
In addition, Omega has now found a new faculty advisor in Pamela Rose, director of the learning center. “This fraternity is made up of football and lacrosse kids for the majority of it, and she has individually seen all these kids before being our faculty advisor. So not only has she seen kids in the library walk by and ask about grades, but she is more on top of who the fraternity is and who is in it,” said Buehler.
Rose will be retiring at the end of the 2016-17 academic year. However, Buehler clarified that Omega has been working with her to create a potential list of faculty advisors for future years.
Buehler also detailed Omega’s efforts to commit to a service program either with the police or veterans because this was a field where members all had a passion for service.
Buehler also explained new implementations and updates of their constitution. He stressed that members of Omega had undergone Training for Intervention ProcedureS (T.I.P.S.) training, which was completed within one week of new members being initiated into the group, with the exception of one person who was not able to participate due to personal reasons.
A topic introduced to discussion, once the floor was opened for questions, was a letter penned by the Omega organization to CC, sent the night before this meeting was to be held.
“Your constitution states that you honor honesty and trust and cooperation. However, there is a preponderance of evidence that has been presented that you are most likely involved in or have some relationship with the drugging of students at the College in 2015,” said Smith. “In addition, the letter that you sent to CC last night did not display trust in the system or cooperation with the process thus far. How do you respond to that?”
Jordan Griffith ’19, at-large representative of CC, also questioned the letter. “So you have been party to this process throughout the creation of this process itself. We have respected your request to push the timeline back, while still balancing the interest of the student body in mind,” he said. “Can you explain why you thought it was appropriate, why it was the most effective way to send a letter casting doubt over the entire process to which you were a party to, the night before this event was going to take place?”
Hibbs responded that while trust is an important value to Omega, there has been a lack of transparency throughout this process with CC, which has broken down that trust.
“We’ve been left in the dark about several things, specifically about documents,” he said. “If we didn’t send that letter, [the documents] would have been discussed today, which were uploaded quite literally last night giving us no time to review the documents and have an answer for you.”
Johanning then repeated his statements from earlier in the meeting, in which he said documents that were put up prior to Tuesday were the only ones being discussed at that time.
Numerous members of the community that were present at the meeting, including Councilors Griffith and Smith, expressed concern at the lack of a public statement by Omega denouncing sexual assault.
“I’ve seen nothing from the Omegas disseminated to the entire student body saying ‘we condemn these actions, we take responsibility and we’re working hard to fix these. This is not a reflection of who we are; this is an isolated incident.’ I’ve seen nothing like that,” said Griffith.
Buehler explained that immediately following the suspension, Omega members were not allowed to meet, which contributed to the lack of a statement. Hibbs added that as Omega began to rebuild last semester, they instead chose to focus on moving forward and ensuring that such an incident would never happen again. He also stated that the Omegas will be making a public statement condemning these actions in the future.
While much of the meeting was centered on discussing evidence against Omega, there were voices from the crowd that pleaded members of CC to consider a different perspective.
“Even to this day, their house or wherever they are is the only place I feel comfortable drinking any alcohol because I trust them,” said Hannah Huston ’17. She expressed concern that members of Omega have had their “name just run into the ground” because their organization was the only one listed the night of the drugging incident on Dec. 12.
“Of course you would think, that they’re the only ones to blame if they’re the only ones being offered as someone who could do it,” she said.
The Omega leadership was worried for the future, specifically that their organization has the potential to permanently lose their charter. “I feel if this group would become unrecognized, we don’t want that to happen. And I don’t think other people would want that to happen, because look at the O.A.T.s. Do we want another fraternity like that? They have a terrible reputation. There’s no rules and regulations,” said Buehler.
When asked if his statement insinuated that if their charter was revoked, the Omega fraternity would be going underground, Hibbs said that they would follow protocol and disband, but “there are 22 members in our group. We can’t control what they do after [CC] break[s] us up.”