ETSU lifted Sigma Chi’s interim suspension status Tuesday after an investigation by officials into a shooting incident at the Sigma Chi fraternity house on Sept. 18 indicated that crimes were not committed by members of the fraternity.
“The investigation concluded that the disturbance and shooting were instigated by the group of nonstudents,” said an ETSU news release. “Members of the fraternity made attempts to get the four nonstudents to leave the house when they became belligerent, and also took steps to protect others who were in the house at that time.”
However, the Sept. 18 incident has rekindled a debate between the Southside Neighborhood Organization, a group that represents residents in the Tree Streets area, and the university about the proper location for fraternity housing. Specifically, whether fraternities should remain in the Tree Streets neighborhood.
A statement released by SNO on Sept. 22 requested that ETSU move all off campus fraternities to on campus housing complexes by fall 2016, a request university officials said ETSU will not be able to accommodate.
Vice President for Student Affairs Joe Sherlin said the university is considering relocating the universities to the ETSU campus, but the driving factor behind the idea is the growth and enhancement of the fraternity system in the long term.
“The Southside request for consideration — obviously we want to listen to their concerns,” Sherlin said.
“But the driving review is whether this model will really work to achieve the goals of growing the system in a quality way and providing an environment that’s a positive one.”
The university has not confirmed that the fraternities will move on campus and Sherlin stressed that this plan is still in a nascent state.
However, members of the Sigma Chi fraternity — including Student Government Association Sen. Brandon Johnson — believe the fraternities in the Tree Streets area are beneficial to the surrounding community and that the concerns expressed by SNO are exaggerated.
“In my personal interactions with folks in the Tree Streets, the vast majority that I have encountered enjoy us being there and find that we add something to the culture,” Johnson said.
The East Tennessean reached out to SNO leadership for comment but did not respond in time for publication.
Johnson said fraternities like Sigma Chi perform a lot of volunteer service for the surrounding community and have organized clean up days to help beautify the neighborhood.
“It is in my personal opinion that the Tree Streets neighborhood organization does not represent all members (of the Tree Streets Community),” Johnson said. “They represent a very small, loud minority.”
Lieutenant Mike Orr, an officer with ETSU Public Safety, said it’s infrequent for the university to receive calls from the Johnson City Police Department about ETSU fraternities. If the department does receive a call, the incident is usually isolated to a Thursday, Friday or Saturday.
“Most of the stuff we get from the fraternities is loud noise, like if they’re throwing a party or something,” Orr said. “Then, if they receive a complaint, the Johnson City (Police Department) will contact us to assist them.”
The last time public safety responded to an incident at a fraternity house was the firearms violation at the Sigma Chi house on Sept. 18. The previous incident was a noise complaint at Pi Kappa Alpha on Aug. 23.
Sherlin said he understands the concerns expressed by members of the Tree Streets community, but it might not be viable for the university to move fraternities on campus in the time frame suggested by Tree Streets residents.
“If we collectively made a decision with the chapters to move all on campus, it would still likely take a number of years to move through that process,” Sherlin said. “So, currently, they’re all on the Tree Streets and we want to work with the community and all those involved to ensure that model works over the next several years while we’re working through this.”