Alleged sexual misconduct causes controversy for Kappa Sigma

[Editor’s note: During a recorded interview, Jessica Wollenberger received a call from Janet Hallum, Sigma Kappa Gamma Tau chapter adviser, which she answered while the recording was still on. Cortney Wood, managing editor and reporter, attempted to contact Hallum to notify her she had been recorded, but Hallum did not respond. The quotes from Hallum are from the phone call between Wollenberger and Hallum.]

After at least two incidents allegedly pertaining to sexual misconduct, a former fraternity member has been expelled from Kappa Sigma and a sorority member has been threatened with expulsion in Sigma Kappa for speaking out.

According to Avery Whaite, former Kappa Sigma fraternity member and mass communication senior, he was expelled on Sunday, April 22, from the fraternity he once presided over because he stood up for a female student that was being sexually harassed by other members of his fraternity.

“They said I was slandering them, that I was sworn to secrecy, but when it comes to someone’s mental health and well-being, I’m not sworn to secrecy,” Whaite said. “This was not fraternal business. This is something that could get a fraternity in a lot of trouble, especially in these days.”

But for Whaite, the impact on an individual person mattered more than a connection with a fraternity.

“I did something that I thought was right, and I get expelled for a reason that is quite ridiculous. I really believe I did the right thing, and I stand by what I did,” Whaite said. “I don’t regret what I did. I can stand in a mirror and be proud of what I did. But I don’t think the people in Kappa Sigma recognize that.”

According to Whaite, a video was sent into the Kappa Sigma GroupMe where members of the fraternity began to make inappropriate comments about the students involved, and once Whaite disagreed with the discussion, he was kicked out of the chat to remove his voice from the conversation. Whaite said he then went to Nick Gallicchio, district grand master of Kappa Sigma, to discuss the incident.

“The fact that I said something to our District Grand Master in the first place was because I didn’t want this to escalate any further,” Whaite said. “I said something because I knew if something wasn’t done about this now, [the student] would only continue to get harassed more.”

Gallicchio declined to comment further on the incident.

Following a tweet that was posted on the Kappa Sigma profile at 10:18 a.m. Tuesday, Jessica Wollenberger, Sigma Kappa member and mass communication senior, quote retweeted the post with the caption “Ironic considering y’all have been sexually harassing someone.”

After Wollenberger posted her tweet, she said she began to recieve texts from other members from Sigma Kappa asking her to take down the post. According to Wollenberger, the Sigma Kappa chapter president, Sydney Bateman, said the post looked bad on the sorority and asked her to remove it from social media.

While she is a Sigma Kappa that will go alum with the chapter on Monday, April 30, Wollenberger said she felt “things don’t get done and changes don’t happen until people do something about it that people aren’t happy about.”

“I knew it wouldn’t go unnoticed. I wouldn’t have tweeted it if I didn’t want people to see it,” Wollenberger said. “I am fully aware that when you are in an organization, you are a representative of that organization 24/7,” Wollenberger said. “I am a Sigma Kappa, so that does reflect on me. However, I feel it’s not our place to say we can’t speak out against sexual harassment.”

According to Wollenberger, Janet Hallum, Sigma Kappa Gamma Tau chapter adviser, called her and requested she take the tweet down because “it’s causing a lot of ruckus,” Hallum said.

“I hope you don’t drag Sigma Kappa in the mud because we are just surviving a very rough six months, and we can’t handle another one,” Hallum said. “We can’t handle other fraternities and sororities being against us because of this.”

In a phone call with Wollenberger, Hallum said while she understood Wollenberger’s passion about this conversation and respects her decisions, Hallum said she hopes this doesn’t affects more than just the current members.

“I just hope this doesn’t blow up because it’s blowing up now it sounds like,” Hallum said. “It sounds like you’re adding fuel to the fire. If you got your sisters upset, which you do, I don’t get why you couldn’t protect the feelings of your sisters. And yeah, you’re going to be gone in a week, but they’re not. We’re going to have to deal with the fall out, not you.”

For Wollenberger, the issue isn’t fraternity or sorority specific, but more of a call to action for students to protect one another.

“This whole issue isn’t about Sigma Kappa whatsoever,” Wollenberger said. “In this situation, it’s not about protecting Sigma Kappa and our feelings, it’s about protecting the girl who is being harassed.”

Though Hallum said she understood Wollenberger’s sentiment, she said Wollenberger shouldn’t look into other people’s issues if they can hurt Sigma Kappa in any way.

“Sometimes it’s best to be silent on an issue,” Hallum said. “Sometimes it’s best not to stick your nose in other people’s business when you’re hurting other people. I would rather things be handled quietly and internally rather than publicly.”

According to Hallum, this is not a matter the sorority wants to get entangled with.

“I’m just trying to smooth the waters because we don’t need anymore shit right now,” Hallum said. “Gamma Tau cannot handle it. I’m concerned with making Gamma Tau implode and that could happen. You don’t realize how we are teetering on a filament of spider web, and we don’t need anymore.”

According to Wollenberger, she is standing up for what she believes and she said Whaite was expelled “for doing the same thing I’m doing by saying it’s not right what they are doing.”

“Do you want to get expelled? Because I’ve already heard talk about that,” Hallum said. “I don’t mean to throw out threats, but the only concern is that you do represent Sigma Kappa, and we just need to make sure that it is Jessica talking and not Sigma Kappa talking.”

Wollenberger said she is willing to get expelled from her sorority if that means standing up for her beliefs.

“If I get expelled for standing up for what’s right and for what I believe in, then so be it, but that’s pathetic,” Wollenberger said to Hallum.

Because of her background in her degree plan, Wollenberger said she is well-versed in the laws and regulations pertaining to speech, slander and libel, and her professors prepared her to defend her beliefs.

“As a mass communication student, I know my First Amendment rights, I’ve passed the law class, I’m talking to Dr. [Jim] Sernoe about the issue. There’s no case here. And any decent lawyer that would look at this would know that,” Wollenberger said.

While each member contributes to their organizations, they cannot be expected to subscribe to a “perfect” character, Wollenberger said.

“Everyone’s not perfect, and I understand that, but when issues happen, there are consequences, and you have to deal with them,” Wollenberger said. “When something is wrong and something needs to be done about something, somethings gotta happen. If it’s truthful, and it’s out, consequences are going to come, and that’s just part of it.”

And while he said he wants to hold his brothers accountable for their actions that affect others outside of the fraternity, Whaite said he wants what is best for his former fraternity even if that means facing the consequences of this situation.

“It gives Greek life a bad face,” Whaite said. “This wasn’t the first fraternity that’s had an issue like this. It makes you think how often does this actually happen inside of a fraternities and sororities and Greek life in general.”

According to Wollenberger, Greek life on campus is struggling because members will put themselves in situations that affect more than just members within the community, and for Wollenberger, that is not something she is willing to defend.

“I won’t compromise my morals for standing up for something I believe in,” Wollenberger said. “Greek life on this campus is struggling, that’s true, but the reason we are struggling is because every time things are going well, something happens that somebody has done wrong that puts us in a situation.”

Despite multiple attempts, Dylan Huff, Kappa Sigma president and Gavin Ritchie, Kappa Sigma scribe and member of the committee during Whaite’s trial, did not respond. Janet Hallum, Sigma Kappa Gamma Tau adviser, and Nick Gallicchio, district grand master of Kappa Sigma, declined to comment.