In May 2018, Stanford’s Sigma Chi chapter was suspended by Sigma Chi International Fraternity due to “risk management concerns and accountability issues within the chapter,” after at least five members of Pi Beta Phi and two members of the men’s rowing team reported being drugged by a non-Stanford student at the fraternity’s party. In the months following, Stanford and a group of Sigma Chi alumni leading the Alpha Omega Housing Corporation (AOHC) filed dual lawsuits against each other. The housing corporation sued Stanford for early and unlawful termination of lease in May 2019, and Stanford countersued for unlawful detainer action to the housing corporation’s claim. The lawsuits were resolved in favor of the AOHC in 2020, allowing the residence to be used for university housing through August of 2023.
Sigma Chi has returned to campus, four years after its suspension and three years after its residential battle with the University. With its new Consul Alex Bonilla ’24, the chapter is looking toward the future. The Daily spoke with Bonilla about the fraternity’s plans for a more responsible and inclusive future and how he hopes to achieve them.
The Stanford Daily [TSD]: Tell me about Sigma Chi’s international fraternity. What does the organization mean to you?
Alex Bonilla [AB]: The organization is a leadership training-based fraternity. It was created to develop industry leaders in all aspects through friendship, cooperation and team building — pretty standard, boilerplate stuff. Across the United States, we have a lot of chapters at a lot of universities.
TSD: Tell me about Stanford’s chapter of Sigma Chi, its historical significance and why you think it is important to have a chapter at Stanford in the first place.
AB: The chapter was established in the 1890s as part of Greek life here. It was, like many other fraternities, established to be a home away from home and build a fraternal bond. As the years progressed, that sort of evolved. I think the turning point was in the 1970s. We were the first chapter to actually bring in people of color and that was against the rules for Sigma Chi back then. We were de-chartered and had to go through the re-chaptering process all because we stood up for our brother. He’s a much older gentleman, but he is still alive and has a lot of really great stories to tell about that time and how they stood up for what was right. Because of such a legacy and past, I believe it is important that Sigma Chi remains on campus.
TSD: What are the biggest or most impactful developments Sigma Chi has made for the Stanford community while you have been Consul?
AB: When we talked about restarting the chapter, our focus was to get students from communities that traditionally do not feel welcomed in fraternal life to be active in it. I’m a transfer student, so that is already nontraditional, and most of the other brothers come from a variety of backgrounds and are not what you typically call fraternal. I mean, we have FLI students. We have international students. Our main push is to recruit from those underrepresented spaces and actually be proactive in our approach to doing that. I know there have been a lot of negative connotations and perceptions of elitism, so debunking that is one of the primary goals of my reestablishment of the chapter.
TSD: What prompted you to become Consul, and what was it like to take on that responsibility after such a controversial recent history?
AB: It is because of the recent history that I decided to become Consul. I actually didn’t even intend to join a fraternity — when I came to Stanford, I didn’t think it was a thing for me. However, I passed by a recruitment table one day and met some of the alumni. I liked what they were saying about having the opportunity to build an organization from the ground up. I decided to go for a leadership position so that none of the bad behaviors that people traditionally associate with fraternities can seep into our culture. The other part is that I’m prior military, so I felt like I had experience with forming fraternal bonds and that sense of camaraderie that I miss. I thought this was a great space to kind of impart some of my own experience into an environment that I feel will foster growth for a lot of my brothers and the community at large.
TSD: In your email to The Daily, you said that Sigma Chi’s goal is to “change the way fraternities operate and are perceived by being inclusive and being the premier leadership organization on campus.” In your opinion, how do you think fraternities, especially Stanford ones, operate? Going forward, how do you want them to operate?
AB: I feel like fraternities operate under the radar, so that is one of the big things that makes people cautious. Not being upfront about dues, being exclusionary and those kinds of things. We try to look at people with good character, people that align with our goals of justice and friendship, who are very passionate about what they do and who are already leaders in their respective fields. You want a place to branch out and grow into different sectors, or just meet people that you wouldn’t necessarily meet if you stayed in your own circles. I think that’s the biggest reward Sigma Chi offers: the ability for people of any and all backgrounds to come together and experience one another.
TSD: How do you think fraternities have been historically perceived, and how are they perceived now?
AB: Well, they’ve been perceived as boy clubs where drinking is the main activity; it’s all about the parties and being very exclusive. That’s how I always thought it sounded too. I mean, they’re portrayed in the media like that, and to some extent, you know, there is some truth behind that. There are a lot of fraternities that focus on that, but that is not something I wanted to be a part of. A party is not going to change your life, but meeting somebody, having that brotherly love towards them and having somebody there to support you in your endeavors? That will definitely change your life.
TSD: Can you explain the bitter environment that emerged between the fraternity and the university after Stanford lost the housing lawsuit? How are you and the other members of Sigma Chi looking to alleviate this tension?
AB: There’s been a lot of miscommunication between alumni, the alumni network, the current students and the administration. I feel like some of the actions that were taken were not in the best spirit. However, my role is Consul, and one of the things that I set out to do is to build bridges with everyone. This isn’t just about the house, and this isn’t about the alumni and maintaining their legacy. It’s about taking all these different groups and their interests and including them in our agenda. That means trying to be an organization for the community rather than against it. We have realigned ourselves, assessed where we’ve made mistakes in the past and are moving forward with a new mindset. I mean, we are a new batch of brothers. Overall, we’re a new organization that wants to be different and wants to be better.
TSD: What long-term impact do you see Stanford’s chapter of Sigma Chi making 10 or 20 years in the future?
AB: My hope is that we become a place that is representative of our goals. That we can come back in 10, 20 years and that the environment and culture that we’re developing now is still present when we leave here.
TSD: Is there anything you want to say to the Stanford community and readers of The Daily?
AB: We’re different and we’re striving to be better than we have been in the past. Overall, I think that we have an amazing group of guys that want an organization they can be proud of, and the Stanford community can look upon and feel as if we represent not only the values of Sigma Chi, but the values of Stanford.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.