STANFORD UNIVERSITY has ended a lease with its chapter of the Sigma Chi fraternity, a chapter that both pushed for racial inclusivity in the 1960s but was also the subject of controversy for alleged on-campus druggings in 2018.

The university hopes the termination of the ground lease will help establish fairness in access to housing among the 24 other recognized Greek organizations on campus that can apply to live in one of the university’s 10 Greek houses on a four-year cycle.

The Sigma Chi House, located at 550 Lasuen Mall, was the only undergraduate residence overseen by a non-university entity, according to Stanford.

The alumni corporation that manages Sigma Chi’s on-campus residence — Alpha Omega House Corporation — characterizes the end of their lease as an unrightful seizure of a house that they have invested millions of dollars into maintaining.

In 2018, Sigma Chi garnered media attention after multiple allegations that students had been drugged at a party that took place at the Sigma Chi House — allegations the AOHC deny.

View of the Sigma Chi House in Stanford University, Calif. as seen from the Lagunita Drive. (Google image)

Following the party, the university removed its recognition of the chapter for a minimum of three years for violating party planning, alcohol and controlled substance policies — the chapter, at the time, was already on probation due to earlier violations.

After an investigation of the chapter from its international organization, the Stanford chapter was also suspended by the organization, the university said.

In light of these suspensions, Stanford tried to terminate their lease with the AOHC in 2019, prompting the corporation to file a lawsuit against the organization, which was resolved in a settlement agreement in 2021.

As part of the settlement agreement, the AOHC’s ground lease would end on Aug. 31 of this year and while the corporation could petition to renew it, Stanford was not obligated to authorize the lease, the university said.

Converted to a co-ed residence

After the chapter’s suspension, the Sigma Chi House was turned into a co-ed residence that was a part of Stanford’s housing allocation process and did not primarily house active Sigma Chi members.

Nevertheless, the AOHC and Stanford maintained an operational agreement.

Though the lease ended on Aug. 31, the chapter may apply for a residence through the regular Greek housing application process.

“The process Stanford has developed in recent years for allocating Greek housing seeks to improve equity and fairness, allowing other deserving fraternities and sororities to apply for the opportunity to be housed on campus,” Stanford officials wrote.

The university also suggests that its housing system is larger, more complex and diverse than when Sigma Chi first established their house, requiring more flexibility in the uses of campus facilities to meet the needs of the student body.

John Martin, a member of the AOHC board who pledged Stanford’s chapter of Sigma Chi in 1977, sees the termination of the lease differently.

“This action right now by Stanford to end the lease and basically take the house from us is sort of a taking of private property, if you ask me,” Martin said.

“This action right now by Stanford to end the lease and basically take the house from us is sort of a taking of private property, if you ask me.”

John Martin, AOHC board member

He believes it is unfair that his organization has invested over $32 million into the property and that they have been given no compensation at the end of their lease. He says there was a provision in their lease that required Stanford to give the corporation another on-campus house if their lease ended.

Stanford says the settlement requires no such measure.

The cost of building a new Sigma Chi chapter house in Palo Alto or the Bay Area in general could be in excess of $30 million, Martin said.

“It’s like an eminent domain that doesn’t compensate the property owner,” Martin said, speaking of the lease’s termination.

Martin also emphasized the university’s intention to renew the house’s lease indefinitely, citing what he says are founding documents where university founder Jane Stanford created provisions for organizations who wanted to build their own housing to remain on campus indefinitely.

Historical value ‘not sufficiently groundbreaking’

Beyond the AOHC’s rights to the house, Martin suggests that, in addition to their philanthropic impact, the Sigma Chi Chapter House has a deeper historical significance.

In 1965, the chapter pledged the first Black member of the national fraternity, prompting the national Sigma Chi fraternity to suspend Stanford’s chapter.

At the time, this controversy received significant media attention from outlets, Martin said.

This suspension, Martin argues, prompted Stanford alum U.S. Sen. Lee Metcalf, D-Montana, to bring the issue of discrimination by fraternities to the floor of Congress, influencing the secretary of education at the time to establish an edict jeopardizing the federal funding for any college whose organizations discriminated against students.

In light of this event, the AOHC nominated the Sigma Chi Chapter House to be registered in the National Register of Historic Places for its role in the Civil Rights Movement.

“The findings of the review suggested that Sigma Chi’s action in 1965, while praiseworthy, was not sufficiently groundbreaking either nationally or at Stanford to warrant a national historic designation for the 550 Lasuen house.”

Stanford University officials

Stanford says its professional heritage preservation staff reviewed the nomination and its historical context, ultimately deciding against supporting the nomination.

“The findings of the review suggested that Sigma Chi’s action in 1965, while praiseworthy, was not sufficiently groundbreaking either nationally or at Stanford to warrant a national historic designation for the 550 Lasuen house,” Stanford officials said.

The university says Stanford fraternities had been pledging members of excluded groups as early as 1947, with Theta Xi pledging a Black member in 1961 and Sigma Nu leaving their national organization in 1962 over a clause barring Black students from membership.

For Martin and AOHC leadership, the termination of the lease is part of a bigger story of the alleged decline of social life at Stanford that has culminated in the “Stanford Hates Fun” movement popularized by student editorials.

In May, Stanford announced that it was continuing to work with students to improve campus life and is taking steps to improve event planning, its undergraduate neighborhoods and the student judicial charter.

Helena Getahun-Hawkins is an intern at Pagransen through Stanford’s Rebele Fellowship. She’s a rising junior at Stanford majoring in International Relations and minoring in Spanish. She writes for The Stanford Daily under the campus life desk and was most recently managing editor of the Daily’s podcast section. She enjoys covering stories that center around education policy, immigration policy, and identity. Outside of journalism she enjoys drawing, yoga, listening to music, and watching TV.