Following informal allegations of bullying, harassment and hazing relating to a personal issue involving sophomore Leanne Stepchinski and juniors Allie Trigoso and Megan Smith, three individuals associated with the national service fraternity Alpha Phi Omega, Stepchinski took a leave of absence, stepping down from her position in the club as financial vice president Monday.
In the email Stepchinski sent the club announcing her departure, she said, “I feel that I am no longer able to continue my membership in the club because our chapter no longer stands for what I joined for “¦ APO has given me so much, and I will always be grateful for that.”
Previously that week, Stepchinski sent an email to Cole Robertson, the Region VII Director overseeing the university’s Delta Pi chapter, detailing a situation involving Smith, Stepchinski’s “big sister” and current president of APO.
In the email, Stepchinski accused Smith of using offensive language and making her feel humiliated. Stepchinski also expressed that she felt she had been hazed and detailed what she believed to be an ultimatum handed down by the administration that forced her to either admit Smith had not bullied her or leave the fraternity.
Despite the Trinitonian’s multiple attempts, Stepchinski could not be reached for comment.
Smith issued a statement Thursday via email, stating: “I complied with everything that the administration called of me and have been acting in good faith to go along with staff requests. There was no determination of fault by the administration. This personal issue is completely outside of APO and should reflect neither upon the Fraternity nor upon me. I look forward to continuing to serve my Fraternity and to, just as I always have, inside the Fraternity and out, upholding my Fraternity’s threefold purpose of leadership, fellowship, and service.”
David Tuttle, associate vice president of student affairs and dean of students, would not comment on the situation due to confidentiality, but he did describe the administrative process taken when similar accusations are made.
“If students come forward to us and express concern about things, then we will do whatever we can, formally or informally, to try to assist with the resolution,” Tuttle said. “We would of course investigate any allegations if we felt that they were credible allegations of policy violations. We would do what we need to do.”
Tuttle also detailed the process of mediation, a tactic used by the administration to resolve both on-campus and off-campus conflicts, using the example of mediating situations between students living off campus and their neighbors, as well as one specific case involving hate speech written by one student on another student’s door.
“I think we use mediation a couple times a year “¦ Usually, it’s seen as an option outside of the conduct process, and usually, both parties enter it willingly with the hope of some outcome that would be satisfactory to both parties. The mediation is then supposed to end with an agreement that gets summarized in writing, that both people sign to show that they are both moving forward with that in mind,” Tuttle said. “Melissa Flowers in Residential Life is trained in doing that kind of mediation, so she’s the one we usually refer to in those types of situations. It’s usually informal and I don’t see it as a way to find responsibility for a conduct violation.”
Melissa Flowers, assistant director for residential education, declined to interview, but stated via email that, “My involvement with this situation was purely related to personal matters between certain members of the club “” it wasn’t anything organizational.”
Currently, no formal claims or charges have been filed against Smith or Trigoso for bullying, harassment or hazing. According to Tuttle, if formal claims are made, they usually result in a conduct board hearing.
While Tuttle would not comment on the personal issue involving the three students, he did say that APO is currently under review.
“With APO, enough things have been brought to our attention that we are looking into what’s going on to make sure that the organization is really staying true to its values and goals; if there is any way that we can assist APO in doing that, we are more than happy to do so, and feel some responsibility to do so because that organization is bigger than any individuals,” Tuttle said. “It’s got a great history and a great reputation on campus, and I know when I talk to any members of APO on campus, they love it as an organization, so it is something that we don’t let run into rocky ground without helping them navigate through that.”
Sean Solis, vice president of the association of student representatives, is an active member of APO and says he attributes the decline of the organization over the years to internal drama.
“When I joined this organization, I was part of a pledge class of 60 or 70 people, but now we’re down to our current pledge class, which is like 30 people,” Solis said. “I think the pledges are realizing there’s a whole lot of drama in the organization, in particular with the executive committee, and as a result they see the infighting as detracting from their primary reason for joining, which is to do service.”
Solis also spoke about specific events that occurred during last semester’s officer elections.
“Basically a brother-at-large letter was read aloud [at the election],” Solis said. “Which is pretty unheard of. Those things are supposed to be confidential, so that was pretty surprising to the club.”
Solis says he does not know how the letter got leaked, but that brother-at-large letters are intended to be an anonymous way for members of APO to address problems they see within the fraternity.
According to Solice, these letters are typically sent to a student studying abroad (for purposes of objectivity) who then reviews the letter and removes any identifying facts before sending it on to the president of APO. The president then shares the letter with thwe individuals referenced in the letter and the executive board determines how to proceed.
In addition to the letter being read aloud to the entire club, an APO presidential candidate demanded a recount of votes due to the absence of an adviser. In the end, the recount did not make a difference in the overall election results, but the point was that an adviser should have been in attendance.
According to Solice, regional APO representatives are aware of the situation and plan to visit campus soon.
“I think Cole Robertson, our regional director, plans to come in on Sunday and talk to us about refocusing our organization and our values, but I think it’s important to still remember the positive contributions of APO,” Solis said. “During the 2011-2012 school year, APO did over 5,000 hours of service, far more than any other organization on campus, and I think that APO can be a very powerful force for good in the Trinity and San Antonio communities.”