Associated Students of the University of New Mexico Vice President Brandon Meyers had reddish eyes as he reminisced about the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity.
Despite the good memories he had from being a brother, he said the fraternity’s misconducts have disadvantaged him, especially because he is innocent.
“I haven’t been a part of the fraternity over the entirety of what has happened,” he said. “As a member of a national fraternity spanning the 300,000-plus members, that’s not something that’s appealing or makes you proud to be a part of. In some way, it’s unfortunate for me to have been part of this organization.”
Rolling Stone ranked UNM’s chapter of SAE as the third worst fraternity in the United States last month. UNM’s SAE chapter ranked behind Dartmouth College’s Alpha Delta chapter and Arizona State University’s SAE chapter.
SAE’s latest case happened on April 1, when a woman who attended a party at the SAE house brought allegations of sexual assault against a member of the fraternity. On April 4, UNM suspended the fraternity, which barred it from hosting social events on campus.
After almost two months of investigation, the University disbanded the fraternity in late May.
According to a press release from UNM, SAE was disbanded because of student code of conduct violations, which included use of alcohol on campus at an unauthorized event and consumption of alcohol by minors. According to the release, members admitted to consuming alcohol at the party and said they did not register the party with the University. Two underage women also confirmed that members of the fraternity provided them with alcohol, which they consumed.
But UNM did not fault SAE for the alleged sexual assault.
The fraternity had until June 5 to appeal the decision, but it didn’t. Members would have to wait until Aug. 1, 2017 to apply for SAE to be reinstated.
Meyers, the former president of SAE who was a member starting his freshman year, left his fraternity and become a fraternity alumnus in January 2013 before the incident happened.
But Meyers said that because of sexual allegations against his fraternity, Greek Life has cultivated a bad reputation on campus.
And this image is now inescapable, he said.
“There’s not much you can do to change that,” he said.
Rolling Stones ranked SAE third worst because “rapes have plagued this Albuquerque house since 2007.” What the magazine got wrong is that rape allegations have bugged the fraternity prior to that year.
Thursday marked the 15th anniversary of the first rape allegation at the SAE house.
An 18-year-old UNM freshman attended a fraternity party in the SAE house on the night of Oct. 3, 1998. She was a scholarship athlete. The freshman consumed alcohol at the party. On the house’s lawn, party attendees engaged in sexual activity. After a few more drinks, the woman lost consciousness.
Saturday, the woman heard reports from fellow attendees that she might have been raped.
In 1999, according to an Associated Press report, the woman filed a lawsuit against two University of Texas-El Paso SAE chapter members at the party — Eduardo Garcia, 19 at the time of the alleged rape in 1998, and Victor Hernandez, 18 at the time of the alleged rape in 1998. After the four-day trial, both UTEP students were acquitted in 2001 of rape charges.
According to an article in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Garcia also dodged four other counts of sexual assault. Hernandez, on the other hand, was convicted of one count of criminal sexual contact for touching the freshman when she was unconscious and physically helpless.
Several rape and sexual assault allegations followed this first SAE case.
In February 2003, chapter member Steven Rodgers, 23, took the victim, a UNM student, into the fraternity house where she was assaulted and battered at dawn, according to a police report from the UNM Police Department. The report states the man pinned the victim’s arms on a bed and assaulted her.
Rodgers’ case was rejected by prosecutors and closed without a conviction, according to the Bernalillo County Municipal Court records website.
In October 2006, SAE member James Anaya, 20, was arrested on charges of rape, which, according to an article in the Albuquerque Journal, occurred in the fraternity house.
According to the Bernalillo County Municipal Courts record website, Anaya was arraigned but his case was dropped without a conviction.
In August 2007, SAE pledge and fraternity house resident Michael McGuffin, 24, was arrested and charged with 11 felony counts, including criminal sexual penetration and sexual contact with a minor, according to a Daily Lobo article.
The charges were later dismissed according the New Mexico District Court records website.
UNM suspended the fraternity after the 2007 incident.
UNM President Robert Frank said the University dealt with SAE’s latest case efficiently by disbanding the chapter.
And he rejects the Rolling Stone ranking, Frank said.
“What we’ve done is essentially decolonize the fraternity, which means for years, the fraternity can’t be active,” he said. “When we do that, that indicates a very significant concern on my part. Since we’ve done that, the Rolling Stone article is really a moot point in our perspective.”
Frank said that since the incident, the University has worked with UNMPD to implement the Sexual Assault Response Team on campus. SART, which launched on the first day of this semester, aims to monitor and prevent sexual assault cases on campus.
UNM is also working on the creation of a Civil Campus Council, which would aim “to create a culture that focuses on encouraging people to be able to express their views with respect and dignity,” Frank said. He hopes this would promote respect on campus, which he hopes would help to prevent sexual assault incidents from happening on campus in the future.
Meyers said the UNM administration has been doing a good job of preventing similar cases from happening in the future.
“We’re doing a good job in addressing these issues,” he said.
Student Activities Center Director Debbie Morris said she also rejects the claims of Rolling Stone, especially because it had no scientific basis.
“I have no way how Rolling Stone made their determinations with that,” she said. “I think it’s sad that they didn’t do the other side. They only focused on the negatives.”
But Morris said she agrees that SAE spiraled out of control.
“That fraternity needed to change their culture,” she said. “They were still living in the past with what fraternity houses were at one point in time — sort of the animal house.”
In the past, SAE’s repeated offenses were in part a fault in the University’s part, Frank said. Still, he said UNM should be looking forward regarding the issue.
“This is a college campus,” he said. “People sometimes make mistakes. Our job as a university is when events happen, we respond to those events and we use the University’s system to monitor the events … We’ve got the right system to help make this campus a safe place for students.”
Frank said fraternities’ negative effect on public safety at a university is “possible, but there are no events right now to my knowledge.”
Still, he said the University community does not have the right to demonize Greek organizations in general.
“I wouldn’t condemn the entire Greek system just because this one fraternity was a bad apple, so to speak,” he said. “The ones that now remain on our campus are very healthy.”
During the end of the spring semester, Meyers assumed the vice presidency of ASUNM.
“I’m a member of ASUNM to try and better the undergraduate student population,” he said. “That’s ultimately what I’m trying to do now.”
Meyers does not believe that fraternities affect public safety on campus, he said. He said fraternities “haven’t always necessarily produced that threat, or else we wouldn’t have fraternities on campus.”
And fellow students should never stereotype members of Greek organizations, he said.
“I’m someone who I really consider to be a really good person, and I always try to be,” he said. “And I continue to pursue that in Greek Life and I would like to expel that through my fraternity and do really good things.”
Meyers said fraternities are “extremely important” for UNM. Still, he said he expects ASUNM to address public safety issues regarding fraternities and the campus in general later in the semester.
“When we find out about something, we react,” he said. “Anytime there has been an event, we always react as such.”
According to a document from Student Activities, the number of fraternities on campus increased from 10 to 15 since fall 2007. The number of sororities on campus stayed at 12 in the same time frame.
The number of students who are members of fraternities on campus have more than doubled, according to the document. There were 157 fraternity members in the fall of 2007, while there are 367 fraternity members on campus by the start of this school year.
And Morris said this growth is a good thing for UNM students. Morris said the University’s fraternities have been recognized nationally.
She said fraternities also continue to provide students with leadership opportunities and academic support. And fraternities also encourage student involvement on campus, Morris said.
“There are more opportunities for our students to connect and make college more than just a freeway-to-parking-lot experience,” she said. “There’s something for them here.”
Morris said that despite the fraternity’s dark past, Student Activities would still be willing to work with SAE on its reinstatement procedure in four years.
Frank said he encourages students to check out fraternities on campus.
“Any student that’s interested should look at them,” he said. “They’ll find out that there’s a lot for them.”
Sigma Alpha Epsilon is one of UNM’s oldest fraternities, and it has had a presence on campus since 1946, according to the chapter’s website. Though this charter revocation is the harshest penalty the fraternity has faced, the chapter has faced problems on campus and with UNM over the past 15 years.
Between 1998 and 2013, SAE dealt with five alleged sexual assaults at its on-campus house. Here’s a quick overview of those incidents.
October: UTEP SAE chapter members Eduardo Garcia, 19 and Victor Hernandez, 18, attended a chapter party at UNM and were accused of allegedly drugging and sexually assaulting an 18-year-old freshman in the SAE house parking lot, according to an Associated Press report. The female freshman brought a criminal lawsuit against Garcia and Hernandez in July 1999.
According to an article in the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, the two men were acquitted in February 2001 of all rape charges and of charges of conspiracy to commit rape. However, Hernandez was found guilty of one count of criminal sexual contact for touching the freshman when she was unconscious.
February: Chapter member Steven Rodgers, 23, was accused of allegedly sexually assaulting a 19-year-old female student in his room at the SAE house, according to a Daily Lobo article.
According to the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court records website, prosecutors rejected the subsequent case and it was closed without a conviction. Also, the UNM SAE chapter was not held responsible for Rodgers’ actions, according to a Daily Lobo article.
October: Chapter member James Anaya, 20, was arrested for raping a female student in his room at the SAE house, according to a Daily Lobo article.
According to the Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court records website, Anaya was arraigned but the felony case was dropped without a conviction.
The University did not discipline SAE for Anaya’s actions.
August: Chapter pledge and SAE house resident Michael McGuffin, 24, was arrested on 11 felony counts, including criminal sexual penetration, sexual contact with a minor and sexual exploitation of children for sexually assaulting a 15-year-old, according to a Daily Lobo article.
According to the Bernalillo County Municipal Court records website, McGuffin was scheduled for a grand jury hearing in July 2008, and the case was transferred to the New Mexico District Court at that time.
According to the New Mexico District Court records website, all felony charges were subsequently dismissed by both the case’s judge and the case’s prosecutor.
SAE was temporarily suspended by Office of the Dean of Students for the duration of the police investigation because of alleged evidence of alcohol and drugs.
April: A UNM SAE member was accused of allegedly sexually assaulting a female student during an unauthorized party at the SAE house where minors consumed alcohol, according to a Daily Lobo article. The University suspended SAE on April 4.
May: The Office of the Dean of Students revoked the SAE charter, citing Student Code of Conduct violations, specifically for having alcohol on campus at an unregistered party and for alcohol consumption by minors, according to a Daily Lobo article. Chapter members vacated the SAE house. The former UNM chapter can reapply to the campus in August 2017.