True gentleman’s welcome
Sigma Alpha Epsilon colony draws mixed Greek reactions
|Marcus Clem editor in chief |
Leaders of Pittsburg State’s Greek community might seem likely to celebrate a new fraternity
colony, but some of them are also a bit cautious.
Come on in…?
Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) was announced as Pitt State’s prospective seventh fraternity chapter on Jan. 23.
Joshua Packard, a member of Pi Kappa Alpha, who recently stepped down as Interfraternity Council (IFC) president, and Bryce Schuetz, a member of Phi Sigma Kappa and IFC vice president of internal affairs, are not completely confident in the colony.
“Here’s the thing,” said Packard, senior in graphic communications. “This colony can be a good thing if it is done in the right way, of course … Do I think it is the right time? That is debatable. I can’t be the one to decide that at this time.”
Schuetz, sophomore in marketing and management, is more concerned. He says that a new fraternity chapter could hurt recruitment for the others.
“After they told me that they’re colonizing, I wondered how they would be able to survive,” he said. “I feel like this could cause damage across the board.”
Megan Smejdir, program coordinator for campus activities and Greek-life adviser, says there is
cause for optimism.
Enrollment increases in “numbers and quality,” as she puts it, as well as the university’s pace of
campus improvement, have impressed the National Interfraternity Council.
Kappa Sigma fraternity, which has a chapter house at Missouri Southern State University in
Joplin, Mo., also expressed interest in coming to Pitt State. Because SAE presented first, Kappa Sigma’s bid was turned down for now, Smejdir and Packard say, to control the pace of expansion.
The prospective chapter comes from a brand that is a national titan in Greek life: It’s the second
largest and second-oldest fraternity in the country, with thousands of members, hundreds of chapters
and countless more projects and philanthropy efforts.
It’s also a brand that has seen a few blemishes in recent years.
In November 2012, an SAE pledge who attended a party held by the chapter at Arizona State
University in Temple, Ariz., was kicked out for using a fake I.D.; he was later found dead.
In May 2013, an SAE member from the same chapter was left at a hospital with a blood-alcohol
content of .47, a level high enough to be lethal. Arizona State revoked the chapter’s charter in June
In 2011, the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Mich., revoked its SAE chapter’s charter after
a hazing scandal. The same year, Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., suspended its SAE chapter after a
pledge was found dead in the chapter house.
SAE’s national headquarters later revoked the chapter’s charter for no less than five years and
suspended all members until they graduate.
More locally, the University of Kansas chapter of SAE opted in April 2013 to ban consumption of
alcohol after a pledge was found dead in the chapter house in 2009. Proposals for SAE to follow suit
nationwide are under consideration.
Jose Contreras, current Pitt State IFC president and a member of Sigma Tau Gamma, says that
like all Greek houses, SAE has a couple of bad apples that should not harm the reputation of all SAE
“They’re establishing a good group of people from the beginning,” he said. “Sometimes bad habits
form with older houses because things have been that way for a while. I think this is a good starting
point. They have a good set of principles and values.”
Thomas Brigman, who is in charge of organizing the SAE colony, declined to comment on these
events. Instead, he referenced a press release published on www.sae.net that came in response to a
December 2013 Bloomberg News article about the fraternity.
“Any member who participates in hazing or behavior that violates our policies, mission or
creed is subject to disciplinary action by the national organization, including complete removal of
“Those individuals and their actions are in no way representative of the fraternity, nor do their
actions stand for what we stand for … They reflect poorly on Sigma Alpha Epsilon, and they do not
About 8 percent of Pitt State’s student body is involved in Greek life in some way, and about 250 men are involved with the university’s six fraternities.
Those numbers have steadily grown in the last decade, as Phi Sigma Kappa, the most recent
chapter here, has taken root. Its Pitt State chapter was re-founded in 2000.
Schuetz says that adding a seventh chapter may dilute the base of likely recruits and make it
harder for chapters, SAE included, to meet their goals.
“With a new chapter here, the recruitment for each individual chapter could drastically drop over
time,” he said. “What does it look like in trying to install a seventh chapter when the largest fraternity
has only about 50 members?” By comparison, each of Pitt State’s three sororities has more than 75
members. Packard says that during his tenure as IFC president, people would often ask him about getting
new fraternities here.
“Since we haven’t had a real expansion since 2000, we were due for one, of course,” he said. “At
the same time, I didn’t know if we were ready, and I still don’t. We can only find out by going through
the process.” Jaecy Hebrlee, ritual chair of Alpha Sigma Alpha sorority and a sponsor of SAE’s colonization effort, says the recruitment concerns are overblown.
“With all due respect, and it sounds very dog-eat-dog to say this,” said Hebrlee, senior in general
studies, “but if the other houses suffer recruitment issues after SAE is established, maybe they need to
reassess how they recruit their members.”
They’re here, now what?
Regardless of any future intra-Greek politics, Packard and Schuetz say that the new SAE chapter faces a hard road ahead. Getting together about 15 “founding father” students is the first step for Brigman, the SAE colony’s organizer.
After that, a complex process that usually takes between 18 and 30 months must be completed.
Money must be raised. Recruitment must impress both the university and the national SAE organization.
Philanthropic activities must be established with tangible success. Eventually, a house must be
obtained: more money, more guys.
If all of those goals are met, that is just the beginning. Schuetz says that it is highly likely, as Phi
Sig discovered, that the “fresh founding” appeal of the SAE chapter will wear off.
At that point, he says, the founders will begin to graduate and confront a situation where one of
Greek life’s primary appeals, a post-college network of members and professional contacts, won’t
“After a few years, the new chapter appeal goes away a bit,” Schuetz said. “Then, you are trying to
compete with every chapter on campus. Other chapters have a huge alumni collection.
“I can look back and see who is famous in my (national) fraternity, but that guy still probably
doesn’t know me. People from your local chapter will give you connections and benefits over people
from other chapters in the same fraternity.”
Hebrlee, the SAE sponsor, says she acknowledges that challenges lie ahead, but is optimistic.
“(SAE) is a very popular and big name,” she said. “If you have men that you believe stand for the
same values your organization has, you’re going to have people getting pulled to your organization …
If you’re recruiting right, you’re not going to have a problem.”