A pledge by any other name

SAE’s decision to eliminate pledging is noble, but likely will not change fraternity practices

The Supreme Council of Sigma Alpha Epsilon recently decided that all chapters of the fraternity must eliminate pledging. This year’s pledges were required to be initiated by March 11, and in future years, all students must be initiated into SAE within four days of accepting a bid. This decision comes at a time when SAE is under particular scrutiny for cruel and dangerous hazing practices. A chapter at Salisbury University was suspended after a former pledge came forward and publicly recounted the abuse he suffered. Bloomberg News has dubbed SAE the deadliest fraternity in the country, since they have had more student deaths since 2006 than any other frat.

An SAE brother at the University has said his chapter will be complying with all new national regulations. Reactions from the Greek community have been mixed. Saul Brodsky, president of Alpha Epsilon Pi at the University, said he does not think eliminating pledging is a good idea, as some kind of probationary period is necessary to assess a new member’s commitment to the organization. IFC President Tommy Reid said while he thinks pledging can be a positive experience, he understands SAE’s decision to eliminate it, given that pledging can become a negative experience if it is taken too far.

The decision to eliminate pledging in order to address issues of hazing is commendable. But there is no guarantee that such a decision will fix the problems for which SAE — or any fraternity — has been scrutinized. The logic behind the decision, presumably, is if you eliminate titles of unequal status within the fraternity, you will prevent the abuses of power which drive dangerous hazing activities.

That argument seems to make sense. But the national order to eliminate the title of “pledge” means nothing unless the members of each chapter actually adopt the mentality such a change is meant to promote. To eliminate a word is only half the battle, for there will always be another word to replace it.

Pledging has become so deeply ingrained in the culture of fraternities that it would be foolish to assume one fraternity’s decision to eliminate the term “pledging” will remedy the problems. All brothers thus far have gone through a pledging experience, and will likely be resistant to a change in the tradition — another one of the buzzwords so staunchly attached to Greek life. And as most other fraternities continue the traditions of pledging, SAE chapters likely will not want to be left out of the experiences of all of their other Greek peers at their university.

Words can be manufactured to get around new regulations. A pledge is not a pledge; he is a “provie,” a “newbie,” a “N.I.B” (newly initiated brother). There are ways to bend language to maintain the hierarchy — and it’s not breaking the rules until you put it in writing.

The elimination of pledging may be a deterrent to hazing activities in that chapters may fear harsher punishments from their national organization if any brothers come forward to reveal the chapter’s offenses. But nationals can only punish what they know about, and it is conceivable that new members — by whatever name they might be called which is not “pledge” — may have just as much desire to preserve SAE’s practices — which are not called “pledging” — in order to partake in the traditional fraternity experience.

Peer pressure from university friends and classmates is likely a more powerful motivator than a top-down order from more distant national officials. While SAE’s decision is a step in the right direction, change will most likely not occur until more fraternities take similar initiatives. Though each chapter is different, the Greek community as a whole is a powerful body, and it must act as a whole in order to improve itself.

Published March 17, 2014 in Opinion

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