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Fraternity’s disbandment ends decades of troubled history

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CANTON — SUNY Canton’s disbandment of its Zeta Alpha Phi fraternity is the culmination of decades of conflict, including frequent suspensions and three separate fraternity houses going up in flames.

Recent charges of hazing led to the permanent end of the troubled organization just weeks before the start of its centennial year.

ZAP was founded in 1914 at the School of Agriculture at St. Lawrence University, the college that later would become SUNY Canton. Unlike many other fraternities and sororities, ZAP has never been affiliated with a national organization.

“The fraternity was the second-oldest at the college. It was a large part of college life for many of our students before and between its troubled times. We have numerous alumni who were proud brothers of Zeta Alpha Phi, and the organization was tied to the roots of SUNY Canton’s history,” SUNY Canton Dean of Students Courtney B. Bish said in a statement.

Those “troubled times” began in 1975, when a fire burned down ZAP’s frat house at 34 Park St. Two more of its houses burned in the decades to come. The second blaze, in 1982 on Miner Street, started because of an electrical malfunction, which archived reports said likely was accidentally caused by burglars trying to escape.

The third house, on Old DeKalb Road, was destroyed under suspicious circumstances in 1995.

ZAP made headlines many times over the years. Members were investigated twice by police for sexual harassment, and the second such incident led to the organization permanently losing its charter in 1982. The college undid this decision in 1983, allowing the group to regain its charter.

ZAP was suspended several more times in the years that followed, but the final straw came in November, when members allegedly subjected students to hazing rituals which included paddling and other forms of physical and psychological abuse, according to village police.

Ms. Bish said the severity of this incident led to the decision to do away with the fraternity permanently, unlike so many violations before.

“The decision to no longer recognize the fraternity was not made lightly, but college officials resolutely stood behind the zero-tolerance policy for hazing,” she said. “Due to the severity of the most recent alleged actions, swift action was required to disband the fraternity permanently.”

All seven of ZAP’s members were expelled or suspended for several years. They later all were charged with hazing by village police.

Unlike what happened in the 1980s, Ms. Bish said, the decision to revoke ZAP’s charter will not be reversed.

zeta alpha phi’s history
Zeta Alpha Phi has a troubled record stretching back decades. Here is a look at its history:
• 1914: Founded
• 1975: Fire of unknown origin destroyed the fraternity house at 34 Park St.
• 1979: Placed on probation for making pledges steal street signs.
• 1980: Members were investigated by village police for allegedly calling a woman obscene names and exposing themselves.
• 1981: Temporarily lost its charter after a brawl with Clarkson’s Sigma Delta fraternity involving up to 200 participants and spectators.
• 1981: The college changed its mind, placing ZAP on probation instead of revoking its charter.
• 1982: Two members were charged with verbally and physically abusing a female student. ZAP lost its charter, supposedly permanently. Members vowed to keep the fraternity alive.
• 1982: Fire caused by an electrical malfunction damaged the first floor of ZAP’s vacant Miner Street fraternity house. Investigators suspected the fire may have been accidentally caused by burglars.
• 1983: ZAP regains its charter.
• 1987: A fight at a fraternity bonfire resulted in one man being slashed across his chest and a Canton man arrested for bringing a shotgun to the fight.
• 1993: Code enforcement shuts down the fraternity house on Old Dekalb Road, citing a fire hazard. Reopens 24 hours later after issues are fixed.
• 1993: Fraternity suspended for undisclosed issues.
• 1995: Vacant former fraternity house on Old Dekalb Road was destroyed by fire under suspicious circumstances. ZAP is still suspended at this point.
• 1998: Suspended again for low grades, average GPA 1.51.
• 2006: Fraternity temporarily suspended again for hazing.
• 2013: Fraternity permanently lost its charter after hazing incident at their 72 Miner St. house. All members were suspended or expelled.
• 2014: All seven former members were charged with first-degree hazing.
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