Second-year student and fraternity member Ryan Michalski died from blunt force trauma in an accident during Sigma Nu’s unsanctioned trip to Running Springs in San Bernardino County – informally known as the fraternity’s annual Big Bear trip – in May 2021.
On May 21, Michalski and his fraternity brothers were in Running Springs when Michalski fell and “sustained severe injuries,” according to retired San Bernardino Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Jodi Miller. Miller said the county fire department transported Michalski to the Loma Linda University Medical Center, where he died on May 25 at 8:45 p.m. from blunt force trauma to his head, according to his death certificate.
There was no homicide investigation into Michalski’s death since it was ruled an accident, according to Miller.
The UC Santa Barbara chapter of Sigma Nu has been placed on a yearlong suspension for the unsanctioned trip, according to UCSB spokesperson Andrea Estrada.
“The investigation into Ryan Michalski’s death is a law enforcement matter. But the fraternity has been found responsible for holding an unsanctioned event during a time when in-person events were prohibited by the university, and it has been sanctioned accordingly,” Estrada said in an Oct. 12 statement to the Nexus.
UCSB Sigma Nu chapter president and fourth-year film and media studies major Emerson Stewart said in a statement to the Nexus, “every member of Sigma Nu is devastated by the loss of Ryan Michalski.”
“He was a genuinely kind person, and we are all going to remember and miss him for the rest of our lives. Our hearts go out to his family who have no doubt suffered an unimaginable loss,” Stewart said.
“We are working with our nationals and with the school to move forward in a healthy way that is respectful to both Ryan and his family. One of our goals is to work with the school to eventually create a philanthropy project in Ryan’s honor when the appropriate time comes,” he continued.
During Michalski’s memorial service, friends and family described him as a quiet, thoughtful and bright person who loved the Los Angeles Chargers and participated in many sports including soccer, baseball, lacrosse and tennis. Michalski’s brother also praised his chess skills.
Sigma Nu was placed on interim investigatory suspension following Michalski’s death, which has now transitioned into a yearlong sanction. The Student Engagement and Leadership website states that the chapter is suspended until June 10, 2022.
While typically such a suspension involves “prohibition on operating, recruiting or fraternizing with other organizations,” Estrada said that the “highly unusual circumstances” might result in allowing limited activities “focused on grieving and healing.”
Over the course of the 2020-21 academic year, nine sororities and fraternities were reported for violating public health orders for hosting or participating in large gatherings during a time when in-person events were prohibited by the university.
Of the organizations that were reported for holding unsanctioned events during this time period, repeat offender Alpha Tau Omega was the only one that was sanctioned, eventually resulting in social probation and the loss of its spring 2021 recruitment. All others only received warnings during the 2020-21 school year.
When asked about the differences in sanctions by the Nexus, Estrada said that the university “cannot speak to specifics” and that each investigation is “individualized and conducted on a case-by-case basis.”
UCSB’s Interfraternity Council did not respond to multiple requests for comment upon time of publication.
A version of this article appeared on p. 1 of the Oct. 14, 2021 print edition of the Daily Nexus.