Founding Fathers

taking a chance on change

Photo credit: Brooks Pearce in Photo by Maddy McTigue.

By Maddy McTigue

After three years off of campus, the Delta chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon at DePauw University officially initiated its first new-member class Feb. 26, marking its return with a celebratory post on Instagram.

In spring 2016, SAE was suspended for campus for drug violations. Chapter President Lance Meyer says, “They were caught with some drugs and they were given the opportunity to go through member review similar to how some of the houses here have recently or get kicked off.”

Nationally, the 163-year-old fraternity has struggled with binge drinking, hazing and sexual assault incidents at various chapters across the country. In 2015, the University of Oklahoma chapter came under fire when a video recording of members singing racist chants was found. In 2016, the University of Wisconsin-Madison suspended its SAE chapter after there were multiple reports of racist, anti-Semitic and gay slurs within the house and a video of racial violence. This year, a father blamed the SAE chapter at the University of California, Irvine for the death of his son after the pledge participated in a drinking ritual, according to CBS News.

The DePauw chapter was kicked out by its national office after now-former members refused to go through membership review and subject themselves to further drug testing. Brooks Pearce, a senior communications major, is one of the few people left on campus who remembers the old SAE.

FKA: The Drug House

Before being kicked off of campus, DePauw’s SAE chapter was known by some as the “drug house,” and characterized by bad grades and heavy substance abuse, according to Pearce. Despite the house’s reputation, Pearce rushed SAE in 2016 because “they were very inclusive and accepting of all points of view.”

“In the span of a few weeks, SAE went from being a solid chapter to basically being told ‘you’re going away, we’re just cutting you,’ " Pearce says.

In October, a representative from SAE nationals reached out to men on campus who were not involved in Greek life and invited them to an interest meeting. Now, nine new members are leading the way in founding the new chapter. A lot of training and hard work is required: Meyer, for example, will attend leadership training in Chicago.

Even though Meyer will have graduated by the time the chapter earns its official charter, he knows he will reap the benefits of the brotherhood beyond his time at DePauw: “Ten years from now we’ll come back and see something happened we got started on campus, like still sitting here.”

SAE is driven by its commitment to being a True Gentleman, defined as “the man whose conduct proceeds from goodwill and an acute sense of propriety, and whose self-control is equal to all emergencies; who does not make the poor man conscious of his poverty, the obscure man of his obscurity, or any man of his inferiority or deformity,” according to SAE nationals.

These qualities appealed to new incoming members like Pearce and junior kinesiology major Asher Lilljeberg.

First-year participation in Greek-life has steadily decreased for the past four academic years from 69 percent in 2014-2015, the fourth year DePauw was listed as top-20 party school by Princeton Review, to 56 percent in 2017-2018, the lowest participation since the data was first recorded by the Office of Institutional Research in 1990.

Dean Hardwood, director of fraternity and sorority life, and Kevin Hamilton, assistant dean of students, are the chapter’s campus advisers. New members have an opportunity here because they have a choice in how they represent themselves at DePauw, Hardwood says: “They are the ones who will determine what SAE looks like on this campus.”

Return of the True Gentleman

The qualities of a True Gentleman (TG) appealed to new members, including Lilljeberg, even though being a part of a frat with a negative history can be difficult.

Meyer said he hopes to bring a “kind of a new standard returning to campus. We don’t want to be known, necessarily, as just a party house, right. We want to set an example for not only further classes but for other fraternities.”

Other aspects of the brotherhood also appeal to Meyer, such as an extensive alumni base and the opportunity to be a founding father of a new chapter.

A plus, says Lilljeberg: “Right now, we are a pretty diverse group of guys (in terms of interests) … we also have like a bunch of people who play different sports.”

Dean of Students Myrna Hernandez highlights the fraternity’s diversity, too.

“When SAE left DePauw’s campus, they were the most demographically diverse men’s organization on this campus. It’s an interesting thing to think about where SAE has been historically.”

As someone who chartered a fraternity house during his college years, Hardwood has advice for new members: “The biggest challenge is to make sure that you get everything done in a timely manner, you develop good habits, and you develop good relationships … embrace the process.”

In March 2018, the SAE Supreme Council released Next Steps, a list of new initiatives outlining ways to improve the organization’s leadership, culture, and environment going forward. Among these new policies are “dry periods.”

Dry periods are alcohol-free programming usually occurring at the beginning and end of the semester. According to SAE’s website, “these periods are intended to allow our members to focus on their academic priorities, our fraternity’s values and to strengthen your friendships in a meaningful way.”

Kegs remain prohibited.

Now that the SAE is back, Pearce says: “It will be SAE, but it won’t be the SAE I originally knew.”