Initiation rites are a tradition past their time

SAE fraternity makes a welcome decision to end dangerous process for new members

letters@thetribunenews.comMarch 11, 2014 

Carson Starkey


The traditional pledge process for new fraternity and sorority members — which often includes rituals involving varying degrees of humiliation — has long been an accepted rite of passage for college students, as well as a staple of Hollywood frat-house comedies.

For years, society in general and college administrations in particular turned a blind eye to what goes on, adopting a frat-boys-will-be-frat-boys attitude even as we decried bullying in other situations. But a string of tragic incidents, including the 2008 alcohol poisoning death of Cal Poly freshman Carson Starkey, have pointed out that some of these “traditions” are far from harmless pranks. Such tragedies have brought fraternities and sororities under increased scrutiny — rightfully so — and are leading to some far-reaching reforms.

According to a Bloomberg News story published in Monday’s Tribune, Sigma Alpha Epsilon — the fraternity Starkey was pledging — will end the pledge process for new members.

SAE will continue to recruit new members, but once students have accepted a bid, they will become full-fledged members almost immediately. First, though, they will be required to complete a safety course that includes information on the symptoms of alcohol poisoning and other dangers of binge drinking. The course was created to honor the memory of Starkey, whose parents have been strong advocates for education and an end to potentially dangerous pledge practices.

We welcome the decision by SAE to end the long initiation process for new members, and to have a strict timetable for requiring new members to complete the alcohol education course.

But it’s heartbreaking that it took such a heavy toll — at least 10 deaths associated with SAE events occurred since 2006 — to bring about this sea change.

For the record, SAE was suspended from the Cal Poly campus following Starkey’s death, which occurred following a pledging party at which he and other recruits were instructed to drink vast amounts of alcohol. The fraternity will not be allowed back at Poly until 2033, at the earliest.

Let’s hope that by that time, dangerous initiation rites will be a thing of the past throughout the entire Greek system, and we will see no more young lives needlessly lost.

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