JMU has finished an investigation alongside Roanoke Police Department and Sigma Nu National Headquarters. They were looking into an incident involving Sigma Nu’s pledge class stealing an $8,500 Hokie Bird statue from the Hotel Roanoke.
The incident happened during a rush event for 26 new pledges of Sigma Nu. On Sept. 24, a Tuesday night, they were tasked with taking a group picture with four Turkey statues in Rockingham County, according to Derek Dye, associate director of Fraternity and Sorority Life. There was just one problem — there are only three such statues in the county.
This was an annual tradition for the Sigma Nu pledge class and pictures from it each year were passed down for new members to see, according to Dye. One member, unsatisfied that they couldn’t find the fourth statue, knew of a Hokie Turkey located in Roanoke. He convinced the pledge class to drive down that night to take a photo.
Twenty-six members in four vehicles drove to the statue and took the photos around 1:30 a.m. The group left without any complications. One vehicle, a pickup truck with three members, decided to stay and see if they could take the statue. While inspecting it up close to see if they could steal it, it was accidentally broken. In a panic, the members decided to put it in their truck. The other members learned of the theft well after they had already left, according to Dye. The statue was dumped on a remote back road in Crozet, Virginia.
The Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life first learned about this incident on Sept. 27, a Friday afternoon, through people reaching out to them. It decided to suspend their new member operations as well as all fraternity operations of Sigma Nu and contacted their national headquarters located in Lexington, Virginia.
Early on in the investigation, the suspension of all fraternity operations of Sigma Nu was lifted when they learned that stealing the statue wasn’t a fraternity-sanctioned event. In 15 separate interviews, pledges admitted that there was alcohol involved and that it was purchased using a fake ID.
As a result of the investigation, two members were dismissed from the fraternity, according to Dye. Two other members, the driver and the individual who supplied alcohol, were put on probation.
“We deeply value our partnership with James Madison University for the benefit of the JMU student members of SigmaNu Fraternity,” Drew Logsdon, director of communications for Sigma Nu said in an email. “The strength of that partnership assisted us in working closely with Derek Dye and other JMU officials to investigate the incident. We look forward to continuing to work with Derek and the excellent JMU administrative team – as well as the student members and leaders of the chapter – toward completion of the response requirements.”
Sigma Nu was placed on serious concern status from its headquarters until May of 2020. They are banned from participating, sponsoring or hosting any activities with alcohol through May 2020.
David Chew, coordinator for Fraternity and Sorority Life, said that front-end education could help prevent incidents like this in the future.
“We can’t teach them about everything single thing that could possibly go wrong,” Chew said. “If they understand what our expectations are and can kind of figure out if what they’re doing aligns with that or doesn’t align with that, then they can come talk to us and rectify that —
that’s OK. We want to be able to do that before something like this happens, not afterward.”
The chapter’s risk management insurance rose 40%, and it was fined $500. It also had to issue an apology to Hotel Roanoke. All members had to sign a membership reaffirmation —
three members of Sigma Nu decided not to sign it and were removed from the chapter.
“It was not as bad as it could have been. This was not sanctioned by the chapter,” Dye said. “There was a series of poor decisions that lead to it. It might sound relatively harmless; that is not what we expect from our chapters at all. All chapters have pretty high standards of their new member education program.”
Dye said national headquarters worked in close conjunction with JMU during the investigation. He said that this was a great model of taking ownership and responsibility.
“Anytime you have an incident, what you hope for is that a chapter will come forward, take responsibility for ‘this is what went wrong, this is what went right, and how can we learn from it and make ourselves better?’” Dye said. “That’s what you want leadership to do.”
Contact Matthew Sasser at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.