After a formal investigation by the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct, Yale’s chapter of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity is facing several sanctions: a ban on on-campus activities, a ban on communication via Yale University email systems and bulletin boards and a prohibition on the use of the name SAE in connection with the University. These sanctions will be in place until August 2016.
In a college-wide email Friday morning, Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway informed the community of the complaint that inspired the investigation, which was first opened by the UWC last year. In the email, Holloway explained that SAE had been found in violation of the University’s policies on sexual misconduct and included a letter jointly written by the members of the fraternity summarizing the incident.
According to the letter from the fraternity brothers, the complaint involved a presentation made at a February 2014 initiation ceremony. In addition, the letter said, members of the fraternity were found to have impeded the resulting investigation.
A statement from SAE national headquarters indicated it had launched a separate investigation and found that two members had made inappropriate comments about a female student at a private chapter event, in the presence of other members. While the offensive actions in question were isolated to two individuals, the statement continued, all SAE brothers are expected “to act as gentlemen at all times.”
The headquarters, which added that it does not condone demeaning or derogatory language, also imposed its own sanctions on Yale’s chapter, including mandated sexual assault and harassment training for all members.
Brandon Weghorst, associate executive director of communications for SAE’s national organization, confirmed to the News that the two members involved had graduated from the University since the incident last year.
In addition to listing the University sanctions, SAE’s letter in the email described steps the fraternity has taken to improve its internal culture. Among them were meetings with the dean of student affairs and communication and consent educators, as well as national leadership training for three officers this past fall. Friday’s announcement comes less than a year after SAE eliminated its pledging process for new members nationally.
“Through working with the University and other professionals, we believe that we have made legitimate progress in this area,” the brothers of SAE said in a statement to the News.
Six members of the fraternity contacted declined to comment individually, and nine more did not respond to requests for comment.
Holloway told the News in an email that he chose to share the information with the community at this particular point because enough time had passed for SAE to respond constructively to the sanctions.
In his campus-wide email, Holloway explained that although he was sharing the organization’s name and some details of the complaint with the campus community, he was still upholding UWC confidentiality policies by not disclosing identities of the individuals involved.
While confidentiality is crucial in any UWC proceeding, Holloway told the News, there is also an important distinction to be made between individuals and groups. In cases involving groups — which have their own status independent of individuals — the demand for sharing information is higher, he said.
UWC Chair David Post echoed Holloway, adding that while the vast majority of cases will continue to be reported only in the University’s semiannual Reports of Complaints of Sexual Misconduct, the administration will inform the community in cases where sanctions affect the way in which an organization interacts with the larger student body. Still, all five students interviewed said they do not believe Holloway’s announcement will deter students from attending SAE parties at its off-campus house.
Holloway also added that he hopes sharing such information will help better inform the community on the processes behind sexual misconduct complaints.
“It is my hope that in sharing information with the community — in cases when I can preserve confidentiality — I can provide additional transparency to the University’s procedures and at the same time place them within their broader educational context,” Holloway said in an email to the News.
Alexa Derman ’18, public relations coordinator for the Yale Women’s Center, said that though blaming fraternity culture for sexual misconduct would be an oversimplification that does little to address the issue’s core issues, holding organizations accountable for their behavior — especially organizations like SAE that figure prominently in Yale’s social scene — sends a strong message to other groups about their responsibility to contribute to a positive sexual climate on campus.
University Title IX Coordinator and Deputy Provost Stephanie Spangler did not return a request for comment.
In both the letter included in Holloway’s email and the fraternity’s statement to the News, the brothers emphasized that the incident last February did not represent the values of the fraternity. The fraternity’s statement added that the presentation in question had not been supported by the fraternity, nor were members of the fraternity aware of its content before its delivery.
Moving forward, the letter added, SAE’s brothers will strive to promote respect and tolerance on campus and to be a safe, positive social outlet.
The latest semiannual Report of Complaints of Sexual Misconduct, published Feb. 5, contained an update to a previously pending complaint by a Yale College student against Yale College students for sexual harassment and retaliation. The complaint’s resolution stated that a student organization had been found responsible for impeding the investigation and creating a hostile environment. Consequently, the report said, the organization’s activities had been suspended for two years. The report, however, does not explicitly state which organization it is referring to.
Yale’s chapter of SAE was founded in 1988.
This article has been revised to reflect the version published in print on Feb. 16, 2015.