For the brothers of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, pledging is now a thing of the past.
The pledge process, which is the time between receiving a bid to join and being initiated as a member into the fraternity as a member and has often been associated with hazing practices, at times fatal ones, has been eliminated on the national level in favor of a new process, the “True Gentleman Experience.” “The True Gentleman” is the official creed of the fraternity.
Sigma Alpha Epsilon, more commonly known as SAE, is one of 33 Interfraternity Council chapters at Ohio State. Its pledge process was typically nine weeks long, said Griffin Lahre, president of OSU’s SAE chapter.
The new program removes the period of pledging, which can vary in length from chapter to chapter, and instead states everyone receiving a bid to join has to be initiated within 96 hours, according to a document outlining the True Gentleman Experience.
“Pledge education” is set to be replaced with an all-inclusive “member education,” and membership requirements and expectations have been formally laid out for all members of the fraternity, according to the True Gentleman Experience document.
The changes became effective March 9, the date the fraternity was founded 158 years ago at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
A representative from the national organization of SAE, based in Evanston, Ill., said the timing was purposeful.
“We turned 158 (March 9), and in honor of our founders, we made the changes when we did. As drastic as it is, it takes it back to our founders’ values, since SAE didn’t originally have a pledge process,” said SAE national spokesman Brandon Weghorst.
Although the pledge process was tradition for the fraternity for many years, it isn’t something that the fraternity was founded on and didn’t become a regular practice until after World War I, according to the True Gentleman Experience document.
Lahre, a third-year in finance, said the changes won’t affect recruitment.
“Already, we understand that it’s a necessary change and that it’s something that will end up benefiting the chapter down the road. We’re still going to be recruiting the same kind of guys — guys who want to be good leaders and true gentlemen,” Lahre said.
Weghorst said problems with the pledge process, including deaths and reports of hazing, were only part of the reason the changes were made.
“The decision was bigger than that, but that’s one of the elements. One death is too many, one incident is too many. But we have had a number of incidents and deaths, which is regrettable. But the bad incidents gain more attention that the good things our members do, so we’re trying to move away from that perception of being a deadly fraternity,” Weghorst said.
SAE was named the “deadliest fraternity” by Bloomberg in December after Bloomberg researched deaths in events related to fraternities.
The True Gentleman Experience goes beyond eliminating pledging, Weghorst said, and the biggest benefit is that it removes class structure.
“It’s not brother versus pledge. Also, it takes the educational elements and doesn’t cram it into a few weeks anymore. It extends it over several years, so we enhance our members’ experience every year,” Weghorst said.
OSU Student Life spokesman Dave Isaacs said the changes are welcomed at OSU.
“We support the national organization and are pleased that they are taking bold action with this historic change. We will provide whatever support the local chapter needs as they make this transition,” Isaacs said in an email.
OSU’s IFC is set to help ensure the True Gentleman Experience is implemented in the fraternity, said Cole Ledford, second-year in marketing, member of Phi Gamma Delta fraternity and IFC’s vice president for administration.
“IFC relies heavily on the national organizations of each chapter, so we will want to be there for SAE to make sure brotherhood is able to be built despite the changes,” Ledford said.
Ledford added the changes might be hard to accept, but he has faith in their execution.
“Change is going to be hard for anyone, and a lot of the chapters here are old and based on tradition. It’ll take time to make sure everything is going smoothly, but SAE has some good guys to make it happen,” Ledford said.
Although pledging will be eliminated, Lahre said he’s confident the positive elements that came from the pledging process, like getting to know the chapter’s members, can be retained.
“(Pledging is) a good way for new members to get to know people in fraternity and develop an understanding of fraternity. We’ve done things very well and haven’t had incidents with hazing. At the same time, without the pledge process, we can still implement the things we got out of the pledge process in the past,” Lahre said.
Elizabeth Tzagournis contributed to this article.