Parent e-mail alleging hazing of pledges led to University of Michigan fraternity's suspension
Lon Horwedel | AnnArbor.com
The e-mail launched the investigation that led to the suspension of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, by the university’s Interfraternity Council and the national organization, U-M spokesman Rick Fitzgerald confirmed Thursday. The Interfraternity Council is the governing body for fraternities at U-M.
“This suspension will remain in place until which time a membership review committee convenes to evaluate the status of each member, both active brothers and pledges,’ the national organization said in a statement. “During this time, chapter operations cease, and the suspension will remain in place until further notice. In addition, the future of this chapter's existence remains uncertain. Sigma Alpha Epsilon has a zero-tolerance policy for hazing, and members are expected to adhere to our stringent guidelines regarding risk management and pledge education.”
On Jan. 28, a concerned parent of a pledge e-mailed Mary Beth Seiler, the director of Greek Life at the university, with a laundry list of alleged hazing incidents.
“Although I expected there to be some degree of camaraderie building with the pledges, it instead seems that SAE’s pledge term is designed to instill the concepts of fear, degradation, punishment and shame,” the parent wrote.
AnnArbor.com agreed to not name the parent, who wrote the e-mail anonymously to protect his or her son. The parent provided AnnArbor.com with a copy of the e-mail on Thursday afternoon. U-M officials confirmed they received the e-mail and launched an investigation afterward.
“On a regular basis, my son's pledge class was ordered to attend ‘line-ups,’ which typically occurred late at night after many of the fraternity members had been drinking excessively,” the parent wrote. “At these line-ups, pledges were yelled at and forced to recite various scriptures from the SAE pledge manual. If they hesitated or were incorrect in their attempts, the pledges were ordered by brothers to do ‘SAE pushups,’ spelling out the fraternity's initials at each physical increment of the pushup exercise. ‘Wall-sits’ were also a common form of punishment for the pledges. They were kept at these lineups for hours at a time, and often were sent downstairs into a small dungeon-like room called the ‘cold room’ where more brothers would yell at and insult the pledges.”
The parent wrote the e-mail to the university after January’s “hell week” at the fraternity, 1408 Washtenaw Ave., Ann Arbor.
“In addition to being required to spend every waking moment of their days at the fraternity house, my son and those in his pledge class did indeed endure ‘hell’ on a nightly basis through a variety of ‘events,’” the parent wrote.
“One event was a relay-race of sorts, with the pledge class broken up into four teams. At the start, each person had to ‘chug’ a beer (some containing raw eggs) and proceed to run up three flights of stairs that had been adequately doused with dish soap, vegetable oil, Crisco, and other slippery substances — not to mention the various food items scattered about."
On the top floor, the pledges were subjected to more abuse as they ran down a hallway, the parent wrote.
“Brothers shot airsoft guns, threw eggs, poked and tripped them with broomsticks, poured buckets of flour on them, and did just about everything possible to slow them down
The following night was dubbed Entertainment night, for which the pledges bought beer and pizza and paid for two strippers to entertain the fraternity members, then gave their own performance while brothers pelted them with eggs, the parent wrote.
“Some of the acts? Brothers taking hockey slap-shots at the pledge class using tennis balls as hockey pucks; two pledges drinking cups of water with goldfish, regurgitating them back out into a bowl, and another pledge drinking the remainder; and, the most disgusting of them all, brothers violently kicking pledges in the groin to ensure that they were wearing athletic support cups, which they were told to have on 24.7 throughout ‘hell week.’”
University policy forbids hazing.
“Hazing is defined as any action or situation, with or without consent of the participants, which recklessly, intentionally, or unintentionally endangers the mental, physical, or academic health of a student.
“Examples include but are not limited to, any brutality of a physical nature such as whipping, beating, branding, forced calisthenics, exposure to the elements, forced consumption of any food, liquid, drug, or other substance and any activity which would subject the student to extreme mental stress such as sleep deprivation, forced exclusion from social contact, impairment of physical liberties or interfering with the students academic endeavors.”
When U-M officials got the allegations, they shared them with the national office and began their own investigation, Fitzgerald said..
The IFC voted on Wednesday night to suspend the fraternity.
“It’s my understanding that in essence it stops the fraternity from acting as a fraternity,” Fitzgerald said.
Both IFC and the national office are conducting a chapter review, to determine if there were more hazing incidents at the local SAE chapter.
Fitzgerald said the university acted swiftly because hazing is a big concern.
“Hazing comprimises a student’s health and safety and will not be tolerated. I think you’re seeing that belief reflected in the action by the IFC and the national chapter.”
David Jesse covers higher education for AnnArbor.com. He can be reached at email@example.com or at 734-623-2534.