Despite a college-wide email announcing penalties imposed upon the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity for violating University sexual misconduct policies, including a ban from campus, the sanctions may not be as harsh as they sound.
The fraternity is banned from campus until August 2016. However, SAE’s house is located off-campus on High Street. While the penalties also included a ban on communication via Yale email systems and bulletin boards, as well as a prohibition on the use of the SAE name in connection with Yale, several expressed doubts as to whether the fraternity would feel any tangible effect.
“SAE is a very popular place and I don’t think it would hurt their numbers in terms of a rush class or whatever open parties they throw in any significant way,” said a high-ranking officer in one of Yale’s fraternities, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Eight of nine students interviewed said they do not expect the sanctions — announced by Yale College Dean Jonathan Holloway on Friday — to deter people from attending parties at the High Street house, which are unaffected by the sanctions.
All of Yale’s 11 fraternities have their houses off-campus. Connor Durkin ’16, the president of the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity, said his fraternity has not hosted any on-campus events in recent memory. Moreover, he added, the fraternity does not frequently use Yale’s email or bulletin system to communicate with current or potential members.
Members of SAE declined to answer a question, sent to the email address that the fraternity asked all questions be directed to, about how many on-campus events the fraternity hosts per year.
Additionally, six members of other fraternities declined to comment on whether or not the sanctions would have any meaningful impact on SAE’s operations.
Still, when asked whether the sanctions would affect SAE’s off-campus parties, Director of Student Life Hannah Peck DIV ’11 emphasized that the sanctions imposed on SAE include restrictions beyond hosting activities.
Grace Hirshorn ’15 said that while no tangible changes might come of the announcement, it does signal a shift in the University’s treatment of issues of sexual misconduct.
“I think the point of [Holloway’s] announcement is that Yale is taking a strong institutional stand,” Hirshorn said. “Yale very rarely takes a strong institutional stance. I’m not sure that it will necessarily change student behavior, but it does send a strong message.”
But John Foubert, an expert on higher education and sexual assault prevention, who is also an alumnus of SAE, said he would have liked to see strong action from the national SAE organization as well. According to a statement released by SAE headquarters on Friday, the national organization imposed several sanctions on the Yale chapter, including mandatory sexual assault and harassment training for all members and attendance at regional and national leadership training.
If educational programming was the only result of the national organization’s investigation into the matter, Foubert said, that would be inadequate because such education should be taking place regardless.
“I think the more meaningful sanction would be if they lost their charter from the organization, and it doesn’t sound like that happened,” he said. “As someone who is a member of the national organization and also an expert on sexual assault on campus, I wish the national took it more seriously.”
Brandon Weghorst, associate executive director of communications for SAE, said the organization does not revoke charters. Rather, a charter is suspended until the group is approved to return to campus. He added that closures can occur for several reasons, including major violations to organization regulations or to their health and safety program.
He said there is no data available regarding the frequency of chapter closures. He added, however, that national leadership “will not hesitate” to take corrective actions on chapters, depending on the circumstances.
Foubert said that although the sanctions may have some effect on SAE’s operations, they would probably have a much greater effect at a university with a stronger infrastructure for Greek life and a more centralized rush process. Unlike many universities nationwide, Yale does not have an overarching gubernatorial body for fraternities, despite having the Yale Panhellenic Council to oversee the University’s three sororities.
The anonymous fraternity officer said the existence of a governing body would allow sanctions upon fraternities to have real impact — something that cannot happen in the existing framework, he said.
“It’s pretty clear from the punishment that Yale has no intention of shutting down SAE,” he said. “It almost seems like Yale is trying to remove itself from anything that might happen in SAE by saying, ‘We’re not a part of it, this is completely off campus and not condoned by us — go at your own risk.’”