UPDATE: At around 4 p.m., @chapmansae made its account private and temporarily changed its handle to @the_panther_online_. As of 4:31 p.m., the handle has been changed back to @chapmansae.
An Instagram account appearing to be associated with Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE), an often-controversial fraternity that will return to campus this year after a four-year suspension, shows partially dressed women, some with the fraternity’s letters drawn on their bare buttocks, men consuming alcohol and one man wearing a sombrero with the fraternity’s letters on his neck.
SAE, which was dubbed the “deadliest fraternity” by Bloomberg in 2013, has already taken steps to reestablish Chapman’s chapter by tabling at the university’s fraternity rush kickoff Feb. 10, according to sources familiar with the event. The first pledge class will be hand-picked by members of SAE’s national office, said Chris Hutchison, assistant dean of students.
When asked about the Instagram account and Chapman’s former SAE chapter, Hutchison said that any concerns will be taken up with the national office.
“(The account is) indicative of everything that we have to do to be mindful,” he said.
Members of the national office will be at Chapman to meet interested students, Hutchison said of the recolonization process, which is scheduled to take place the week of March 10.
Brad Cohen, the former national president of SAE and a Chapman donor who established the Greek Leadership Scholarship on campus, spoke with university administrators about the chapter’s return.
In an email to The Panther, University President Daniele Struppa said that both he and Dean of Students Jerry Price have met with Cohen about the chapter recolonizing at Chapman, and said the decision to bring the chapter back was made based on commitments made by and at the fraternity, though he did not specify what those commitments were.
“I am personally looking forward to witnessing SAE’s chapter leading by example and to their being part of our Chapman community,” Struppa wrote in the email.
SAE, founded in 1856, states in its creed that the fraternity’s goal is to create “the true gentleman,” but has earned the moniker “Sexual Assault Expected” and has been in the midst of controversy on multiple campuses for issues ranging from sexual misconduct and underaged drinking to hazing-related injuries and deaths. One unnamed student said that his hazing experience was comparable to that of a spy being tortured for information, according to The Atlantic.
There have been at least nine reported deaths related to SAE nationwide since 2006, according to a 2013 Bloomberg investigation, and as recently as Jan. 12, an 18-year-old SAE pledge at the University of California, Irvine was pronounced dead after an off-campus SAE party. The chapter was suspended, and the student’s family suspects that his death was alcohol-related, according to the Los Angeles Times.
In 2015, a video surfaced of men in the Oklahoma University’s SAE chapter chanting about lynching and using a racial slur. The university later said that the members had learned the chant at a national SAE leadership conference, according to The Washington Post.
The Confederate flag was a fixture in the Oklahoma State University SAE house from 1987 until 2015, according to Buzzfeed News. It was not until the 2015 video surfaced that the flag was taken down, according to the university’s student newspaper.
In recent years, the national fraternity has made changes to its operations, including eliminating pledging – the process through which new members are initiated – in 2014, a decision that Cohen was at the forefront of, according to Business Insider. In June 2018, the fraternity banned hard alcohol at SAE facilities and chapter events, including those hosted by the national fraternity.
Johnny Sao, SAE’s director of communications, said in a Feb. 14 statement to The Panther that the fraternity’s national headquarters is “excited to re-establish a group at the University of Chapman [sic] with members who serve as contributing leaders on campus.”
SAE was eligible to return to campus in fall 2018, but wasn’t approved because Chapman “wasn’t ready” to have the chapter back, said Jerry Price, Chapman’s dean of students.
“Just like when we suspend a student and they come back, we want them to be successful,” Price said. “Sigma Alpha Epsilon has done their time and we want them to be successful on campus.”
The process of bringing SAE back to Chapman was through the Dean of Students’ office, Hutchison said.
“The Greek life staff have been involved in conversations in various points, and we’ve known over the years that SAE has wanted to return,” Hutchison said.
In 2014, Chapman’s SAE chapter was put on probation after an undisclosed ruling by Student Conduct. In an interview shortly after the decision, DeAnn Yocum-Gaffney, associate dean of students, told The Panther that a joint investigation into SAE and Chapman’s Delta Gamma sorority was triggered by an anonymous report.
That “anonymous report” pertained to “an unspecified series of events over the course of about a week” in spring 2014, Gaffney said.
“Every frat has a problem on some campus,” Price said. “SAE will have to be responsible for their actions at Chapman. They were part of our Greek family for many years. If they come back and have problems, a third invitation on campus might not be extended to them.”
SAE was one of the subjects of the 2015 documentary “The Hunting Ground,” which took an in-depth look at sexual assaults and their cover-ups on college campuses across the U.S.
“There is often a pack mentality within fraternities, and a lack of maturity and wisdom to not behave badly,” Amy Ziering, the producer of the film, told The Panther. “There is also the element of social bonding, which I think accelerates misogyny.”
The fraternity was also featured in journalist John Hechinger’s book “True Gentlemen: The Broken Pledge of America’s Fraternities,” which uses SAE as an example of the negatives of college fraternity culture, according to its Amazon description.
Griffee Albaugh, a senior history major at Chapman who has been researching SAE as part of her thesis for a year and a half, called the fraternity’s reputation “disgusting.”
“I’d like to think that we have respectful, upstanding men on our campus, but I think the organization’s behavior and their failure to operate under the values that they claim to operate under creates this harsh discrepancy,” Albaugh said. “There is a potential for (SAE) to cast a shadow on the whole collection of fraternities that we have here.”