By Alex Mosher
In the spring of 2013, the University of Nevada, Reno chapter of Sigma Phi Epsilon allegedly attempted to create the “fake” club, the Nevada Sig Ep Club, through the Associated Students of the University of Nevada’s online club application. The club was not given recognition and when ASUN senator, Mac Higgins, asked for an appeal hearing to find out why, he was denied.
“Please be advised that ASUN will not recognize (Sigma Phi Epsilon) or an extension of the members of the fraternity as a club,” said Cynthia Esparza, assistant director of clubs and organizations, in an email back to Higgins. “ASUN Greek chapter recognition is granted per the yearly Greek relationship agreement.”
In 2012, President of Sigma Phi Epsilon, Topher Cuellar, chose not to sign the University-Greek relationship agreement for the first time since the agreement was created.
“Before I became president, I looked into, ‘Why are we getting in trouble? Why do we have to not have a party this weekend? Why do we have to do this, why do we have to do that, when we’re not doing anything wrong?’” Cuellar said.
The fraternity was repeatedly being charged by the Office of Student Conduct because underage individuals who were caught drinking alcohol, admitted to either drinking at Sigma Phi Epsilon, or were found to be a member of the fraternity, Cuellar said. The fraternity was punished as a whole for the individual crimes.
“As an organization, we don’t sponsor underage drinking,” Cuellar said. “Obviously that stuff does happen, but we didn’t sponsor that. Why would we get in trouble for that?
I don’t think that’s fair at all, and I don’t think any rational person would think that’s fair. But that’s what the relationship agreement does, it binds you. That’s the majority of the reason why I didn’t like it.”
Cuellar decided his fraternity would be able to continue functioning smoothly without signing the relationship agreement. Sigma Phi Epsilon continued operations as normal for a year. The fraternity held its annual United Blood Drive event on campus, participated in inter-fraternal intramural sports and even won chapter of the year.
Regardless, Cuellar agreed to sign the agreement during the last month of his presidency in order to be able to meet with Dennis Campbell, Greek life coordinator, and Jerry Marczynski, associate vice president of student life services, about the issues he had with the document.
However, Cuellar said Campbell and Marczynski did not hold up to their end of the deal and none of his recommendations were implemented by the time the new relationship agreement came out in December 2012.
It was time for the incoming president of Sigma Phi Epsilon, Jake Pereira, to decide whether or not he would sign the document for the upcoming year.
“I even told Jake, ‘You know what, it’s up to you,’” Cuellar said. “‘You can sign it if you want, you can not sign it if you want, but here’s what I understand of it and here’s what’s happened in the past year. This is what’s going on, you can make the decision.’ Because we did submit all those requests, because we didn’t get feedback and they weren’t working with us, Jake also opted not to sign it.”
Sigma Phi Epsilon was not permitted to continue operations as normal. When the fraternity tried to participate in inter-fraternal intramurals, they were turned away. In an attempt to hold an Alcohol and Drug Safety Awareness event on campus, the fraternity was told they could not use university facilities.
Christopher Gomez, ASUN clubs and organizations director, said Sigma Phi Epsilon’s club recognition had expired and the fraternity had not renewed it. When he received the application online for the Nevada Sig Ep Club, he was suspicious because it wasn’t the fraternity, but a pseudo club applying for recognition.
“What are you trying to do?” Gomez said. “Skirt around university rules and policies and regulation?”
Gomez decided to take up the application materials with his advisers in the ASUN center for student engagement.
Higgins said the fraternity did not originally attempt to renew their club recognition because members of the fraternity had been told Sig Ep would not be granted club recognition as long as the fraternity didn’t sign the relationship agreement.
Spenser Blank, a member of Sigma Phi Epsilon, said he was approached by ASUN Center for Student Engagement Director, Sandra Rodriguez, at this year’s annual clubs and organizations fair.
“She told me that we will never be able to form a club unless Sig Ep was recognized by the university,” Blank said.
Rodriguez said she never said that. She said the greek relationship agreement had nothing to do with ASUN denying the Nevada Sig Ep club club recognition, but it had everything to do with student conduct code violations.
According to Rodriguez, the club had listed women on its’ member list who had never been asked to join the club because the club knew they would not be protected from ASUN’s non-discrimination policy. Sororities and fraternities are exempt from non-discrimination policies under federal law (Title IX), but according to Rodriguez, the Nevada Sig Ep Club was not Sigma Phi Epsilon, but a club they had created, and therefore was not exempt.
Because the club lied on their member list, according to Rodriguez, the charges were brought up to the Office of Student Conduct, who then seized the club’s application documents, and ASUN denied the club recognition.
“(Sig Ep) has failed to operate in good faith,” Rodriguez said.
This is when Higgins asked for an appeal to find out why the club was denied. When he was denied an appeal, he filed a charge against Gomez. Higgins lost the case on the grounds that the case was out of the jurisdiction of ASUN, but in the hands of the university administration due to the student conduct violations.
But Cuellar, who had spearheaded the movement to create the Nevada Sig Ep Club, said he never submitted an online application, and he doesn’t believe anyone else in Sigma Phi Epsilon did.
When ASUN online club applications are submitted, the information is downloaded and automatically inputted into a spreadsheet to be recorded. ASUN presented Nevada Sig Ep Club’s data in the spreadsheet as proof that the club submitted an online application.
However, Cuellar still denies ever submitting an official application. He said he submitted a rough draft of his application materials to then club commissioner, Rachel Olbur’s, personal email. He said he asked her to look over the materials for him before submitting them for official review. According to Cuellar, these were the materials that were taken as his legitimate club application.
“Bottom line is: I never officially turned in the application,” Cuellar said. “To turn in an application to be a club in ASUN, you have to go through their website. Otherwise, why would there be a website if you can just send an email and apply to be a club?
Cuellar said the women he had included on the interest list sent to Olbur were women who he knew supported Sigma Phi Epsilon. He said he hadn’t asked them to join the club yet because the official member interest list was not to be reviewed until the club’s hearing.
“What I sent in was taken out of context as being a real formal document. I personally think that they know exactly that that was supposed to be just a check in, not an official registration. But that’s the card that they’re playing, that this was an official application to become a club.”
Regardless of whether there was an official application sent in by the Nevada Sig Ep Club or not, Sigma Phi Epsilon continues to remain separate from the university. Sigma Phi Epsilon will have to decide if they will be signing the 2014 relationship agreement by Dec. 31.
However, Carol Millie, assistant dean of student conduct, said the fraternity might not be able to sign the agreement this year if they choose to do so, because of pending student conduct charges from fall 2012.
“There was a series of alcohol violations within their chapter,” Millie said. “That’s what needs to be resolved (because) that was a violation of the relationship agreement they were under at that time.”
Millie said the office of student conduct always makes an effort to fairly judge whether or not an individual charge is related to an organization or not.
“Just because Carol Millie is Sig Ep, and I’m at an off-campus house party and I get an M.I.C. (Minor in Consumption), doesn’t mean Sig Ep’s in trouble,” Millie said. “I’m accountable for it. Now if Sig Ep is hosting that off-campus party, and it’s their party and people are getting cited, then the organization is responsible.”
Cuellar said this rule leads to a slippery slope, because anyone can claim they were drinking at Sigma Phi Epsilon since the university doesn’t confirm these claims. Although there is a guest list for each Sigma Phi Epsilon party, the office of student conduct cannot release the names of those who were cited and stated to have been drinking at Sigma Phi Epsilon.
“If I got an M.I.C., I could say Sigma Nu is having a party, and they can get in trouble,” Cuellar said. “Where’s the oversight of this?”
Alex Mosher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.