Sigma Alpha Epsilon, a national fraternity that has fallen under scrutiny for its multiple hazing-related deaths, eliminated its pledging process Sunday. UF’s chapter is still deciding its stance on the national branch’s decision.
“We’re still formulating our opinion on national’s decision and really don’t have anything to say at this time,” said Tyler Conte, the president of UF’s SAE chapter and a 21-year-old astronomy and economics junior.
The national fraternity will adopt a quicker acceptance process in which potential members must reply to a bid within 96 hours. Along with the shortened acceptance period, pledge-education programs will be replaced with programs for all members. The new system will go into effect during Fall 2014.
Brandon Weghorst, a spokesman for SAE’s national branch, said the change is a move back toward the fraternity’s founding: Prior to World War I, candidates became full members as soon as they were accepted.
At least 10 deaths from SAE-related activities have occurred since 2006, Bloomberg reported. The change in the fraternity’s acceptance process aims to curb this number, but SAE isn’t the first fraternity to try the change. Zeta Beta Tau abolished pledging in 1989.
Smiley Hudson, a 21-year-old UF industrial systems and engineering junior, rushed ZBT his sophomore year.
Hudson said ZBT’s lack of pledging has removed hazing from the equation while increasing the number of applicants for the fraternity.
“When you haze, I feel like you scar kids,” he said. “We use this in place of hazing: We educate our brothers.”
Sigma Phi Epsilon also nationally banned pledging in 1991, but its UF chapter closed in January 2013 for multiple breaches of the university’s policies — including hazing.
UF’s SAE chapter isn’t exempt from the fraternity’s national reputation. According to UF’s Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution website, the chapter was put on probation until January 2015 with academic sanctions for hazing in Fall 2010.
Santiago Ramirez, the public relations director for UF’s Interfraternity Council, declined to comment. Several SAE brothers also declined to comment.
Jack Causseaux, the associate director of Sorority and Fraternity Affairs at UF, wrote in an email interview he trusts SAE’s national leadership to make the best decision for the fraternity.
“I think the fraternity’s decision to improve their member education programs can positively affect other fraternities and sororities on campus,” he said.
However, some fraternity members feel the pledging process is integral to making sure each new member is a snug fit.
Fred Kolb, a Sigma Nu brother and director of education programming for IFC, said SAE’s removal of the pledging process is a big step.
“I think that’s a disservice to the new people and the old brothers,” said Kolb, a 21-year-old UF economics and political science junior.
He said there are other methods of reducing hazing, such as raising awareness.
Weghorst said the decision wasn’t a result of a particular event, but the fraternity’s Supreme Council is looking to improve the experience for brothers.
“We’ve had a number of incidents over the years that are regrettable,” he said. “Our goal is to provide the best and safest experience that we possibly can.”
He said the pledging process is a flawed system, and chapters worried about the 96 hours being too short to effectively choose members should be more selective in their search.
“Chapters should be making friends and evaluating people year round,” he said. “It’s not going to solve all of our problems, but it’s definitely more aligned with what this organization is all about.”
[A version of this story ran on page 1 on 3/11/2014 under the headline "SAE national eliminates pledging"]