By Megan Grindstaff
This past month, the Supreme Council of Sigma Alpha Epsilon eliminated New Member Education, or pledging, from the experience of the national fraternity after half a century of the practice.
In a media statement released March 7, Sigma Alpha Epsilon nationals required all current pledges at all 200+ chapters nationwide to be initiated within 48 hours of the change. Chapters that chose not to comply with the changes will be closed, the press release said.
“This change will adopt a method, practice and policy that treat all members equally and fairly and strive for a continuous development of our members throughout their lives,” said Sigma Alpha Epsilon in a media statement. “Effective March 9, 2014, new-member (pledge) programming will be eliminated completely from our operations, and the classification of new member (pledge) will no longer exist. All chapters and colonies will be required to implement this important change.”
When approached for an interview, Houston junior Raymond Gregory III, president of Baylor Sigma Alpha Epsilon, declined, saying, “We have been advised not to discuss the matter.”
Under the new programming called The True Gentleman Experience, chapters are allowed to recruit and extend bids as usual. However, after a bid is extended, chapters have 96 hours to initiate the new inductees into full membership. During this time, the chapter is forbidden to require prospective new members to perform any tasks to prove their worth or commitment to the fraternity, to make the new members feel like second-class citizens or to haze, according to the media statement.
The True Gentlemen Experience shifts the focus from new member training to educating members throughout their four years in the chapter.
According to Bloomberg News data released in December, at least six people have died in events directly related to Sigma Alpha Epsilon since 2006. Bloomberg data also showed that at least 15 Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapters have been suspended or closed by their respective universities in the past three years.
While none of these deaths occurred at Baylor, the Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter at Baylor is on university probation through Dec. 31 for violating university policies in regards to an unregistered social event and providing alcohol to minors, according to Sigma Alpha Epsilon risk management.
“As an organization, we have been plagued with too much bad behavior, which has resulted in loss of lives, negative press and lawsuits,” said Bradley M. Cohen, the president of Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s national organization, during the announcement of the decision. “In order to survive, we must change.”
In the weeks following the decision, backlash from chapters who do not want to comply with the new programming has ensued. Select chapters have even begun to discuss secession.
“Many of our prominent alumni are not happy because everyone understands that pledging is the cornerstone of a fraternity,” said a member of a potentially seceding chapter in the southeast who wishes to remain anonymous. “We essentially just become a country club. You pay your dues and get exclusive membership, but you don’t know or necessarily like who is there.”
This chapter in particular, which wishes to remain anonymous until secession has been finalized, is considering becoming a local fraternity to avoid eliminating the pledging experience, because the members believe doing so would have a detrimental effect on the quality of their chapter.
“We believe in our heart of hearts we are better people for having done that, and we are building better men by doing it,” a member of the chapter said. “I can’t imagine a fraternity lasting without that process. You lose respect on your campus. You lose respect from alumni.”
Secession from a national fraternity is a rare but not unprecedented step to preserve a chapter’s values and practices. In 2011, the Texas Omicron chapter of Kappa Alpha at The University of Texas disaffiliated from Kappa Alpha after the national office suspended the chapter. Kappa Alpha nationals sued the newly founded Texas Omicron for the possession of unpaid dues and property associated with the national fraternity. The chapter at Baylor University is currently suspended for disorderly conduct.
President of the Baylor Interfraternity Council, Baltimore, Md., junior Ryan Aylward said he does not see the change having a huge impact on the Baylor chapter. Men who go through rush don’t make their decision based on the New Member Education period — they make it based on the members of the fraternity, Aylward said. Though there are positives associated with the decision to eliminate pledging, such as eliminated temptation to go outside the rules Baylor has set, Aylward does not foresee other fraternities on campus making this change.
“People are very confident in what they’re comfortable with,” Aylward said. “I don’t think they’re going to actively seek change unless there’s a problem.”