The recent death of a fraternity member led administration at California State University, Chico to suspend the school’s entire greek system until further evaluation earlier this month.
Chico State student Mason Sumnicht died while pledging Sigma Pi on Nov. 15 after an alcohol overdose on his 21st birthday. After Sumnicht’s death, Chico State President Paul Zingg held an assembly addressing the university’s greek system as a whole, announcing its suspension and reprimanding its members.
“You don’t deserve to die if you make a stupid choice,” Zingg said in a statement to the Chico Enterprise Record.
The current terms of the suspension extend to all social and philanthropy events, according to Chico State Coordinator of Student Life and Leadership Connie Huyck. Each chapter must also cover up or remove its letters from its chapter house. In addition, chapters may not participate in any organizational meeting within individual chapters or among greek organizations such as the Interfraternity Council or Panhellenic Council. The suspension is applicable to all social fraternity and sorority organizations, not including service fraternities or sororities or groups such as the Greek Honor Society.
This incident is only the most recent in a string of CSU policy violations by Chico State greek life, which is why the administration chose to punish the entire greek system, Huyck said.
“There was more than one organization that had violations or sanctions this last semester,” Huyck said. “It’s an opportunity for our greek community to take that time out and for the university to determine when and if greek life can continue at Chico State.”
Chico State greek life has somewhat of a history of similar instances — in 2005, student Matthew Carrington died as a result of fraternity hazing. At the time Zingg set in place a task force meant to enforce good behavior in the greek system.
“This had been an option back when I had initially talked to the greeks seven or eight years ago, because what I told them then is that there’s no second chance,” Zingg said.
Huyck said the Chico State community was surprised by the weight of these consequences, but greek organizations are now looking forward.
“I think a lot of students, faculty and staff were surprised by the sternness of the president’s message,” Huyck said. “Many of the organizations are trying to figure out how it is that they can come back on campus.”
It is likely that greek life will return to Chico State after evaluation, Huyck said. Though the method of evaluation is still being determined, it is clear that there will be more restrictions and different standards meant to prevent tragedies such as the deaths of Sumnicht and Carrington.
“My guess is that most of the organizations will in fact rise to those standards,” Huyck said.
The Chico State administration hopes to have a decision on the status of Greek life at the university by the time students return from winter break. Huyck said this is important because of the imminent spring recruitment.
“It’s a pretty big deal for our Panhellenic sororities,” Huyck said. “I think it’s really going to be determined by what the standards will be and how quickly the organizations will adhere to those standards.”
Cal Poly encountered a similar situation with Carson Starkey’s death because of alcohol poisoning in 2008, but handled it by disaffiliating one fraternity rather than suspending the entire greek system. This, according to Director of Student Life and Leadership Stephan Lamb, was due to the fact that Starkey’s death was an isolated incident rather than one in a string of violations.
“I think (Zingg), who commissioned the task force, must have said, ‘Look at all the work that we did, all of the efforts and messaging that we’ve made has not impacted the behavior,’” Lamb said. “Basically six years ago they had a very high-profile hazing death and supposedly the greek system was challenged to live by its values and to not be associated with alcohol to the extent that it had been, but then recently they had an alcohol related death.”
Lamb said in light of this event and of Starkey’s death, the Cal Poly greek system has shown an intention to stick to the values set for them by the university.
“We have expanded the number of staff, and I think that’s important so that we can manage the number of chapters that we have,” Lamb said. “I also think that the messaging that we’ve given to our student leadership would appear to be impactful and they appear to be engaged and understand the concerns that we have around alcohol.”