Coming to terms

Greeks given new guidelines for reinstatement, say they’ll comply

Phi Kappa Tau President Zac McDonough in front of his fraternity house. Greeks who comply with new regulations can uncover their letters March 1.

Phi Kappa Tau President Zac McDonough in front of his fraternity house. Greeks who comply with new regulations can uncover their letters March 1.

Photo By Ken Smith

“It was a really sad day,” 21-year-old Zac McDonough said, nodding toward a makeshift tapestry of tarps, trash bags and duct tape obscuring the Greek characters that proudly proclaim the giant Victorian house at Fifth and Hazel streets as the home of Phi Kappa Tau. “This is our house. We’ve been here 90 years in one form or another, and it felt awful to have to do that.”

McDonough, now president of the fraternity’s Chico chapter, was acting president last Dec. 15, the day Chico State University President Paul Zingg announced the immediate suspension of all Greek organizations and ordered letters on their houses covered or removed. McDonough called on all available active members to be present for the solemn occasion.

This week, Chico State administration presented the Greek community with a full list of guidelines and a timeline of mandatory tasks to complete in order to be reinstated as officially recognized organizations. The documents, which are available to view online at the university’s website under Greek Life, include a “University Relationship Statement” spelling out new standards and punishments for transgressions, and more stringent event guidelines.

The relationship statement identifies violations including hazing, defying event guidelines, disorderly conduct and vandalism. Punishments range from a minimum of a semester’s suspension to disaffiliation from campus. The timeline thus far culminates in May mid-year reviews for all chapters.

If the Greeks follow the rules—and McDonough says they all are doing so—they will be able to uncover their letters and begin recruiting March 1. Effectiveness of new event guidelines will remain to be seen, as social events will remain banned this semester, as will philanthropic events and intramural sports.

Several Chico Greek chapters and individual members turned down interviews for this story with responses such as “I’m inactive right now” or by saying their organization’s national headquarters disallow them from speaking publicly about the university’s suspension.

McDonough, who joined Phi Kappa Tau two years ago and attends regular Interfraternity Council meetings (the university allowed the group’s first official gathering of the semester last week), said his position as president allowed him to speak on some subjects. McDonough presented a pragmatic view of the suspension and the new rules that he believes sums up the feelings of many Chico Greeks.

“I wouldn’t say I agree with it 100 percent,” he said. “I’m not happy about it, but I do understand it and see the necessity behind it. There’s a lot of change that needs to happen in the community and with the whole drinking culture. It’s not just a Greek problem or just a Chico problem. I think it’s a generational problem.

“But change starts with us. We’re seen as some of the leaders on campus, so I can understand why Chico State did what they did. They have students who are dying, who are getting injured, and we need to take care of it.

“It’s about rising to the occasion rather than brushing it to the side and thinking it won’t happen again, because it will happen again if changes aren’t made.”

McDonough said the new rules are, overall, “not that bad.” He said as sad as covering the letters was, he understands the university needed to “show they meant business.”

He recalled conversations before the Dec. 15 meeting with some members of the Greek community who were anticipating a slap on the wrist. “I remember telling a friend, ‘No, it’s not a slap on the wrist. They’re weighing whether it’s worth it to keep us around at all.’”

To McDonough, the fact the administration gave Greeks the opportunity to turn things around means they also see the positive value of the system. He said he likes the approach of the new regulations, which is to leave instituting changes largely to the chapters themselves, rather than trying to micromanage the organizations.

“Everything they’ve written down isn’t impossible to accomplish with a little effort and if you actually embrace the changes they’re trying to make,” he said. “I think most of us are upset, but willing. It’s not something we’re happy to do, but it’s what we need to do.”

McDonough even spoke positively of some requirements, such as requiring all Greeks to attend an upcoming seminar on violence prevention.

“There’s been so many stabbings lately, so many sexual assaults, that it’s just disgusting,” he said. “Again, they know if we’re the leaders we say we are, we should be the ones pushing the community and the school forward.”

When asked if any Greek chapters are willfully rejecting the new guidelines, McDonough emphatically said no.

“We’re working ourselves to the bone to get back, and we’re all doing it together because we don’t want to see any house go inactive,” he said. “The whole idea of going rogue is just dumb. It’s the worst thing you could do. It sullies the reputation of your organization, and you wouldn’t even be accepted on the national level.

“No one is trying to buck the system. We’re all doing the best we can to improve ourselves.”