Fraternity's decision to dump pledging took guts

jtarica@thetribunenews.comMarch 29, 2014 

Sigma Alpha Epsilon should count itself lucky to have a leader of such integrity as Bradley Cohen.

Against tradition and some others’ lesser judgment, the president of the national fraternity made the landmark decision last month to ban pledging across its chapters, an account documented in an excellent Bloomberg story on today’s front page.

No small influence in this change came from the case of Carson Starkey, the Cal Poly freshman who died of alcohol poisoning in 2008 after a night of initiation at the local SAE chapter.

Starkey’s death was one of 10 linked to drinking, drugs and hazing at SAE chapters since 2006, and if you’re with me in thinking that one death at a college party is too many, then it’s truly mindboggling that it took so much time for this change to occur.

Another long-overdue action in this matter was the decision by global titans of the finance industry to finally take notice and rethink their ties to the fraternity. Just as Cohen was poised to announce the change, megabank JPMorgan Chase informed the frat’s charitable foundation that it was no longer interested in handling its account.

At the same time, SAE’s insurer, Lloyd’s of London, was threatening to revoke coverage because students’ deaths and injuries led to lawsuits, which presumably led to some hefty payouts by the British corporation. We all know insurers aren’t in the business to hand out money, so clearly this scenario couldn’t continue.

It’s hardly surprising that there was some financial motivation behind SAE’s decision to drop pledging, although implementing the ban still took guts.

What is surprising is that some fraternity members and alumni still can’t seem to understand that behaviors like the ones that killed Starkey are indefensible and have no place in college life or anywhere else, for that matter.

As a result, we get dolts like the anonymous critic quoted in the Bloomberg story, a guy who apparently just can’t fathom fraternity life absent the joy of forcing teenagers to mainline booze or get branded with Greek letters or recite supposedly honorable pledges about being a “true gentleman” while standing half-naked in a bucket of ice water.

“Doing away with the pledge program is like giving all the kids on a youth soccer team trophies at the end of the season for doing ‘a good job,’ ” this guy said. “People need to face adversity in order to feel accomplished,” and in his mind apparently “adversity” includes abuse bordering on torture, occasionally with fatal results.

No, it’s absolutely not like giving everyone a trophy. That might be the case if the frat accepted everyone who applied. You still get to choose whom to invite. You still get to make them memorize your secret pledge and learn the silly handshake. You just don’t get to humiliate them to your own delight and pretend it builds character.

But this guy just can’t stand it that all these new people will get into his beloved frat without having to suffer the pain he did. How dare they?

Like anyone who defends bad behavior in the interest of tradition, this defender of the status quo and others like him would best get themselves on the right side of history.

It’s already passed them by.


Joe Tarica is the presentation editor for The Tribune. Reach him at or on Twitter @joetarica. Stay updated by adding Joe Tarica on Google+.

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