Sigma Alpha Epsilon, one of the nation’s largest fraternities, has eliminated the pledging and initiation processes for new members.
The national fraternity announced in a press release that it has removed these new-membership programs partly because the organization has received bad publicity associated with “a number of incidents and deaths,” as well as chapters closing due tow hazing related problems. According to Bloomberg, at least 10 deaths have been linked to hazing, alcohol and drug use at SAE events — a sizable portion of the 60 fraternity-related deaths documented since 2005.
A new program called “The True Gentleman Experience” will replace SAE’s pledging process. According to the national fraternity, the program will be a period of holistic education during which members will learn more about the fraternity and its principles. The fraternity’s statement acknowledges that the transition from traditional pledging procedures will be a difficult one, but emphasizes its overall positive effects.
“This change will strengthen our Fraternity, create highly positive opportunities to redefine membership, attract prospective members who otherwise might not join and lead the way among Greek-letter organizations as we recommit ourselves to our Founding Fathers’ original concepts,” the statement reads.
Yale SAE President Samir Sama ’15 said in an email he is still unsure of how the Yale chapter will modify its current procedure to fit the national organization’s new guidelines. In the upcoming weeks, he said he plans to meet with the chapter’s executive board in order to determine how the change will affect SAE at Yale. He added that he supports the national fraternity’s decision.
“I believe that any measures taken to reduce the harmful effects of hazing and increase the safety of new SAE members across the country is a positive change,” Sama said.
Seven members of SAE did not respond to request for comment.
Douglas Fierberg, a lawyer who specializes in Greek organization and hazing law and has previously sued SAE, said that though the fraternity’s recent action is a step in the right direction, he believes it is not the “magic bullet” for resolving the issues of hazing and fraternity-related incidents and crimes. The problems that SAE and other fraternities face, he said, extend far beyond the injuries and deaths that have received media attention.
Fierberg referred to a chart on the national fraternity’s website titled “Chapter Health and Safety History,” which he said accurately depicts the sheer number of health and safety incidents that occurred at fraternity-related events over the past five years. Fierberg said the chart — which was created as a result of a settlement he helped reach — shows that violations of fraternity policy have created a widespread, national issue that the public is generally not aware of. SAE’s recent policy change is a motion to reduce the frequency of these infractions, Fierberg said.
Though Fierberg said he does not know if other fraternities are in the process of implementing similar changes, he said it would be “wholly irresponsible” for fraternities not to change their pledging and initiating processes.
The national fraternity organizations for Sigma Phi Epsilon, which abolished its pledge process in 1991, and Chi Psi did not respond to requests for comment.
Sigma Chi Fraternity Grand Consul Michael Greenberg said in an email that while his fraternity supports SAE’s new “courageous stance,” Sig Chi will not be eliminating its New Member Education Programs.
“[W]e believe that New Member Education Programs, as long as they are aligned to our values and devoid of all hazing or irresponsible activities, will continue to serve a purpose of providing a period of education, evaluation, and reflection for all potential Sigma Chis to have the opportunity to understand the importance of a lifelong commitment and the process of lifelong learning,” Greenberg said in an email, adding that his fraternity and SAE are taking “different route[s] to the same end.”
Sig Chi adopted a zero tolerance policy with regard to hazing in 2013.