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Licensing Board Allows Sigma Nu To Reside in Former Fiji House

By Rima Arnaout

For the first time since Phi Gamma Delta’s dormitory license was suspended in January 1998 , an MIT fraternity will reside at 28 The Fenway. Yesterday, the Boston Licensing Board granted the MIT chapter of the Sigma Nu fraternity a dormitory license to move from 523 Newbury Street to 28 The Fenway, formerly home to Fiji.

The license is contingent upon Sigma Nu’s maintenance of its policy that there can be no alcohol on the premises at any time.

“I’m very happy for Sigma Nu and very happy that the board allowed them to occupy 28 The Fenway,” said Neal H. Dorow, adviser to fraternities, sororities, and independent living groups.

A hearing to grant the license was held Wednesday at Boston City Hall. The official decision was made the following day.

Sigma Nu President Justin M. Schmidt ’01, Vice-President David B. Berman ’99, and President of the Sigma Nu Alumni House Corporation Michael D. Plusch presented Sigma Nu’s case to the Licensing Board.

The mention of 28 The Fenway, the location of the drinking death of Scott S. Krueger ’01, initially brought up concerns on behalf of the Licensing Board about letting another MIT fraternity occupy that building. Chairman of the Licensing Board Daniel F. Pokaski expressed “concern about MIT’s really not getting it as far as taking care of people under their care.”

Dorow, neighbors defend Sigma Nu

Even at the hearing, however, Sigma Nu’s track record of good behavior, its references from neighbors, and its no-alcohol policy seemed to convince the Licensing Board that Sigma Nu would be a responsible member of the Fenway community.

“We were a little apprehensive” about the outcome of the hearing, said Nathaniel V. Houle ’02, “but we knew we had a strong case, and then during the hearing there wasn’t really a lot of opposition at all.”

Elizabeth Dooley of the Ladies’ Guild next door to Sigma Nu was “very concerned that people thought they were a drinking organization. They are good neighbors and... are dedicated to their futures.”

Dorow represented MIT in support of Sigma Nu at Wednesday’s hearing. “The tragic history of this particular address is one in which the members of Sigma Nu had no part, and for which they certainly bear no responsibility,” Dorow said.

Dorow also mentioned that “in addition to the initiatives of Sigma Nu itself, the Institute has redoubled its efforts to encourage all MIT fraternities to behave responsibly.”

Dorow cited as a few of MIT’s efforts the new resident advising system and expanded Campus Police patrols in Boston.

The Licensing Board seemed more impressed with the individual efforts of Sigma Nu -- and its no-alcohol policy in particular -- than with improved MIT policy. “[Sigma Nu’s no-alcohol policy] is a very mature decision,” said License Board Member Richard Mulligan. “I only wish the rest of the fraternities are as mature as Sigma Nu.”

Pokaski made clear during the hearing that “if the license is granted, it would be strictly contingent on the maintenance of the no-alcohol policy.” Pokaski also suggested that Sigma Nu should make public a contact person to uphold dialogue between the fraternity and the Fenway community.

Civic group initially opposes move

The one voice of opposition at the hearing came from the Fenway Civic Association, nervous about welcoming a fraternity into the neighborhood after Fiji’s track record. The Civic Association also complained that Sigma Nu’s moving to the Fenway would take apartments off the market, although 28 The Fenway was never designated as apartment housing.

The licensing hearing was originally scheduled for Mar. 10 but was delayed until Mar. 31 so that Sigma Nu could meet with the Fenway Community Development Corporation to discuss the move’s implications.

“We voluntarily postponed [the hearing] in order to get to know them, and let them have the chance to meet us” in an effort to be good neighbors, Schmidt said. The Fenway CDC ended up submitting a letter of support for Sigma Nu to the Licensing Board.

Sigma Nu to move to the Fenway

Now that Sigma Nu has been granted the new dorm license, plans will be underway to move to the new location. “The current plan is we’re going to talk to the Malcolm Cotton Brown Corporation and arrange a plan with them” for moving in, Schmidt said.

According to Schmidt at the hearing, when Sigma Nu moves to its new location, 523 Newbury Street may be transformed into apartments, or it may be annexed by an MIT sorority.

The MIT chapter of Sigma Nu was formed four years ago, with its membership growing steadily over the years. The MIT chapter of Sigma Nu has been officially alcohol free since February 1999, and the national Sigma Nu fraternity has pledged to be alcohol free by the year 2000.

Sigma Nu’s current building on 523 Newbury Street houses only 15 of its 27 members. In February 1999, Sigma Nu applied to the Licensing Board for a license to live at Fiji. “The property at 28 The Fenway is the right size, arrangement, and location. Its financial and physical demands are within our means,” said Schmidt at the hearing.

Fiji’s license was revoked in 1997 after the Krueger tragedy. Since then, only a handful of former Fiji members have been living at 28 the Fenway as caretakers.