Ohio University ordered the immediate shutdown of the Epsilon chapter of the Sigma Pi fraternity in a cease-and-desist letter Nov. 13, a day after the death of an 18-year-old pledge who was found at an apartment believed to be associated with the fraternity.
Collin L. Wiant, a first-year student from Dublin, was pronounced dead at OhioHealth O'Bleness Hospital in Athens after he was found unresponsive at an apartment at 45 Mill St. just before 3 a.m. Nov. 12.
Wiant, who recently had become a pledge of Sigma Pi, graduated from St. Charles Preparatory School in Bexley earlier this year, where he was an honor student, played basketball and was team manager for the soccer team, according to his obituary.
Athens police are investigating the cause of Wiant's death in coordination with the Athens County coroner's office.
Both the police and the university's dean of students have been in contact with his family. Athens police did not return calls seeking comment.
In a letter to the fraternity's Athens chapter and national organization, Martha Compton, the director of OU's Office of Community Standards and Student Responsibility, wrote that her office had received information that Sigma Pi engaged in conduct that put the health and safety of its members at risk and did not comply with the student code of conduct.
The letter, addressed to Elijah Wahib, the chapter's president, called for an immediate halt to all organizational activities.
University spokeswoman Carly Leatherwood said the decision was made out of "an abundance of caution" in light of Wiant's death.
"This isn't a cookie-cutter situation," Leatherwood said. "We've never dealt with a situation like this before."
Specific allegations weren't listed in the letter, but Compton told the group it cannot meet in any capacity -- officially or unofficially.
Compton wrote that Wahib must provide a full list of the fraternity's members by Nov. 15. It must include any potential new members or pledges, any pledges no longer in the bid process and why they are no longer in the process.
Failure to comply, Compton wrote, would result in both individual and organizational charges under the university's student code of conduct in addition to disciplinary action.
Compton also said her office is investigating the allegations, and fraternity members might be required to appear before the standards office or other university personnel.
The apartment where Wiant was found is operated by University Rentals in Athens and appears to be an unofficial annex of Sigma Pi's Epsilon chapter, according to a university news release. It is listed on the rental company's website as a former fraternity house.
Annexes, also known as satellite houses, are off-campus houses where members of a fraternity or sorority live together outside the organization's official chapter houses. Annex houses are not officially recognized by the university, Leatherwood said.
Fraternities having annexes isn't new, but in many cases, their purposes have evolved, said Gentry McCreary, the former director of Greek affairs at the University of Alabama who now researches hazing and consults with colleges.
"As both campuses and national organizations have clamped down on alcohol and social events in official, recognized houses, a lot of the high-risk behavior has been moved to these annex houses," McCreary said.
In the past, annex houses might have been just a group of upperclassmen from a fraternity who chose not to live in the chapter house, McCreary said.
"It's just been, 'OK, we've got a group of seniors who live over here,'" McCreary said. "But now it's like, 'That's our annex house. That's where we do our risky pledge stuff; that's where we have our parties. That's where we can go where we know we're not going to get in trouble.' "
Ohio State University, which imposed a temporary blanket suspension on all 37 of its fraternities governed by the Interfraternity Council in November 2017, cited a high number of investigations into their conduct that semester; some of that conduct took place at annex houses.
An Ohio State police incident report included in the investigative file for Alpha Epsilon Pi, for example, appears to stem from a party at the fraternity's annex house at 244 E. 17th Ave. in January.
McCreary said there isn't an established benchmark for how universities should regulate annex houses, describing it as a "fine line to walk" between turning a blind eye to dangerous behavior and over-policing off-campus activity.
Leatherwood said, pending the investigation, the university has no plan to do anything about off-campus annex houses.
Wiant is survived by his parents, Wade and Kathleen Wiant, and four siblings. A Mass of Christian Burial was scheduled for Nov. 17 at Walter Commons at St. Charles Preparatory School. Rutherford-Corbin Funeral Home in Worthington handled arrangements.