A spate of UCSB sanctions on fraternities and sororities is throwing cold water on Greek party life, especially at chapter houses in Isla Vista.
Since early December, three fraternities in the teeming coastal community have lost their campus recognition and cannot apply for reinstatement for at least five years, university officials said. A fourth is under investigation, and a sorority has been ordered to cease all chapter activities, pending an inquiry.
“This was a particularly tough year,” said Gregory Rousso, president of the Inter-Fraternity Council, representing 11 of 40 Greek organizations at UCSB. “In some cases, it can be just a few members that sort of ruin it for everyone.”
UCSB officials declined to comment, except through the Office of Public Affairs with this statement: “UC Santa Barbara takes all allegations of behavior and policy violations very seriously, especially those that threaten student health and safety.”
Working with the university, the Isla Vista Foot Patrol (a substation of the county Sheriff’s Department) sees indications that Greek culture in the community of 15,000 people, most of them students, may be changing. In November, the department revived the post of “Greek liaison.” Since then, the Foot Patrol has sent 28 reports of fraternity and sorority misbehavior to the UCSB Office of Student Life.
There are 13 fraternities and 11 sororities with chapter houses in Isla Vista; some have satellite houses for juniors and seniors.
“Law enforcement ends up being the eyes and ears of Greek Affairs,” said Sheriff’s Deputy Kim Fryslie, the new liaison. “I think people were probably getting away with too many violations of UCSB policy and that became the norm or the standard. Now that everything is being more systematically relayed to Greek Affairs, word has gotten out, especially since several fraternities lost their charter. Words don’t mean much unless they’re backed up with enforcement.”
Campus investigations involving UCSB fraternities are conducted by members of the Registered Campus Organizations Conduct Board, based on reports from students, parents, faculty, staff, and community agencies.
Last fall, an alleged rape was reported at the Nu Alpha Kappa chapter house at 860 Fortuna Lane in Isla Vista, and the fraternity was ordered to suspend operations. On March 9, after an investigation, Nu Alpha Kappa lost its campus recognition because of “violations of UCSB policies, violations of its fall 2014 suspension, and for perpetuation of an unsafe environment for members and the Greek community,” Public Affairs said.
Executive boardmembers of Nu Alpha Kappa, one of the largest Latino-based fraternities on the West Coast, did not respond to a reporter’s emails last week. Nu Alpha Kappa joins Beta Theta Pi and Phi Sigma Kappa, which lost their campus recognition in December and February, respectively, after being shut down by their national organizations. All three fraternities had chapter houses in Isla Vista.
Beta Theta Pi was shut down amid reports of hazing that sent two pledges to the hospital because of excessive drinking. The reason for Phi Sigma Kappa’s shutdown has not been made public. In recent years, Fryslie said, the fraternity had generated numerous complaints for loud music in violation of county noise ordinances.
In addition, the UCSB chapter of Lambda Theta Alpha was suspended on March 16, pending an investigation, and must cease all chapter activities in the interim, Public Affairs said. Lamba Theta Alpha, billed as the first Latina sorority in the United States, does not have a chapter house in Isla Vista.
“We’re keeping everything confidential,” Lisandra Jocelyn Cachux, a Lamba Theta Alpha executive boardmember, said this week. “I don’t think any of us are giving out any information until the case is resolved.”
Meanwhile, the status of Sigma Chi Omega, the first multicultural fraternity at UCSB, remains uncertain. The 32-member fraternity is under investigation at UCSB. Fryslie said he had been asked by the UCSB Conduct Board to attend an upcoming hearing. On the night of January 24, he said, an alleged stranger got into an argument at the fraternity’s chapter house at 6703 Sueno Road in Isla Vista, threw a bottle through the window, and stabbed someone with a piece of glass.
There have been longstanding problems with loud music at Sigma Chi Omega’s parties, Fryslie added.
“They’re still having their parties and having alcohol,” he said. “Whoever is at the house partying will deny that they live there, or they’ll deny that it’s a fraternity house. They scurry away like they’re all frightened and nobody steps up and takes responsibility.”
Jason Ouyang, the fraternity president, said the stabbing on January 24 occurred after 2 a.m., shortly after he had left the premises.
“That conflict was completely unsolicited on our part,” he said. “Those people were never allowed on the property in the first place. They were trying to start trouble.”’
As for fraternity members scattering when law enforcement arrives, Ouyang said, “Right now, students are afraid to come up to the police and talk. They might be charged as minors in possession of alcohol, and that’s a very scary thing. Both sides need to be more open about how we should interact. On my part, what I can do is extend an invitation to Deputy Fryslie to have a conversation one-on-one and be friendly.”
Ouyang said he was confident Sigma Chi Omega would “get our message across” at the upcoming hearing because the January 24 incident was a “wild card.”
“What I’m going to emphasize is trying to maintain a positive interaction between the university and the organizations,” Ouyang said, “because if our fraternity is suspended and we can’t recruit new members, we can’t promote good behavior, which is what we’re trying to do. Instead of suspensions, there should be supervised interactions.”
The legal age for drinking in California is 21, but UCSB risk-management policy for fraternities and sororities goes one step further. It bans alcohol during social events at Greek chapter houses and satellite houses when more than 30 people are present, no matter what age they are. Such events must be “dry.”
When Fryslie first began as Greek liaison, he said, fraternity party hosts seemed to think they could violate this rule “with a wink and a nod.” They would tell him it was their right to drink.
“I’m not hearing that anymore,” Fryslie said. “There are some that were repeat offenders earlier in the year, and they have straightened out after getting into trouble.”
In an atmosphere of heightened scrutiny by the Foot Patrol and UCSB, even the word “party” can make fraternity leaders nervous. They prefer the term ‘social gathering.’ If they plan to serve alcohol at a big event, they can’t use a chapter house. They have to hold the party at a nightclub or restaurant that is licensed to serve alcohol. They may draw up a guest list and put wristbands on people who are 21 or older to identify who can legally drink. They won’t use fraternity funds to buy alcohol. They may designate several members, including the chapter president, to stay sober and take charge.
Ryan Stygar, president of the 90-member Zeta Beta Tau chapter, one of the fastest-growing fraternities at UCSB, said that he decommissioned a chapter house in December that was generating a lot of complaints in Isla Vista. There were people living in the house who were not fraternity members, making it hard to control their behavior, Stygar said. Two tenants were practicing at being deejays and blasting music at all hours, he said.
As a relatively new organization at UCSB, Stygar said, Zeta Beta Tau went overboard with parties, believing it could make a name for itself that way.
“There was kind of a culture that ‘We have to throw parties and be good hosts or our brand and our name will fall apart,’” he said. “The focus went too far on the social end of the spectrum. A fraternity is supposed to help you make a transition from boyhood to manhood in a four-year period, and it’s supposed to help train leaders. We said, ‘Let’s get back to that.’”
In that spirit, and to show their support for the Foot Patrol, 25 members of UCSB fraternities, including Zeta Beta Tau, have signed up to assist the agency on April 4 during Deltopia, serving as intermediaries between law enforcement officers and the public. Deltopia, an annual springtime street party in Isla Vista, ended badly last year amid tear gas and mob violence.
“We need to take this back to being a friendly community where people care,” Rousso, the Inter-Fraternity Council president, said. “We’ll still do all the positive things we’ve been doing, like philanthropy and public service. The positive will outweigh the occasional negatives that happened.”