Leo, the Yale fraternity formerly known as Sigma Alpha Epsilon, is undergoing changes in internal culture as it adopts new policies on diversity and inclusion after the group dissociated itself from the national fraternity chapter in May.
While many of the new policies aim to make Leo parties safer, the most significant change to occur since Leo separated from the national chapter is an increase in its annual budget. Without an obligation to pay yearly dues to the national SAE organization, Leo has used these funds to expand financial aid for members and pay for both house repairs and social events. Leo members interviewed said the dissociation from the national chapter has already benefitted the fraternity, which seeks to redefine its image on campus after a year of controversy and criticism.
“Leo is now able to be more actively involved in Yale College life,” said Leo president Jesse Mander ’18. “Anything that sheds light on a problem is a blessing in disguise and that’s potentially what happened last year. It opened our eyes up to the way people really felt.”
Last November, SAE became embroiled in controversy after allegedly denying female students entrance to a party on the basis of race. Although the fraternity has denied these allegations, SAE faced intense criticism both nationally and within the Yale community.
Furthermore, in February 2015, the administration banned SAE from all on-campus activities after an investigation by the University-Wide Committee on Sexual Misconduct found that the fraternity had violated the Yale’s sexual misconduct policies. That ban expired in August.
Since the ban was lifted, Leo members said the organization is revising its image on campus by making positive contributions to Yale’s community and working with other campus groups to make social spaces safer. Mander said Leo is now working with Unite Against Sexual Assault Yale and the Yale Communication and Consent Educators to create a fraternity-specific sexual assault awareness and prevention program that will instruct new and current members.
“I am hugely committed to what happens at Leo going forward and what it stands for in the future,” Mander said. “I want Leo to be at the forefront of a fundamental change in culture at fraternities and sororities here at Yale, and perhaps nationally, and our contribution as members of Leo to take place long after we leave Yale.”
The “Alcohol and Other Drugs Harm Reduction Initiative,” which is coordinated through the Yale College Dean’s Office, began to work with Leo this fall by providing bartending lessons to new and current members and instruct them how to identify alcohol poisoning at parties. In addition, Leo created a new position in its leadership structure for a diversity and inclusion chair, who is responsible for handling any complaints or suggestions from non-Leo students, Mander said.
Leo is also increasing its focus on community service as part of the rebranding campaign. Leo is organizing an early education fundraiser in conjunction with several Yale sororities to buy school supplies for kindergarten students in Fair Haven, according to Leo Philanthropy Chair Mariano Miranda ’18.
“Education is something that our philanthropy chair, Mariano, and all of us feel very strongly about,” Mander said. “It’s the best way to empower people, especially women and minorities. Mariano, and a couple brothers as well, volunteer with local schools in the area in their tutoring programs.”
In addition to these outreach efforts, Leo has also instituted new requirements for all the parties it hosts. All Leo parties now feature readily-available bottles of water, sober Leo members tasked with reducing risk and an external hired bouncer who operates “an unbiased system of entry and exit,” Mander said. To make parties feel more welcoming for all genders, Leo members will also now encourage their female friends to serve drinks behind the bar.
In order to better focus on making internal changes, Leo will not offer any new bids to prospective members this semester, Mander told the News.
Mander said he believes the changes made to Leo’s party culture have helped the fraternity respond to feelings of dissatisfaction and discomfort from some students. As evidence of Leo’s progress, Mander pointed to positive feedback he has received from non-Leo members who have attended the fraternity’s parties this fall — attendees who are from increasingly diverse backgrounds, he said.
“Our fraternity, internally, I don’t think ever has been racist or exclusive,” said Marc Bielas ’18, Leo’s diversity and inclusion chair. “What we’re noticing now is how much of an extra mile we need to take in order to make people feel welcome.”
However, some students are not convinced that Leo’s attempts to revamp its image reflect meaningful change.
Gabriel Dolsten ’20 told the News that the name change “probably doesn’t really matter” because, Dolsten said, Leo’s new image would not change how Leo members behave.
“It’s not like the members of the frat are going to be more or less inclusive because of it,” Dolsten added.
Shamsa Derrick ’20 said some people on campus still avoid Leo parties and that Leo should follow through on its promise of reform.
“Yale authorities are monitoring [Leo] as much as they did before, or even more, so I hope and believe there won’t be any more controversies this year,” said Jakub Madej ’20.
The lion is a popular mascot of the national chapter of SAE.