Shared vision for better men

Sigma Phi Epsilon recognizes Dean of Students Jeff Zeilenga for supporting their mission to make positive changes in the fraternity world.

Dean of Students Jeff Zeilenga
Dean of Students Jeff Zeilenga says Sigma Phi Epsilon has been an inspiration for others in their academic achievement, leadership and the way they treat each other with respect. Sam O’Keefe/University of Missouri

By Jesse Berlin

Sigma Phi Epsilon has recognized a university leader for his support as the fraternity seeks to redefine what it means to be Greek at Mizzou.

In March, Dean of Students Jeff Zeilenga received Sigma Phi Epsilon’s 2021 University Partner of the Year Award. The award goes to campus partners who play an outstanding role in the development of a chapter and, in turn, the fraternal movement.

“I have received a number of awards over my 35-year career, but this came from our Greek students who have been exceptional in setting a new standard for our fraternities,” Zeilenga said. “Really, I had very little to do with their success. All the recognition should go to the SigEps and their advisors. They shared a vision and did all the real work.”

Greg Pierson, president of MU’s Sigma Phi Epsilon chapter, nominated Zeilenga for the award. “Dr. Zeilenga has a vision for what Greek life could be on this campus that aligns really well with what SigEp wants to do,” Pierson said.

Want to grow personally and academically? Learn more about fraternities and sororities at Mizzou.

Sigma Phi Epsilon is trying to bring positive change not just to the local chapter but also to Greek life. These reforms started after the national Sigma Phi Epsilon organization shut down the MU chapter for conduct violations, including hazing, in 2017.

“The chapter needed to close down, take a short break and come back stronger than ever — which is exactly what they did,” Zeilenga said.

When Sigma Phi Epsilon reopened in fall 2019, Pierson was a first-year student. He joined, but not without some hesitation.

“The stereotypical views of fraternity are what deter most men,” Pierson said. “I certainly shared many of those hesitations, but upon learning the vision for SigEp, I understood that those things are not representative.”

Pierson was quickly elected vice president of recruitment for Sigma Phi Epsilon, and Zeilenga was ready to help.

“I was sitting in [Dr. Zeilenga’s] office, talking to him about what I was doing on campus to have an impact and the vision that he had for the university, and that kind of opened my eyes,” Pierson said.

The new Sigma Phi Epsilon now follows an approach called the Balanced Man Program, which does not tolerate hazing.

The innovative approach aligns with Zeilenga’s vision. “Grades, service to others, learning leadership and embracing brotherhood and sisterhood are amazing values that every one of our Greek organizations should demonstrate,” he said. “SigEp has not only been able to demonstrate this but has been an inspiration for others in their academic achievement, leadership and the way they treat each other with respect.”

This fall, Sigma Phi Epsilon’s members will move back into their chapter house, which will be substance-free. The fraternity wants to build a culture where alcohol is not “the centerpiece of the fraternity experience, which I think it is in too many cases,” Pierson said.

Pierson says he wants to help rewrite the narrative about fraternities.

“I don’t think that our mission here is to convince people that fraternities are good, and we shouldn’t be so hard on them,” Pierson said. “I think our mission is to be a better fraternity.”

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