Theta Pi, house pictured above, is currently suspended pending an investigation of their connection to the accident on September 29. Photo by Fleming Smith (C’19).
By Fleming Smith
Late Friday night on September 29, 10 female Sewanee students and one visiting sibling crashed while driving on South Pittsburg Mountain Road. Several students were rushed to the hospital, many of whom were soon released; those who remain in the hospital are reported as being in stable condition at this time.
By the next afternoon, Senior Associate Dean of Student Life Becky Spurlock notified students of new restrictions that will apply until at least the end of Fall Break on October 24: first-year students are not allowed to attend Greek events, visit Greek houses, or accompany upperclassmen in their cars off-campus. The Theta Pi sorority is currently suspended and undergoing an investigation of their connection to the accident, which involved several members of that organization.
The administration hopes that Greek members will self-enforce these rules within their own organizations, but staff members, such as the recently hired Coordinator of Fraternity and Sorority Life Forbes Mann (C’10), performed spot checks on the night of September 30 and will continue to do so. The police have been notified of the new policies and will also assist in enforcement.
The Interfraternity (IFC) and Intersorority (ISC) Executive Board decided on the temporary restrictions during an emergency meeting held at 11:45 a.m. on September 30. Their decisions were confirmed directly with Vice-Chancellor John McCardell that afternoon.
“We spent a long time thinking about other options and what we could do. I definitely don’t want anyone to think that this was a snap decision. Ultimately, this is what we came up with,” commented ISC President Yin Agbontaen (C’18). “Personally, it was just coming from a position of safety, and realizing that we do just need to put a small pause on things.”
IFC/ISC are not involved with the investigation of Theta Pi, and Agbontaen added that she was not aware of how it will proceed or under whose direction.
When asked to comment on the situation, Theta Pi President Phoebe Fulmer (C’18) said, “At this time, my main concern is the healing of the girls involved, both physically and emotionally. Theta Pi wants to express our deepest thanks to the first responders on the scene. We appreciate the continued love and support we have received from our Sewanee community.”
Agbontaen hopes that Greek life can use the time leading up to Fall Break to plan more activities for all students, especially first-year students, that does not involve the consumption of alcohol or visiting Greek houses. IFC/ISC and the Board are currently reaching out to theme houses and exploring the idea of a campus-wide “dry weekend” to show what Sewanee has to offer outside of the traditional party scene. On the night of September 30, the Student Union Theater offered free admission with a student ID as a response to the new policies.
“We definitely don’t take this lightly. I don’t think people recognize the severity of the situation,” Agbontaen said. “Everyone just needs to take a step back and recognize Sewanee’s true values, which are community, integrity, and EQB to its fullest, which has nothing to do with alcohol use or Greek organizations.” She emphasized that these new measures were not intended as a punishment for first-year students or those involved in Greek life. Upperclassmen will still be able to enjoy Greek events as before.
Regarding how IFC/ISC will continue with these conversations, IFC President Cooper Lewis (C’18) stated, “I can’t say much about going forward because I don’t really know.”
He explained that Greek presidents were not involved in the measures decided on September 30, but that they were often referenced in the discussion. “No one is being ignored. I’ve spoken a lot of freshmen, as well as a lot of Greek presidents, who feel like they’re being ignored, and nobody is. We are accounting for everyone that we can in this short time period,” he added.
“An instance like this was bound to happen, as bad as the circumstances were. Some policies were seen too loosely that shouldn’t have been,” Lewis said. He commented that “events like this,” referencing the circumstances of the accident, resulted from “some things taken as incentive…[that] shouldn’t have been taken as such,” but declined to explain further.
In his new position in directing Greek life, Mann stressed that the steps recently taken should not be seen as “disciplinary” steps, but rather a way of addressing immediate safety concerns that became apparent that weekend.
“The hope is that those kind of temporary measures were taken on a very time sensitive basis and were meant to put in this period of time where we’re going to be doing some very heavy evaluation of who we are as a Greek community,” he commented.
Although Agbontaen and Lewis stated that they did not believe the temporary measures would still apply after the end of Fall Break, Mann declined to comment on the matter.
Mann also refused to comment on the investigation of Theta Pi or when it may be concluded. The lack of information on Theta Pi’s standing and future has confused many students across campus, including members of Theta Pi who are unsure of what will happen to their organization.
“Our primary concern right now is with the students who are still in the hospital and we’re going to do our best to gather a full idea of what happened and how we can move forward,” Mann added regarding the situation.
“On a personal note, as a Sewanee alumnus, I believe in the potential of the Greek system here. I believe strongly that we can be more careful about how we care for each other in ways that we’re able to offer something that enhances the community here, while at the same time, above all, keeping our students safe and healthy and participating in activities that are developmentally responsible,” said Mann.
On the subject of whether Greek rush in the spring may be affected by the accident and its consequences, Mann again declined to comment, but added, “I hope not.”
The Dean of Students Office also played a role in offering support after the accident. “Many of the staff that serve on-call responded to one of the three regional hospitals to help students and families. The staff that went to hospitals stayed until students were discharged or until families arrived,” said Spurlock.
“It’s too soon to re-evaluate current policies, though as we learn more about the circumstances around the accident, such a review might be needed. Our initial actions were to take every reasonable step to keep our students safe,” she said regarding whether current policies of student life need to be evaluated after the accident.
“In a small community like Sewanee, there is a lot of talk about what did or didn’t happen and what it all means. We should resist rushing into clarity about any of it,” Spurlock commented. “There will be time to reflect on who we are as a community in the days and weeks to come, but for now, I think the most important thing is that we take care of each other.”