To say that the semester is off to an eventful start would be an understatement.
On Aug. 30, the College community was stunned when Pres. McConnell announced a suspension of “all alcohol-related social activities for its fraternities and sororities” effective immediately. The very next week on Sept. 8, The Post and Courier broke the shocking story of a College of Charleston student charged with first and third degree sexual exploitation of a minor. 21-year-old Timothy Seppi was an Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity brother. On Aug. 27, a 17-year-old girl told police at the emergency room of Medical University Hospital that she had been raped by two males at Seppi’s apartment. He was arrested on Aug. 28 for possession of marijuana and cocaine. In the process, police seized his phone and discovered a photo of a nude teen girl performing or simulating a sex act. He was arrested again on Sept. 2.
The evening of Sept. 8, Pres. McConnell again emailed the student body and explained that “consistent with College policy regarding public safety matters, the College’s chief of police has barred the student who was criminally charged from campus.” The Alpha Epsilon Pi International Fraternity has closed its chapter at the College due to the allegations.
CisternYard News sat down with Provost and Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs Brian McGee to discuss these events. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
CYN: Would you please comment on the process and the considerations that went into Pres. McConnell’s announcement on the temporary ban on Greek life activity?
BM: I know Pres. McConnell received input from several people on campus and looked at the events of several days at the beginning of the semester, and it became evident to him that something simply had to change.
CYN: Input from who specifically?
BM: I’m not sure who he talked to in totality. He and I discussed the matter. I know that he would not have made this decision without talking to our Executive Vice President of Student Affairs Alicia Caudill, and from there he may have talked to any number of people.
CYN: Incidents like hazing and sexual assault seem to plague Greek organizations across the country. Do you think there are any factors, besides the obvious one of alcohol, that contribute to that?
BM: Let’s begin with the obvious, which is that alcohol is never an excuse for misconduct by anyone. And alcohol should never be used to relieve someone of bearing responsibility for their own actions. Nor do we ever, ever want to blame a victim by saying that alcohol was responsible for it. People are accountable for bad conduct or criminal conduct. Now from there the larger question is, do we find sexual assault on campuses all over the United States and is it a national problem? Yes…So what we do not want to do, is suggest that sexual assault or binge drinking or drug abuse or any other kind of illegal conduct is a Greek problem by its self. It is a Greek problem, but it is also a national problem.
CYN: The College seems to be increasingly labelled in the media as a party school. Do you think this is a fair or unfair assumption, and how do you as a school leader react to that?
BM: I think that the label “party school” is attached to almost any school in a city with beaches, a city with a reputation for having a good night life, and the result is that it’s very hard for the College or the University of Miami or a host of schools in the South or in Southern California to shed that impression. When I arrived at the College a dozen years ago, people expressed the concern that we were such a good school academically it was a shame people spent more time talking about the social activities of students in the neighborhoods. We’re still having that conversation over a dozen years later…it is an enormous disservice to hardworking students on this campus, of whom there are many, to paint a broad brush of the institution as a party school…And while we have to respect that our students are adults, and we do, even when sometimes people would prefer we didn’t, it is also the case that there is some conduct we can regulate and penalize when it does harm to this institution and particularly when it does harm to this learning environment. And we certainly protect the safety of this community to the best of our ability, when we know that someone in the community may pose a danger to his or her fellow students…The vast majority of the members of our Greek system did nothing wrong a couple of weekends ago. But they are all bearing the consequences because of the misconduct of a relative few. That’s hard, but it’s the right thing to do.
CYN: Would you like to comment on the Timothy Seppi case?
BM: I can’t comment, because of FERPA, on anything related to a specific case.
CYN: Is there anything else you would like to add?
BM: I was a member of a social fraternity myself at another university as an undergraduate. I found it to be a very good and positive experience. Not a single member of my fraternity, in my time, did anything that embarrassed or ashamed me. I have got to say bluntly here, that if any member of a Greek letter organization or any student organization believes that there is misconduct, they ought to be the first working to reform that organization.