On March 4, during a chapter meeting, members of Alpha Phi Omega, a national service fraternity on campus, motioned for a trial to examine juniors Allie Trigoso and Megan Smith’s fulfillment of their respective leadership positions within the organization. Shortly after interviews were scheduled, Trigoso and Smith resigned from APO’s executive committee.
Trigoso, the membership vice president, and Smith, president, were accused earlier in the month of hazing, bullying and harassment by sophomore and fellow APO member Leanne Stepchinski, but no formal claims or charges were filed, and the administration deemed no further action needed to be taken.
Senior Bobbye Pyke, member of APO, said members of the fraternity were not so much concerned with the hazing allegations, but more as to whether Trigoso and Smith were fulfilling their duties as part of the executive board. Still, it was unclear how to handle the matter since the procedure regarding removal of officers is not outlined in the organization’s bylaws.
According to Edwin Blanton, coordinator for community service and engagement and chair of the APO advisory board, the suggestion for a trial came from outside of Trinity.
“In this situation, [a trial was suggested] because there wasn’t a bylaw that had precedent or had established,” Blanton said. “[The trial] was a recommendation by one of the regional directors. The regional director [Billy Russel] was present that evening by Skype. Lisa Petrakis [Residential Life coordinator] was also there.”
Following the motion, a committee chaired by Petrakis was created and tasked with determining if Smith and Trigoso were performing their duties. According to Pyke, the trial was viewed as a sort of compromise.
“There was a group of students who thought that the best decision was to move for impeachment. I didn’t think that was the best idea because I thought that it would cause more drama that we didn’t need. Instead, the night before the meeting, I talked to Megan and Allie and told them what was happening and suggested instead that we motion for a trial,” Pyke said. “I motioned for a trial during the meeting, which was seconded just by the people I was sitting around. The motion for a trial passed [by a majority], so a committee was formed of a couple of student, people that Megan, Allie and I had discussed together that they felt comfortable having on the committee so that they were properly represented, but also members of the club voted in.”
Pyke declined to release the names of committee members, but did say that the group began their background investigation the week before spring break and started collecting written statements from six people, as well as scheduling interviews with others.
¨Those people were like Megan [Smith], Allie [Trigoso], Leanne [Stepchinski] and then Hillary Everts and Maria Cazier because they were on exec with [Megan and Allie], so they would be a good judge as to whether or not they were doing their jobs,” Pyke said. “Shelby Eberlan was already on the committee for trial, and she was on exec as well.”
Before interviews began, Trigoso resigned as membership vice president. In an email correspondence on March 26, Trigoso discussed her views on the trial.
“I find it odd that a trial was proposed, because APO as an organization ruled that no hazing occurred in any sense, and yet hazing is the only accusation of the three that is applicable to APO or might be worthy of an APO trial,” Trigoso said. “As much as I care about Leadership, Friendship and Service (and I do very much), I decided to step down from my position because what was going on in the club was turning into a distraction from my studies.”
According to Pyke, despite Trigoso’s resignation, a trial for Smith continued to move forward. Interviews were scheduled for the week of March 18-21, but before returning from spring break, members of the committee and APO’s executive board received Smith’s resignation.
“I stepped down from my position as president on March 13th because everything that was going on was becoming too much of a distraction from my schoolwork and because I was personally hurt that so many people that I had considered friends were turning against me solely based on gossip,” Smith said via email on March 27.
Both Smith and Trigoso’s resignations were announced March 18, at the chapter meeting. According to Pyke, in the event of the resignation of an executive member, the administrative vice president takes over the vacant position. In this case, Shelby Eberlan, sophomore, stepped in temporarily as president. After the announcement, Josie Hammons, APO membership chair, ran unopposed to replace Trigoso as membership vice president and will hold the position until the upcoming formal elections where the entire executive committee will be replaced.
At the next meeting on March 25, the executive committee voted unanimously for Eberlan to fill Smith’s previous position for the remainder of the term, while retaining her current position as administrative vice president, rather than elect a new president for the three weeks remaining until APO’s official elections. This decision was affirmed by a majority vote.
According to Blanton, the recent resignations, while part of an organization’s natural evolution, do not only reflect the club’s leadership.
“Really, student organizations and organizations in general, go through a forming, storming and norming stage. Sometimes an organization may spend longer in one of those stages than another,” Blanton said. “It’s not necessarily just the leadership that is in charge of an organization but all members. I think this is some storming stage, but it’s not just the leadership that is responsible for the club, each member is responsible for the club.”
Stepchinski resigned from her position as financial vice president in February and is no longer a member of APO. Both Smith and Trigoso, despite their resignations from their respective executive positions, remain members of the fraternity.
According to Pyke, who has served as both membership vice president during spring 2011 and president of APO in spring 2012, the next executive committee will be tasked with refocusing the fraternity.
“The biggest thing about APO at this point is that personal stuff happens…yes, it was distracting, but it doesn’t mean that people aren’t competent or that APO is a bad organization or that there was hazing,” Pyke said. “We do service. We happen to be friends at the same time, but that is mainly what we do. In the long run, I think that this is all going to blow over, and really what the new executive committee needs to focus on is doing service and working on friendship.”