The Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity made news last month when it banned new-member pledging in an attempt to shed its reputation as the “most deadly fraternity in America.”
However, as SAE members’ reddit discussions show, many brothers believe this decision will ruin their fraternity and its brotherhood. By quickly initiating new members — and exposing them to secret SAE rituals and traditions — brothers say that the fraternity experience will likely become devalued.
Perhaps the most important SAE tradition that brothers fear will be lost is the “True Gentleman Experience,” the fraternity’s new member education program. According to a 2013 new member guidebook, over the course of several weeks SAE pledges would learn the history of the Greek system, the “purpose of membership,” and SAE songs, among other topics.
“When the new brother takes his place in the chapter he should have a pretty good idea of what the fraternity is all about. He should be able to effectively explain the role of Sigma Alpha Epsilon in the collegiate experience, i.e. the development of the individual toward becoming a solid citizen on campus and after graduation,” the 2013 “The True Gentleman Initiative” guidebook says.
Another sensitive piece of information is SAE’s secret motto — “Phi Alpha” — defined on various websites as “Brighter from Obscurity.”
Under SAE’s revised new member program, which went into effect immediately after its announcement in March, “candidates for membership” must be fully initiated into the brotherhood within 96 hours of receiving their bids. “From the first day, the Ritual of Sigma Alpha Epsilon will guide members not in quiet allusion, build-up or allegory, but by experiencing it fully,” states the new version of the “True Gentlemen Experience.”
Now, new SAE members will have full access to the fraternity’s secrets and rituals almost immediately after receiving an invitation to join, instead of having to go through weeks of lessons and exams before being initiated as brothers.
This quick access to fraternity secrets seems to be at the core of many members’ concerns. As one SAE brother writes on reddit, “I cannot believe this is happening to our beloved Fraternity … Pledgeship was my favourite part, now abolished entirely for the mistakes of few. Phi Alpha will not be a reward after twelve weeks, but now a privilege after one.”
Members claim that SAE’s pledge process led to a greater appreciation of the fraternity and its values, a connection that could be lost under the new system. “I don’t think I would ever have appreciated SAE as much, nor had a relationship with my Brothers, had pledgeship been a week-and-done deal. It will be a gym membership: sign up, get involved for a month, then drop out when life offers you something easier,” one member writes on reddit.
These fears were echoed by another SAE brother:
Now that new guys will be initiated they will not care for SAE like we do because they didn’t earn it and now we will have random 17 and 18 year olds rushing, becoming brothers and representing our house in most likely bad ways. Sure we will get a few guys that will be TG and phi alpha but the amount of guys that will bring SAE down will be unbelievable. It’s going to be so disgusting (from my perspective at least) when I have to call someone I meet my brother after 4 days … I take pride in wearing my letters and living by the TG ever since I rushed, went through pledging and got initiated and now it’s like I got slapped in the face.
Alumni members also joined in the discussion, with one writing on reddit, “I don’t like seeing what I earned and worked my a– off to achieve being given away to some little twerp that wants everything given to him. This is not a way to stop any hazing. I feel that this is only giving those individuals an easier way to become a part of something amazing…something they need to learn before they are given.”
It is important to note, though, that several SAE members involved in the reddit discussions explicitly differentiated “pledging” from “hazing.” As one SAE brother writes, “I am totally against any pledge program that involves hazing. Too many equate a hazing program as ‘earning it,’ when in fact, all you have done is select someone who has endured, not achieved. Give pledges real opportunities to prove themselves in skills that will be necessary to run a chapter, i.e., fundraising, philanthropy, scholarship, leadership.”
Other members wrote that this change will actually create a worse situation for new members, who will no longer have a pledging period to determine if SAE is the right fit.
“Besides educating pledges, pledgeship helps sort out new people. If you’re only a pledge you still have a chance to drop if SAE isn’t right for you. If you get initiated instantly, well, you’re kinda in a weird situation,” writes one SAE reddit user.
As another SAE brother puts it, “Now accepting a bid from SAE is going to Vegas to get hitched. Now you’re in so you better like it.”
However, some SAE members wrote on reddit about what they viewed as the perseverance of the fraternity, arguing that their brotherhood would not be particularly affected.
“To all the brothers out there facing this, I urge you to remember that ΣΑΕ has preserved through every war, and governmental and ideological shift our country has encountered and we remain IMHO the greatest brotherhood out there. ΦΑ,” one SAE brother writes.
A freshman SAE member took to reddit to write about the possible upside of the changes, which may offer an opportunity for chapters to demonstrate their leadership skills:
I’ve just been thinking about it in terms of life as a whole. Life is not easy, and it is filled with many situations that will bring you out of your comfort zone. You can lay down and die in the face of adversity, or you can learn to adapt. Yes, this new program sucks, and may destroy the fraternity, but it gives us a taste of experience in the world of business. Employers like leaders, those who bend but do not break. Learning to adapt to this new situation rather than let it kill us is crucial, and one of the reasons why fraternity men are so coveted in their post-collegiate careers.
However, a member of Chi Phi, a different national fraternity, responded with a slightly more cynical view. He writes, “I was under the impression that these actions killed the whole ‘business atmosphere’ of the Fraternity by making freshmen (entry-level employees) equal to the upper classmen (high execs).”
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