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Sigma Alpha Epsilon eliminates pledging but questions over hazing and drinking remain

The national headquarters of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity has eliminated the pledging process for new members in the hopes of treating all members fairly. All chapters and colonies, including the University’s chapter, will have to comply with this change.

Brendan Ecclesine ’14, the chapter president for Princeton, declined to comment.

At Princeton, the SAE fraternity has been involved in scandal in the past due to the intensity of its pledging process. Eleven SAE members were suspended in 1990 by the University’s Faculty-Student Committee on Discipline after a party known as ‘golf night’  sent one freshman pledge to the hospital according to an article published in The Daily Princetonian at the time.

“After attending the SAE-sponsored party — in which participants consumed five drinks in each of nine rooms, referred to as ‘holes,’ scattered across campus — a first-year fraternity pledge was deemed ‘totally unresponsive’ and transported to Princeton Medical Center,” the article read.

More recently, an article published in the ‘Prince’ in 2010 shed light on the hazing practices of the organization, which included regular excessive drinking, as well as other hazing tasks such as swimming naked in an icy lake and drinking tobacco spit.

New members of SAE will now participate in a program called the True Gentleman’s Experience instead of going through a pledge education program, the SAE website said. The True Gentleman’s Experience involves a holistic education period for all brothers and will reinforce the fraternity’s mission, values and history in addition to encouraging personal development for all members.

The SAE’s Supreme Council enacted this policy to protect SAE’s future and to eliminate the current class structure between active and new members, returning to the fraternity’s tradition before World War II when the pledge program didn’t exist, its website read.

John Burford ’12, a former SAE pledge who recounted his experiences in the ‘Prince,’ said in an interview this week that he feels uncertain about the new policy.

“I think it depends how it actually goes down on a practical level because before when I was in SAE, the national organization had already banned hazing for quite a long time, but, of course, people actually did it,” Burford said, referring to what SAE called “voluntary bonding” rather than hazing. While acknowledging that some chapters may adopt the required changes, he added that he has a feeling that the University’s chapter is going to keep doing what it has always done.

Burford said SAE is one of the fraternities at the University most known for its hazing. According to Bloomberg, nine people have died in incidents related to SAE nationally since 2006, more than at any other fraternity. The national SAE organization visited the University to perform an investigation after Burford’s story was published, but Burford said that after SAE denied any instances of hazing, the national organization promptly left.

Although Burford said he had initially been excited for the pledging process and thought it would be an adventure, instead he found it to be quite unhealthy. He noted the frequency of alcohol poisoning and added that he could recall individuals who threw up so much they ruptured their stomach lining and wound up throwing up blood.

Burford said that even with these new changes he would not rush again if he were still in school.

“For me, it wasn’t worth it, but I guess people have to make their own decisions,” Burford said. However, he warned students considering going Greek to educate themselves on the possible risks involved.

“At least go back and read the articles from back when it all came out because it actually details the specific incidents,” Burford said. “At least that way they’ll know; they’ll know the kind of things that used to go down.”

Princeton implemented a ban on freshman year rush in the academic year 2012-2013.

Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the year when the University implemented a ban on freshman year rush. The ban was implemented in the academic year 2012-2013. The ‘Prince’ regrets the error. 

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