BY TIM SHEEHAN The Fresno Bee
Leaders of Fresno State's Greek community of sororities and fraternities announced Thursday afternoon that their organizations are canceling recruiting and social activities this weekend in the wake of the death of a freshman pledge from Bakersfield Sunday after a night of reported heavy drinking at a fraternity party.
Philip Dhanens, an 18-year-old Garces High grad, died following the Aug. 31 party hosted at the Theta Chi fraternity house.
Sororities that are part of the Panhellenic Association at Fresno State had planned to hold their formal fall recruitment of members from Thursday through Monday. The association is postponing those activities until Oct. 11-15.
The Inter-Fraternity Council also canceled all social activities at the nine off-campus fraternity houses owned by its member fraternities, including Theta Chi. Theta Chi's chapter recognition was suspended by both Fresno State and its national headquarters last weekend.
Other Greek councils whose chapters are multicultural, African-American or Latino fraternities and sororities also canceled their social activities through the weekend.
Not everyone who attended the fraternity party last weekend is cooperating with detectives, Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said Wednesday.
Students who pledged the Theta Chi fraternity are talking with investigators, but "some of the other folks who were there are semi-cooperative for various reasons," he said.
"Since this is a high-profile case, some may be hesitant to provide information" because of the potential for criminal charges, Dyer said.
The Fresno County Coroner's Office is awaiting the results of toxicology tests on Dhanens before determining his cause of death.
Police want to know who was responsible for providing alcohol to Dhanens and perhaps to other underage drinkers at the party, and also whether he or others were goaded or coerced into drinking heavily.
The probe into Dhanens' death is not the first Fresno police investigation at the Theta Chi chapter house. The Fresno Police Department reported that its officers have been to the frat house, on Joyal Court west of Bulldog Stadium, about three dozen times since 2006 for vandalism, forgery, thefts, disturbances, assault, an unspecified weapons offense and, on Saturday, checking twice on threatened suicides. That was the day after the big party.
It's unclear whether Theta Chi has generated more or fewer police calls than other nearby fraternities or sororities during the same time. The police department said Wednesday that research would take longer to complete.
Theta Chi was established at Fresno State in 1942, making it the oldest active fraternity at the university. It lost its charter between 2000 and 2002 due to alcohol and other issues, according to a 2004 story in The Collegian, the university's student newspaper.
Over the last two years, however, the chapter has been relatively trouble-free, with no reported incidents requiring any substantial disciplinary actions, said Paul Oliaro, the university's vice president for student affairs.
In fact, he said, only four incidents were reported among the university's nearly 20 fraternities. "Most of those were minor, typically involving a loud party" or underage drinking, Oliaro said.
When violations occur, fraternities may face sanctions including probation, being required to go through a program for responsible alcohol use and serving, or being prohibited from serving alcohol at events for some time. More serious violations may result in suspension of recognition -- both Fresno State and the fraternity's international headquarters in Indianapolis have suspended recognition of the Theta Chi chapter -- or outright banishment.
The university, however, does not routinely monitor fraternity parties or activities to make sure they are following agreed-upon alcohol policies. Instead, Fresno State relies on patrols by university and Fresno police officers, who report to the university when they respond to disturbances or problems at frat parties.
All of Fresno State's fraternities and sororities that have houses are private organizations, and their houses are private, off-campus property. The Theta Chi chapter house is co-owned by the Theta Chi Alumni Corporation in Indianapolis and the local chapter.
"We realize that whether students are living in a frat across the street, in an apartment nearby or in a house across town, students have a responsibility to make good choices and good decisions," Oliaro said. "Our job is to provide information so they can make those good decisions."
If any students are identified as breaking campus code-of-conduct rules, particularly those involving compliance with state and local criminal laws, they could face disciplinary action in addition to any criminal charges that law enforcement may bring, he said.
It is too soon, Oliaro added, to know what actions the university will take as a result of Dhanens' death.
"I think right now we're not prone to making any quick judgments or snap decisions," he said. "This was an emotional and tragic incident, but we want to act only after we have a chance to get all the facts and information."