Sigma Alpha Epsilon has a track record

It’s not the kind of track record you want.

The fraternity now boasts more than 200,000 living alumni, along with about 15,000 undergraduates populating 219 chapters and 20 “colonies” seeking full membership at universities.

SAE has had to work hard to change recently after a string of member deaths, many blamed on the hazing of new recruits, SAE national President Bradley Cohen wrote in a message on the fraternity’s website.

The fraternity’s website lists more than 130 chapters cited or suspended for “health and safety incidents” since 2010. At least 30 of the incidents involved hazing, and dozens more involved alcohol.

130 out of 219. Wow.

However, the list is missing numerous incidents from recent months. Among them, according to various media outlets: Yale University banned the SAEs from campus activities last month after members allegedly tried tointerfere with a sexual misconduct investigation connected to an initiation rite.

Stanford University in December suspended SAE housing privileges after finding sorority members attending a fraternity function were subjected to graphic sexual content. And Johns Hopkins University in November suspended the fraternity for underage drinking.

“The media has labeled us as the ‘nation’s deadliest fraternity,’ ” Cohen said. In 2011, for example, a student died while being coerced into excessive alcohol consumption, according to a lawsuit.

Its insurer dumped it, so now it pays Lloyd’s of London the highest insurance rates possible.

Universities have turned down SAE’s attempts to open new chapters, and the fraternity had to close 12 in 18 months over hazing incidents.

But isn’t that what higher education is for?


  1. says

    I cannot believe SAE national tolerated so many hazing fatalities for so long. You want to have lots of chapters in lots of colleges, and you want to have a big thriving brotherhood everywhere, but letting your willing and eager recruits get killed for stupid reasons is perfectly okay? What kind of people get into the national hierarchy to make such decisions?

    Seriously, how hard would it have been to put out a rule that said “Don’t do shit to your pledges that’s likely to get them killed”? That should have been right up there with “Keep your houses in decent repair so they’re safe to live in.”

    Racial epithets be damned — this hazing shit alone shows a deeply sick mentality at nearly all levels of SAE, and who knows which other fraternities as well? The fact that such a mentality prevailed for so long strongly implies it’s not exactly alien to college fraternity culture in general.

  2. A Masked Avenger says

    you want to have a big thriving brotherhood everywhere, but letting your willing and eager recruits get killed for stupid reasons is perfectly okay?

    I have no personal knowledge of fraternities and how they operate, but I’ve read about the psychology of hazing. The purpose of hazing is to inspire loyalty by imposing a high cost on joining. The fact that you endured it voluntarily, seems to translate in your head into valuing membership very highly. Not unlike the military, whose boot camp is set up as a giant hazing ritual to inculcate absolute loyalty and obedience.

    When I try to project myself into that mindset, I see myself as a member of national thinking, “I went through it myself. There’s nothing wrong with it. Accidents happen. SAE forever!”

    Basically, that kind of brainwashing doesn’t come cheap. And it’s being performed by the already-brainwashed. Recruits die too, for similar reasons. (I’d expect recruits to die at lower rates, but the military is a billion-dollar outfit. Their brainwashing operation is on a whole ‘nother level.)

  3. tecolata says

    A former colleague of mine joined a fraternity in college. He said their rush activities were more silly than anything else like wearing dumb hats. They had to fetch dinner trays for current members. Crap like that. It struck me as very very dumb but non-lethal, so it falls into the category of “not my business”.

    Hazing is another issue entirely. And far too tolerated. But how different is it from military boot camp? Show you can take abuse “like a man” and then dish it out as soon as you get a chance.

  4. Katydid says

    My university didn’t allow the Greeks until my senior year. This was back in the 1980s, and the change to campus was immediate and horrible–there were no frat houses, and the university was “out in the country” with no nearby housing of any kind, so the thugs took root in the dorms. Lots of super-drunk guys, lots of injured-by-hazing guys, lots of all-night-screaming-and-carrying on. My roommate’s boyfriend joined SAE, so they were around our dorm room a lot. Whole bunch o’ assholes. I see nothing’s changed in 25 years.

  5. Dunc says

    Why are fraternities a university “thing” at all? Why not gangs, while they’re at it?

    Good question. AFAIK, it’s a uniquely American thing. It’s bizarre.

  6. kevinalexander says

    Y’all such spoil sports. What’s wrong with the boys over at Kuppa Smegma havin’ a little fun?

  7. Morgan says

    Seconding Marcus Ranum. Looking at this from outside the US, it’s, as Dunc says, bizarre. What are these things supposed to be for, and why are they tolerated when they seem so manifestly terrible at achieving that without vile side-effects?

  8. says

    Morgan: Offhand, I’d say they’re “manifestly terrible” because they no longer have the purpose they once had. A long time ago, when it was much harder to move from one town to another in this huge country of ours, and put down roots in a new community and find a job and start or restart a career, fraternities served as a network to make all that much easier than it otherwise would have been. Membership in a frat with chapters all over the country, and letters of introduction or recommendation from others in a frat, enabled members to move from college town to work town, quickly find friends and contacts in the new town, and sometimes find jobs in the new town as well. So back then, there was at least a little more incentive for fraternities to keep their behavior from becoming too embarrassing.

    Today, however, physical and social mobility is much greater, due to both telecoms and planes, trains and roads; so we don’t need fraternities for networking anymore; so that leaves frats with no purpose but partying, with no incentive to enforce anything like a public code of conduct.

  9. Jenora Feuer says

    @Raging Bee:
    Well, I wouldn’t say that’s entirely true. The big fraternities still engage in networking, it’s just a whole lot more ‘Old Boy’s Club’ now: alumni working together to shelter each other and the fraternity from consequences as much as possible, even if that means cutting local chapters loose.

  10. says

    Yes, I was generalizing, mostly based on my father’s college experiences (early 1950s), and his accounts of his friends’ and parents’ experiences. Other people’s mileage may vary, as always.

  11. johnthedrunkard says

    At least if the victims of reckless, or deliberate, alcohol consumption are male, we don’t get the immediate rationalization about ‘victim blaming.’

    Any other drug, used with such vicious and reckless intent, would bring down the house on their heads. We are still in a national fog about alcohol. We need another revolution like MADD to wake people up.

  12. says

    I’ve never understood the reason for sororities and fraternities, just as I’ve never understood why football is allowed and indeed encouraged to dominate everything else. I find it all repellent.

  13. Onamission5 says

    Indeed, I do not understand what positive function frats and sororities are supposed to serve, either. The college I attended has not allowed them since the 1970’s on the basis that exclusive societies create division amongst the student body and promote distracting, anti social, often dangerous behavior. If someone felt the need to belong to something there were plenty of activity or topic oriented clubs, and of course, one’s studies. We got by just fine.

    I hear that since I left, a co-ed “fraternal” org has cropped up in association with the business school on campus, but there’s no official housing or anything along those lines. It’s for networking? I guess? I don’t know, I haven’t lived there for some 12 odd years at this point.

  14. nathanaelnerode says

    Purpose of fraternities and sororities, originally and still, networking. Which started with networking for roommates, so housing came quick. Many of the “professional fraternities” have stuck to that since day one. So have the “service fraternities”. And the “honor societies” (which are also fraternities). It’s probably excessive and impractical to try to ban all fraternities — there’s no strict line separating Phi Beta Kappa from a “fraternity”, and it was founded as one.

    I don’t know exactly when the “drinking culture” fraternities with the violent hazing and abuse took over as the default “fraternity”, but it seems to have been somewhere during Prohibition (!!!), and was completely entrenched by the 1920s.

    Weirdly, upon research, I discover that the “social fraternities and sororities” have a specific exemption from Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, at US Code Title 28, Chaper 30 section (A)6(A). This is why all-male fraternities still exist in the US — otherwise they’d be illegal. (This exemption does not apply to any other sorts of fraternities, so they’re all co-ed.)

    I am suspicious from the get-go of any organization relying on a special exemption from the Title IX anti-sex-discrimination provisions. Repeal the provision, I say. It would be also interesting to see exactly which fraternities campaigned for that exemption, because they would have to be utter sexists to specifically fight for a carveout.

    Of course, when you have an organization like SAE with a record like SAE, I can’t imagine why anyone would allow it on campus. You could probably get SAE shut down under RICO.

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