Last Friday morning I sat in Dean Tony Lake’s dimly-lit office on the second floor of the Rhodes House with Dean Steve Priepke. The blinds were drawn and Lake’s incandescent desk lamp exuded a warm yellow light through the shade. Outside it was drizzling. Dean Lake sat in his desk, and Dean Priepke sat at the table across from me. Both were clutching Starbucks take-away coffees.
The deans are busy, and I knew I would have more questions than our 30-minute allotted appointment would allow. I rushed to the point of the interview immediately: the reasons for Kappa Sigma’s expulsion in 2009, and clarification on Chad Meredith’s death in 2001.
Dean Lake answered most of my questions while Priepke nodded along, only interrupting Lake to clarify an issue or if Lake prompted for his input. Both men confirmed that Kappa Sigma’s charter was revoked in January 2009 for one unregistered party at the end of fall semester 2008. But it wasn’t the university’s doing. It was the national organization.
“It was not the university at all,” Lake emphasizes. “There were some smaller issues going on in the house but officially it was one unregistered party.”
Lake could not reveal further detail about the smaller issues he referred to because, as he explains, student files are not shared. “But I will say that I don’t know of any frat that has closed their chapter for one unregistered party,” Lake says raising an eyebrow.
All parties at a designated frat house must be registered. That means that attendees are ID’d to ensure no underage drinking, a graduate staff member is on site to chaperone, and no liquor is served. As a senior at UM, I have been to countless frat parties over the years and yet I have never once been ID’d, noticed a graduate staff member, and was definitely served cheap liquor (vodka I
think hope) in red Solo cups.
Dean Priepke points out that there was one registered party the weekend before last, and two the weekend that just passed. He also points out that brothers that live in a house off-campus can throw a party without registering it because it is not technically a frat party, just individuals in a frat that live together hosting people in their home. But that just seems like semantics.
However, since Kappa Sigma does not have a house this semester, they can not technically register a party and therefore can not get revoked for having an unregistered party.
But not all unregistered parties lead to a frat’s suspension anyways.
In December 2010, Sigma Chi brother and UM sophomore Taylor William Emmons was fatally struck by an SUV on San Amaro Drive. He was leaving a party at Sigma Chi’s frat house across from the baseball field. The party was not registered even though it should have been. The frat was not suspended regardless.
“[Emmons] was a frat brother, and the party was not registered and it should have been registered,” Lake explains. “The death of a student is always serious but he left [the party] on his own and they found that the frat was not responsible for his death. He had been drinking and walked into the car’s path.”
Dean Lake could not remember anything particularly memorable of Kappa Sigma’s party that occurred almost a year before the Sigma Chi party (like a hit-and-run fatality). He also could not remember anything noteworthy during the eight years years between Meredith’s hazing death and the unregistered party other than minor altercations with the landlord and parking and personal problems between brothers. He assures me that there were no reports of hazing since Meredith, though.
“I was not here when Chad Meredith died,” Lake points out. “The State of Florida called it hazing, and when the university looked into it, they found [Montgomery and May] did haze Meredith. But they were only two individuals of the entire frat, and UM did not think the frat was involved or needed to remove them from campus.”
Lake also was unable to give me other contacts to speak to about Meredith’s death since it was so long ago. But he points out the difference between individuals in a frat hazing versus the entire frat hazing individuals. It mirrors the same semantics of a frat party being held off-campus and at a frat house and needing to be registered.
A continuum of responsibility is the term Lake uses to describe fault in a student death. He points out that Emmons and Meredith were partially responsible for their deaths. But the amount that the fraternities were in both students’ deaths is not as easy to pinpoint.
“It’s easy for people to assume that [frat brothers] are doing bad things,” Lake tells me to conclude our half hour interview that has gone 15 minutes long. “We group ourselves and identify with these funny letters. People have a fear of the unknown within a group and can assume the worst.”
Note: I have made calls to speak to the Executive Director Mitchell Wilson who was holding the same title in 2001 when Meredith died. I will update with more posts once I speak with him.