Bièrepong, for an international fraternity

After hearing about toddler frat Sigma Alpha Epsilon having their recognition withdrawn, Bwog’s Sarah Faith Thompson sat down with two former senior brothers. They spoke openly about what happened under the condition of anonymity.  

The night began with a pregame in a frat member’s suite where pledges were invited via mass text message. Senior members say the pledges weren’t there specifically to drink, but rather to learn about SAE’s history from the fraternity’s manual, The Phoenix. It was an open event; other students were there. After the pregame, some pledges trudged off to Butler while some continued on to the fraternity’s event at Amigo’s. One was brought back to his dorm by his friends, after his roommate had become concerned about his drunkenness. The roommate called CAVA.

That’s how two seniors, formerly brothers of the “international frat” at Columbia, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, describe the spring event that led to the loss of the fraternity’s provisional charter.

“We were planning a ‘Taste My Culture’ event, a day-long food fest to represent every culture in the fraternity,” one of them said. After only two semesters, the fraternity boasted a membership in the mid-thirties. They saw operas and Broadway shows together, went downtown for restaurant week, and were a significant source of donations to Relay for Life.

The CAVA’d pledge soon after met with Scott Helfrich, Associate Director for the Office of Residential Programs. A senior former brother said that the pledge admitted that he had been at a fraternity event, but made sure to note that “he was drinking of his own accord.”

That was important to note, as SAE on the national level has a pretty rotten rep. Scandals from its chapters at other Ivy Leagues, including swimming through kiddie pools of vomit and an alcohol-related death, created national news in 2011 and 2012—hence Columbia’s thorough investigation. But surely someone up there knows that just because a Greek organization is one way at one school doesn’t make it the same at every school—we mean, UC Berkeley’s ADP is an all-male frat with a pool in the backyard.

Helfrich called in members of the group to his office to give accounts of the event. The case went before Columbia’s own Office of Judicial Affairs, rather than the Greek Judicial Board. SAE nationals also conducted their own investigation and drafted a forty-page plan of action that detailed disciplinary action to be taken against the colony for the following two years.

KevSho gathered the information from the various investigations and accounts and decided on de-recognition during reading week of spring 2013. The two senior members we talked with said they felt “swept away” by the harsh decision and their inability to appeal the ruling.

They do agree that, as a young group, the process for judging colonies differs from that of other frat’s chapters as they were still trying to prove to Columbia that they deserved full recognition. Moreover, technically, this incident can be considered hazing: Columbia defines hazing as “any action taken or situation created intentionally that causes embarrassment, harassment or ridicule, risks emotional and/or physical harm to members of a group or team, whether new or not, regardless of the person’s willingness to participate.

But what they won’t agree to is that they were judged as harshly as other types of student groups would be if one of their members required CU EMS services. What if someone got CAVA’d at a GlobeMed charity party? What if it had happened at a CCSC-sponsored party?  “Having a pregame and getting CAVA’d is pretty typical at Columbia,” one of the brothers said, who feels that his frat was scapegoated (see: ZBT hazing and Pike’s pledge scavenger hunt).

“The administration needs to understand student life better,” he continued. “It’s not us against them. I feel like there’s this divided perception, as they seem so driven at times by what will be published in the New York Times, or how a decision by Kevin Shollenberger was going to be perceived under his leadership.”

KevSho’s no longer here, but the structures and attitudes are in place for similar responses to occur. The brothers aren’t bitter, and their bonds stand strong. They don’t think SAE will come back to Columbia anytime soon, as students would have to wait at least three years to go through the application process again. Maybe in another fifty years, SAE will be back for its third try, and maybe Columbia’s attitude toward campus organizations and PR damage control will be a bit more inclusive.

“People talk about the student-administration divide, and it’s events like these that promulgate that,” the member sighed. “It wasn’t quite ‘Notorious Fraternity’s Hazing Scandal Leads to De-recognition.’”

Clear violation of Columbia’s official hazing policy via Wikimedia Commons