SAE Fraternity Continues to Grapple with Pledging Ban

Late on Friday afternoon, Sigma Alpha Epsilon announced an “historic decision” to ban pledging, citing all the deaths (10) and the damage to the reputation (ample) that it’s caused over the last few years. SAE is arguably the most prominent fraternity to eliminate pledging; it’s also the largest. “This is a very big deal,” Brian Madison Jr. president of SAE’s alumni association at Ball State University, told Bloomberg last week. “The fraternity set a line in the sand. The students will have to adapt and change.”

The last few days have gone about how you’d expect. Many current brothers are pissed, citing a loss of tradition and a future inability to attract new members. The nationals have responded by saying a safer environment will conversely attract freshmen to join. Alumni reaction seems to be more mixed, with some Facebook commenters sarcastically calling the organization “Sigma Alpha Everyone,” and others applauding the move. (One comment: “On this historic Founders Day, I could not be more proud of the new direction our Supreme Council is taking us. The right decision is not always the most popular decision.”)

This seems like a typical scene, via Bloomberg:

“What’s lost? The brotherhood experience,” said [West Chester University’s Eric] Johnson, 21, standing on the porch of his chapter house. Inside stood three stone lions, an SAE symbol of strength and togetherness. “When you pledge with people, you get really close to them.”

Brad Snider, an SAE member at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, said fraternity alumni are supportive of the move while his brothers oppose it. The brothers fear they won’t have enough time to evaluate potential members in the one week that the school sets aside for recruitment.

“They’re telling us we have three days to decide whether a guy is worthy or not,” he said.

There are still five months for the SAE frat guys to chew over the changes. But right now, they seem weighty. Every chapter is now obligated to eliminate its pledging period. If a prospective member is offered a bid, he becomes a brother immediately. The new member then has 96 hours to complete the “Carson Starkey Membership Certification Program,” named after a pledge who died 11 years ago at Cal Poly after a night of hazing. And a failure to go along with any step of the process could result in a chapter losing its charter.

Time will tell if this ban pushes things further underground. (As if it could get lower.) Will SAE chapters begin hazing “newly initiated brothers,” who are pledges in everything but name only? Will its policies attract or repel prospective rushees? And, most importantly, will this ban lead other fraternities to adopt similar measures?

It’s interesting. Frats have been around for a very long time, and they’ve hazed since the 1800s. (SAE seems to be an outlier in that it only began hazing post-WWII.) But the Greek system has never really received the level of scrutiny—thanks to the Internet, some recent prominent media attention, and other factors—that it does now.

SAE’s decision could be a tipping point. In what direction, I don’t know.

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