Tucker Hipps

Tucker Hipps

The Clemson fraternity chapter kicked off campus after the death of a 19-year-old pledge could now come back from a five-year suspension.

Thursday marked the earliest day the Sigma Phi Epsilon could seek permission to return to the campus of the state’s second-largest public college. If approved, the chapter is eligible to start recruiting new members for the spring 2020 semester.

The chapter suspended all activity at the start of 2015, several months after Tucker Hipps fell off a bridge near campus​ during a run with 27 chapter members. His body was recovered from Lake Hartwell hours later on Sept. 22, 2014.

Chapter members denied seeing Hipps fall and did not claim responsibility for his death, but the university suspended the chapter after citing it for hazing that included allegations of having pledges buy drugs and offer rides to members.

There is no immediate word that efforts are underway to restart a new Sigma Phi Epsilon chapter at Clemson.

The fraternity's national would need to send a letter of intent to the university.

Suspended fraternity and sorority chapters will typically try to return to campus soon after they're eligible to do so, said Gary Wiser, Clemson's director of fraternity and sorority life. But an organization becoming eligible to return to campus does not mean it will happen right away.

"We would not want them to try to recruit before fall of 2020, just because we have more success with brand new chapters in the fall," Wiser said. "It's really just trying to ensure that any new group has the support system in place so that the chapter can be successful when they return."

Students interested in restarting the chapter also would need to show they will adopt a program called the Balanced Man Program, designed to end pledging and prevent hazing, said Heather Kirk, Sigma Phi Epsilon's chief communication officer. Sigma Phi Epsilon adopted the program across all chapters in the country in 2015 after Hipps' death.

“For Sig Ep, it’s the cornerstone of our member experience," Kirk said.

The program focuses training of new members on understanding the fraternity’s history, achieving academic performance and setting career goals.

Kirk declined to comment on whether Clemson students have expressed interest in re-forming the chapter.

Clemson University officials have yet to hear anything about the fraternity's return to campus, said Wiser and school spokesman John Gouch.

"They want to make sure that they have their plan in place," Wiser said, "and if the environment is right to start a new chapter."

The Hipps' family settlement with Sigma Phi Epsilon requires the fraternity to inform Hipps' parents about any effort to restart the chapter before telling Clemson. The fraternity also must meet with Hipps' parents and Clemson officials to get suggestions for a "successful return" and the new chapter will raise money for the Tucker Hipps Foundation.

Attorneys for Tucker Hipps' family did not respond to messages this week.

A $250,000 settlement between Clemson and the Hipps family was approved in 2017.

Outrage over the role of hazing in Hipps’ death sparked a law in his name that requires S.C. colleges to post online a record of student organization violations, including hazing or alcohol infractions.

The lists include more than just fraternity and sorority chapters. The USC women's club lacrosse team was suspended last year until 2022 for hazing characterized by "rapid alcohol consumption" and "inappropriate activities for new members."

 

State Rep. Gary Clary, who sponsored a bill that made the Tucker Hipps Transparency Act permanent this year, believes it’s the right of Sigma Phi Epsilon and other university organizations to bounce back after suspensions as long as they take the steps to eliminate hazing.

“If they meet the criteria that the university sets that’s something I certainly respect,” Clary said. “We expect our children to be safe when they go away to school and participate in activities that do not involve hazing.”

Andy Shain contributed to this report.

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