Rushing fraternities is a nightmare. One survivor of the rush process at a chapter of the deadliest frat in the U.S., according to Bloomberg News, compared his experience to that of a spy getting tortured for information.
Sigma Alpha Epsilon, one of the country's oldest and most prestigious frats, has accounted for "nine deaths related to drinking, drugs and hazing since 2006, more than any other Greek organization," according to a new investigation by Bloomberg's John Hechinger and David Glovin. If the fraternity's name rings an alarming bell, it's because SAE hazing rituals were the focus of the Rolling Stone piece that caused such an uproar last year.
Bloomberg spoke to former pledges who rushed SAE at Salisbury University in Maryland, in 2012, a particularly bad year, who reported the frat to school officials. The ensuing investigation, concluded in November 2012, shut down the chapter and banned them from campus until 2014, after which SAE will return with a year-long probationary period.
Sigma Alpha Epsilon is older than the Civil War. Founded in 1856, the frat boasts a number of famous alumni, particularly in finance, including former billionaire T. Boone Pickens, and former President William McKinley. William Faulkner was also a member. But SAE pledges at Salisbury in 2012 had to survive gruesome rituals in order to join the frat's prestigious pipeline to finance and power.
So what does it take to enter one of the oldest annals of power in the Greek system? The mental fortitude of a spy being tortured for top-secret information. Pledges were starved and secluded in a basement for hours, forced to drink after being confined for so long, forced to dress like women, paddled, and repeatedly verbally abused with homophobic slurs during the pledge process, according to former pledges and university documents reviewed by Bloomberg. “It honestly reminded me of Guantanamo Bay,” said Justin Stuart, who was 19 years old when he rushed SAE in 2012.
Stuart reported everything to the university after partaking in SAE's pledge process. Perhaps the most disturbing incident his class of pledges went through was when they were locked in a dark basement, with all windows covered by blankets, and continually blasted with clips of Rammstein's "Du Hast," a pounding metal song, for roughly eight or nine hours. Fraternity brothers abused the pledges in different ways over the course of the evening:
At 9 p.m., brothers ran down the stairs to the basement and told pledges to put their backs against the wall, with their heads down, Stuart said. The older members screamed insults, according to Stuart.
“You’re a worthless piece of ****.” “I’ll make you suck a ****.” “You’re a good-for-nothing [homophobic slur],” Stuart quoted members saying in a written account that he said he also gave university officials.
Fraternity members shattered liquor bottles against the wall, Stuart told campus police, according to a police report. Members ripped shirts off pledges and told them they couldn’t eat, including a student on medication who required food at regular intervals, Stuart told police.
At one point, an upperclassman spat in the face of a pledge named Ryan Afifi, Stuart and Kellner said.
Another incident involved the pledges dressing like women, in dresses and high heels, while upperclassmen took turns hitting their butts with a wooden paddle. On a different night they were locked in the basement without food or water for hours again. But this time, when they emerged pledges were taken immediately to a party and forced to drink different kinds of hard alcohol.
Despite the two-year suspension and one-year probationary period, the Salisbury chapter was never punished by its national body. “We’re still recognized by our national office as having a chapter in good standing,” Dwight Marshall, Salisbury SAE chapter's volunteer alumni adviser, told Bloomberg.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.