The national Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity announced on Friday that it was banning pledging for new members. The policy change will affect all SAE chapters, including the chapter at Hopkins. The decision was prompted by a recent spate of deaths linked to hazing and alcohol consumption at SAE chapters across the nation.
According to data collected by Bloomberg, there have been 10 such deaths since 2006 — the largest number of fatalities associated with any fraternity nationally. That statistic inspired Bloomberg to term SAE the “Deadliest Fraternity.”
In response to these incidents, SAE has eliminated the traditional pledging process, which typically can last from a number of weeks to several months. In its place, the new “True Gentleman Experience” will be implemented. The new program, SAE says, will better prevent hazing by limiting the power of older fraternity brothers.
Changes made in the initiation process include the stipulation that all candidates for membership must be initiated as brothers within 96 hours of receiving a bid. Additionally, the pledge education program has been adapted so that all members of a given chapter must participate in member education, as opposed to just the new initiates.
“We have experienced a number of incidents and deaths, events with consequences that have never been consistent with our membership experience. Furthermore, we have endured a painful number of chapter closings as a result of hazing,” a statement released by SAE read. The fraternity has been subject to various lawsuits as a result of hazing deaths and injuries. In 2011, a Cornell SAE student died, prompting his mother to sue the chapter for $25 million. Similar incidents have forced SAE to suspend or close 15 chapters within the last three years, according to TIME Magazine.
As a result of such events, SAE foots a higher bill for liability insurance than almost any other fraternity. According to the organization’s website, SAE hopes that the new ban on pledging will help to reduce this expense.
Though recent events have resulted in bad publicity for the organization, negative media attention is only a part of the inspiration behind SAE’s change in policy.
“The attack on our image is not the sole motivating factor behind the changes ... We are making this change because it’s the right thing to do and because we firmly believe in returning to what our Founding Fathers envisioned,” the statement read.
As a result of the new policies, the SAE chapter at Hopkins is in the process of conforming to the national ban on pledging.
“The change of procedure nationally has resulted in our Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter initiating all of their members a little early (since they were already in the middle of the process) and altering their new member education program to accommodate the new membership education format,” Rachel Drennen, Coordinator of Greek Life & Orientation, wrote in an email to The News-Letter.
Drennen said she saw the initiation period as helping to build relationships among fraternity members.
“I believe that the purpose of the new member period is to help the new members of the chapter form a strong bond with one another and with the other chapter members. In a sense, this unites the fraternity and sorority community because all students are having a positive, close-knit experience,” Drennen wrote.
According to Drennen, though the University is strongly against all forms of hazing, there has never been a push by the Hopkins administration to ban pledging.
“We defer to the national organizations when it comes to the chapters structuring their own new member processes. However, in all cases, the University prohibits hazing of any kind and will intervene if that behavior is suspected,” Drennen wrote.
SAE is not the first fraternity to move away from pledging nationally.
“Other fraternities have already shifted or begun the process of shifting their new member programs to a four-year membership development process,” Drennen wrote.
SAE believes this change in policy may pave the way for other fraternities to follow.
“The Supreme Council believes the time is now to embrace change in the way our groups operate in order to ensure our future success. And now is the time to lead the way among Greek-letter organizations,” SAE’s statement read.
Members of the SAE executive board at Hopkins declined to comment.