The national Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity announced that the organization’s Supreme Council would ban its “pledging” process, effective Sunday.
The announcement was made two days before the fraternity’s 158th Founders’ Day and was motivated by a number of deadly incidents surrounding SAE’s pledging process.
“We have experienced a number of incidents and deaths, events with consequences that have never been consistent with our membership experience,” a statement released by the fraternity stated.
Nationally, SAE has seen 10 alcohol-related deaths since 2006, the highest number of any fraternity in the last eight years, according to data collected by Bloomberg.
To combat the negative experiences associated with the “pledging” process, SAE is implementing a new policy they are calling “The True Gentleman Experience.”
The new guidelines have three main tenets: Members must be initiated within 96 hours of receiving a bid, chapters are asked to suspend pledge education in favor of member education for all brothers regardless of their time in the chapter and the expectations and requirements are intended to hold all members of the chapter accountable.
Matt Kasten, president of the California Gamma chapter of SAE at USC, agreed with the new policy.
“I absolutely support the fraternity’s decision and any measure that has the potential to change young men’s lives [and] create a safe and constructive environment for our members,” Kasten said.
In accordance with the new policy, SAE’s 2014 pledge class at USC was initiated Sunday night. The True Gentleman Experience program guidelines, which were released on Friday, state that all current pledges must be initiated by March 11.
The California Gamma chapter will now look toward its fall recruitment, during which Kasten believes the new policy will have a positive impact on incoming members.
“[The policy] definitely has the opportunity to be an advantage to potential new members … so there is no reason why this should adversely affect recruitment,” Kasten said. “There is absolutely some worth to have a pledge experience to get to know a group of guys, but they can still get to know each other but be seen as brothers and equal members of the house.”
In a statement posted on the SAE website, the fraternity addressed more than 25 possible questions that chapters might have regarding the new policy. Many of the questions addressed concerns about recruitment and the importance of the bonding experience during the pledging period.
“From day one, members should be treated as equals because you are asking those men to join to be your brothers,” the statement said. “You will still be making friends, and your experiences should occur together as a chapter, not as individual classes of members.”
The USC Interfraternity Council echoed these sentiments. Ehren Elder, executive vice president of administrative affairs for IFC, said the importance of pledge-class bonding varies from chapter to chapter and individual to individual.
“SAE will [not] be missing out on anything inherent,” Elder said. “The process of becoming initiated is important, but they will still be getting the full initiation process.”
Though IFC had no role in SAE’s Supreme Council decision, IFC has said it supports SAE’s new policy.
“We will stand behind them in any way we can,” said Austin Horton, IFC’s vice president of communications. “This isn’t to say that this new process is or isn’t the only way to go about new member education. There are various methods of new member education that work and do not need to be changed.”
In response to whether or not the IFC would ever consider implementing a similar ban on pledging for all fraternities, Elder said the council has not explored anything similar to SAE’s 96-hour rule.
“We have implemented a policy about alcohol education and continue to improve it, but we have not taken a stance on whether a 96-hour rule is positive or negative, or if we would ever do something like that — we have not explored it,” Elder said.
SAE will join other fraternities, including Zeta Beta Tau and Lambda Chi Alpha, that have banned pledging at the national level. The North-American Interfraternity Conference stated its support for SAE’s “bold initiative to eliminate pledging” as well its stance against hazing and alcohol in new member programs.
“We support the efforts of all member fraternities to address these critical issues within their organizations,” said Peter D. Smithhisler, CEO of NIC.
Kasten said he understands and respects the reasoning behind the Supreme Council’s decision.
“There have been a lot of unfortunate hazing-related deaths nationally that were leveraged by brothers dangling initiation at the end of the semester in front of pledges,” Kasten said. “So they were doing things they wouldn’t ordinarily do that were reckless and unsafe, and it’s really tragic.”
One such tragedy occurred at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo in 2008, when freshman Carson Starkey died of alcohol poisoning during an SAE hazing incident.
SAE has one of the highest costs of any Greek organization for liability insurance. If the new policy can prove a long-term reduction in incidents, the organization anticipates that it will help chapters secure a lower health and safety fee, according to the fraternity’s website.