CORONAVIRUS

University of Iowa fraternity investigated for party during coronavirus pandemic

Alleged 'social event' included 30 to 50 people

A sign in support of University of Iowa health care workers is seen in front of the Old Capitol Museum in Iowa City on F
A sign in support of University of Iowa health care workers is seen in front of the Old Capitol Museum in Iowa City on Friday, April 3, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — A fraternity at the University of Iowa is being investigated for holding a party involving 30 to 50 people in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, potentially violating campus policies and a gubernatorial emergency order against large gatherings.

“Due to the impact on the health and safety of community members, and in consultation with the Sigma Chi Executive Office, effective immediately, I am suspending the operations and activities (both in person and virtual) of the Alpha Eta Chapter of Sigma Chi Fraternity pending the outcome of the investigation,” UI Assistant Dean and Director of Student Accountability Angela Ibrahim-Olin wrote April 1 to the local Sigma Chi Fraternity chapter.

The letter, obtained under a public records request from The Gazette, gives few specifics about the possible violation but indicates Sigma Chi on March 28 is accused of hosting an “unregistered social event” that included 30 to 50 people, “potentially in violation of university and State of Iowa expectations to limit gatherings to ten or fewer people in response to concerns about COVID-19.”

The letter indicates UI administrators are investigating whether the chapter violated four rules — including serving alcohol to minors in the fraternity; failing to comply with a university directive; and “other violative conduct.”

Such conduct could include organization-sponsored events that “seriously threatened any educational process or other legitimate function of the university or the health or safety of any member of the academic community.”

On March 17, Gov. Kim Reynolds issued an emergency order closing restaurants, bars and several other businesses and banning “social, community, spiritual, religious, recreational, leisure, and sporting gatherings and events of more than 10 people.”

The next day, the UI — like Iowa’s other public universities and many private and community colleges — announced plans to cancel in-person classes for the rest of the semester and move operations online. It closed residence halls and shuttered most buildings — instructing faculty and staff to work remotely when possible.

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The UI Division of Student Life in March “strongly encouraged” its fraternity and sorority chapters to close their chapter homes, if possible, according to a UI spokeswoman Hayley Bruce. To date, she told The Gazette, 12 of the 26 chapter homes have been closed and the other 14 have been partially closed, “with at least one or more members approved to live in the chapter house for compelling reasons.”

The UI also has allowed some students to remain in the residence halls if they don’t have other alternatives or ways to get home, like international students.

“The chapter houses are privately held corporations and are not located on University of Iowa property,” Bruce said. “The university does not have the authority to order their closure, and supports their responsibility to provide housing for students who do not have other options.”

The UI decision to suspend Sigma Chi was based on information available at the time and in consideration of the “nature of the reported concern,” according to officials. The temporary suspension means the chapter can’t participate in any internal meetings of any kind or in any Fraternity and Sorority Life-related meetings and programs, social events or virtual events.

Chapter leadership can participate virtually in the UI investigation into its conduct. A UI investigator arranged a meeting on Zoom earlier this month. It wasn’t immediately known if the chapter has appealed the temporary suspension.

“The university will communicate directly with the chapter when the investigation is complete,” Bruce said. “This investigation is in the final report writing and editing stages.”

Sigma Chi was among several chapters recently investigated for other alleged violations.

Its national leadership in February placed it on interim suspension for allegedly violating fraternity and UI policies, according to letter from the UI Office of Student Accountability.

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That letter didn’t outline the alleged violations, and Bruce last week said the fraternity’s headquarters completed its investigation and “returned the chapter to its prior status.”

The chapter had been sanctioned in 2018 for violating university student life policies.

The chapter also was wrapped up in a widespread investigation of unsanctioned fraternity tailgate parties in fall 2018 — although it received a deferred judgment and its interim suspension was lifted.

UI Fraternity and Sorority Life in 2017 imposed an alcohol moratorium across its Greek system after a UI freshman died from drug- and alcohol-related causes at an out-of-town formal.

The moratorium laid out strict rules for chapters wanting to host events, and administrators in that sweeping 2018 tailgating investigation sanctioned 11 fraternities — stripping campus recognition from four — for “blatant and systemic failure” to comply with the moratorium, among other things.

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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