SAE, which is one of the largest fraternities in the country, has about 15,000 undergraduate members and some 200,000 alumni.
And it has had a series of tragic incidents, such as in 2011, when a pre-med student at Cornell died from alcohol poisoning after being kidnapped by SAE brothers during pledging.
“Nationally, I think SAE is doing a lot to change the culture,” said Mark Koepsell, executive director of the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors.
“There’s acknowledgement within that organization that historically, there have been problems in that organization, and their current executive leadership is working hard to turn that around. It’s a big task to change culture. … I applaud their efforts” and their honesty in “being able to look in the mirror and identify what they need to do to make those changes,” Koepsell said.
But Koepsell is worried that when pledging is banned, it can go underground and lead to worse abuses.
It’s an ongoing national issue for Greek organizations taking on drinking and drug abuse, sexual assaults and hazing, he said — and the first two are problems every college campus is facing as well.
But membership continues to grow nationally, despite all the bad headlines. “I think Greek life is changing,” he said. “Certainly as you look at chapters across America they’re becoming racially integrated. More and more people are choosing to join for career advancement and what those organizations offer in terms of training, skill-building. There’s a much bigger emphasis on service,” like all the money raised for the Children’s Miracle Network by fraternities.
Sometimes when a case has so much media saturation, college and Greek leaders take more time to respond in order to ensure due process, Koepsell said. He was quick to add due process and fairness is important, but that in this case there seems “a pretty clear indication of what’s going on. They’re sending a very strong message that there is zero tolerance for this kind of behavior,” he said.
“There are universities that drag these out, there are [national Greek] headquarters that drag these out,” Koepsell said.
The response to the Oklahoma incident, he said, “is a great showpiece for others to follow.”