New students eager to enjoy Greek life in Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s lion-statue-guarded house along the University of Minnesota’s fraternity row will no longer be subject to one long-standing rite — pledging.
In the wake of deaths, lawsuits and a flood of negative press nationwide, SAE is doing away with the practice at its 240 chapters nationwide. It’s making the change, its leaders say, in an attempt to be safer and more inclusive. For most students joining a fraternity, the typically semester-long rite of pledging is historic, hilarious and harmless. But in some cases, it has turned ugly.
Since 2006, there have been 10 deaths nationwide at SAE fraternities that can be attributed to hazing, drugs or alcohol, according to a recent Bloomberg News report — more than any other fraternity in the country.
“As an organization, we have been plagued with too much bad behavior which has resulted in loss of lives, negative press and large lawsuits,” nationwide fraternity leader Bradley Cohen says in a video statement.
In Minnesota, SAE’s chapters at the U and at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter made the change when it took effect March 9.
Some leaders of Greek life at the U say they see the change as positive and innovative, but stressed that pledging at their house on University Avenue SE. was already safe.
Brad Otto, the U’s SAE chapter president, said the semester he pledged was the best time he’s had at the fraternity. Everyone he pledged with had a great time, he said, adding that it’s unfortunate that pledging is going away because “some bad apples that ruined it for the rest of us.”
Still, he said, SAE’s move could serve as a model for other fraternities.
“I think it was a move by the council to really stay out of the curve and be a leader within the Greek community and work to create a more positive image,” he said. “It will be up to us to set the standard for how this works.”
Move may aid recruiting
The pledging ban decrees that once a prospective SAE member accepts an invitation to join, he has 96 hours to complete a training program, which includes alcohol education, to be fully initiated as a brother in the fraternity, the national fraternity’s statement says. At no point is SAE allowed to force a prospective new member to prove his worth.
“This change will adopt a method, practice and policy that treat all members equally and fairly,” the statement says.
Brandon Weghorst, national associate executive director of communications with SAE, acknowledged that pledging has had a negative image, but said he hopes the abolition of what he called the “probation period” will create a safer and more welcoming environment. He expressed the hope that the change will draw new members who had been wary of the pledge process.
“It won’t solve all the problems,” Weghorst said. But he said it’s a “path better than the path we had been on.”
Others may follow suit
Cameron Schilling is president of the Interfraternity Council at the U, which governs all campus fraternities. Schilling, a Sigma Chi member, said his pledge process was similar to that of most U fraternities and was one of the most rewarding parts of his time in Greek life. Still, he said, it’s possible to effectively add and orient new members without a pledge process.
Jacob Iveland, vice president of recruitment for the council, said he believes that cutting out the lengthy pledge process could help SAE court new members.
“I think a lot of the fraternities on the Minnesota campus are doing things right,” Schilling said.
At least two fraternities at the U have long had no pledge process. Alpha Gamma Rho is one.
“By no means [does] every [pledging] process include hazing or any sort of negative actions,” Alpha Gamme Rho president Bryan Wendt said. But “there is a certain perception that it could.”
At the U at least, eliminating pledging would not take away from the attractions of frat life for most members, he said. Fraternities that still have pledging are likely to consider following in SAE’s footsteps, he said.
“It’s just a step to a different process that I see as a positive,” Wendt said.
At the U, about 1,500 students are involved in fraternities. Matt Levine, program director of the U’s Office for Fraternity and Sorority Life, said the school supports all its fraternities, but is especially pleased with what SAE is doing.
Levine said that even before SAE’s change, fraternities at the U were proactive about educating and protecting new members, Levine said. He said he is in frequent communication with chapter leaders who want to talk about safety.
Schilling, of the Interfraternity Council, said that the U’s chapter isn’t reflective of the kinds of problems highlighted in negative nationwide coverage, and that its elimination of pledging is a wholly positive move.
“It’s a historic thing,” Levine said. “I’m excited to see how it plays out.”
Danielle Dullinger and Cody Nelson are University of Minnesota student reporters on assignment for the Star Tribune. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.