Amidst a swirl of rumors surrounding the Lambda chapter of the Delta Kappa Epsilon (DKE) fraternity, which was suspended in spring of 2018 for hazing activities — including branding their members — Greek Council announced last Thursday that DKE would be allowed to start the process of reinstating their chapter at the beginning of next semester. They will not, however, be able to return as a registered student organization until, at the earliest, the fall of 2020.
According to a statement from the Kenyon DKE website, there are eight juniors who had nearly completed new member education for DKE as first years but were never initiated into the fraternity due to the group’s suspension, along with five seniors who were members when the organization was suspended. Next semester, only these juniors (as opposed to the seniors) will be able to petition for probationary reinstatement, going through a series of approval processes similar to any interest group looking to form a new student organization.
“These conversations [of approval] would be happening with anyone who was in the new member class when they were removed from campus that was not yet initiated — those are the only students who are able to be involved in creating the petition in the spring,” said Dean of Campus Life Laura Kane. “Even if they do get that final yes from Student Council, and if that’s in the spring, they are not an organization that is active or existing in the spring semester, because of their sanctions. They kind of just knocked all this out of the way prior to fall, so they can start the fall right away as an active group.”
DKE has been suspended for a little over a year and a half. According to a Collegian article published in April of 2018, Meredith Bonham ’92, vice president for Student Affairs, discovered an anonymous letter slipped under her office door in late March of that year. The letter suggested that a campus fraternity was participating in hazing activities, though it did not name the organization. Soon after, Bonham and other administrators met with the campus fraternities’ presidents, urging the perpetrators to come forward. A few days later, she received another anonymous message, addressed to her and President Sean Decatur, from a fraternity that asked for amnesty if they identified themselves as the offending group.
The saga ended when Bonham sent an email to the fraternity presidents, refusing amnesty but saying that the administration would “look favorably upon the organization if they stepped forward,” according to the 2018 Collegian article. The organization then identified itself as DKE, and the College moved forward with an investigation.
That investigation, which found the fraternity guilty of hazing activities, led to sanctions that suspended the group until either four years had elapsed or its last active member graduated. The newest active members were sophomores when the fraternity was suspended in 2018. Since those students are now seniors, fall 2020 marks the first semester in which all DKE active members from 2018 will have graduated, and thus the possibility of the group returning to campus.
While administrators have made it clear that DKE may not return until fall 2020, there have been rumors among students that the fraternity could return next semester. These may have stemmed from a newsletter published in September on the Kenyon DKE website, which makes unsubstantiated claims about the fraternity’s liberties next semester and President Decatur’s involvement.
“Brothers: President Decatur has given his verbal go-ahead for second semester Lambda Chapter activities beginning in January 2020 to include rush, new member education and initiation. He described the remission of the sanctions in the second semester as a kind of probationary “bridge” to full reinstatement and unrestricted activity in the fall of 2020. Jim Irwin, Doug Lanpher and I [William Butler ’68] had dinner with President Decatur a few weeks ago. It was a friendly and productive conversation.”
However, in interviews with the Collegian throughout the semester, President Decatur has denied involvement in the DKE reinstatement process. On Oct. 15, when asked for confirmation on a fall 2020 reinstatement date, Decatur said, “I’m kind of out of the loop on that.”
In our most recent interview on Tuesday, Decatur noted “there’ve been [DKE] alums who’ve talked to me about the organization,” before reiterating the process that the organization will have to go through to get approval. “If there is interest in an organization of following through in a process, then to me the critical piece is actually following the steps of what the prescribed process of that [is],” Decatur said.
Additionally, both Kane and Director of Student Engagement Sam Filkins specifically denied that the group would be able to conduct recruitment, initiation of members or official chapter events of any kind in the spring.
“When it comes to DKE, the terms of their sanction [are that] they cannot be an active organization on our campus until fall 2020,” Kane said. “Regardless of how quickly they would complete these steps this semester, they would not be active as an organization this semester … [so] recruitment or anything like that of new members, that is not permitted during this semester.”
Before DKE can come back as a registered student organization — and regain these privileges — they must pass a variety of qualifications. These approval measures, all conducted by student governmental bodies, will generally mirror the normal process for establishing a new student organization, with a few exceptions. DKE will first have to present a petition to Greek Council before they can appeal to the Student Life Committee for approval and then to Student Council for a final vote.
According to Kane, the petition to Greek Council will include some “boilerplate material,” such as a risk management plan and new member education plan, as well as nationally mandated information, such as lists of living alumni and historical information about the fraternity. In addition to this, the petition will have a section more specific to the fraternity’s situation, which might include answers to questions like how they can learn from past behavior and prevent similar incidents from taking place in the future.
“I would imagine it’s something Greek Council would be interested in — having that question answered,” Kane said. “Because the point of a suspension is a pause for reflection on what was going well, what wasn’t going well and how do we ensure that we stay on that path to positive and healthy behaviors.”
Finally, if DKE is approved by Greek Council, the Student Life Committee and Student Council, they may return to campus in fall 2020, with some limitations. For instance, at the end of its two provisional semesters, standard for any new student organization, the new DKE will have to pass a second vote from Greek Council in order to return to their prior status as a legitimate student organization. Moreover, Kane noted that “Greek Council might work through some restrictions in that provisional year,” such as DKEs’ voting rights on the Council or their ability in general to participate in the Council’s proceedings.
According to Director of Student Engagement Sam Filkins, who is currently serving as liaison to Greek Council and will help guide DKE through the reinstatement process, there is only so much the College can do to prevent instances like this in the future. He encourages students to follow a doctrine of ‘see something, say something,’ when it comes to unsafe behavior or hazing.
“That’s where we have to have [a] conversation about who has ownership of the community work [that’s done], how do students help set the expectation of what is allowed in our community,” Filkins said. “So, for example, when all this originally happened, there were folks that knew that it had been happening for a long time, but never reported it. And so, as administrators, we can only do with what we know, and that’s why it’s important for students to take an active role in helping set the expectations for the community.”