In a historic move, the fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) has banished pledging in an effort to stop being connected to deadly hazing incidents. The fraternity, founded in 1856, has been criticized after a number of its pledges and members were injured or died during events connected to hazing or pledging rituals.
According to a statement released Friday the fraternity, one of the biggest with 310,000 men initiated since its founding, said that the ban means "there can be no activities or events in which newly signed members must prove their worth, complete tasks or any other recreation or notion of 'pledging' their commitment to the Fraternity."
Instead of being called pledges, who must prove their worth during secretive rituals for weeks, new potential members would have 96 hours to complete all membership requirements, including signing a membership agreement and completing a safety program. The 96-hour window will also give potential members and fraternity members a chance to change their minds.
In recent years a spate of deaths has tarnished the reputation of the fraternity and led to multi-million dollar lawsuits.
In 2011 the fraternity was sued for $25 million by the parents of George Desdunes, a Cornell University sophomore. Desdunes died after being kidnapped by pledges, who blindfolded him and forced him to drink so much alcohol he passed out and died.
In 2006, Tyler Cross, a freshman pledge, died after he fell five stories from a dorm window. He was found to have a blood alcohol level of .41. According to Bloomberg News, there have been 10 deaths since 2006 linked to hazing, alcohol or drugs at SAE.
In their statement today, the fraternity said that a number of chapters have had to close as a result of hazing scandals.
"We have experienced a number of incidents and deaths, events with consequences that have never been consistent with our membership experience," read the statement. "Furthermore, we have endured a painful number of chapter closings as a result of hazing. Research shows that hazing, which hides in the dark, causes members to lie."
On the fraternity's Facebook page, the reaction to the news was mixed with some online commentators commending the fraternity for banishing pledging and others lamenting that it would lead to the end of the institution.
"I payed you dues for how many years? YOU we supposed to fight for us and our way of life with that money…. not roll over," wrote Crawford McDonald from Dalton, Ga.
The fraternity said in their statement they did not believe the end of pledging would significantly affect enrollment going forward.
"Feedback has shown us that prospective members fail to join fraternities because they do not want to be hazed, assaulted, abused or bullied in order to 'earn' membership," read their statement.