Sigma Alpha Epsilon: We're Banning Pledging

One of the pillars of American fraternity culture eliminated its hot-button "pledging" process Sunday after a string of hazing-related deaths.

Sigma Alpha Epsilon — one of the nation's largest and oldest fraternities that counts among its alums William Faulkner and President William McKinley — had announced in a statement Friday that it would end its member initiation practices.

"We have experienced a number of incidents and deaths, events with consequences that have never been consistent with our membership experience," SAE said.

The frat will now have a more cerebral selection process they are dubbing "The True Gentleman Experience."

"Pledges" across the country have allegedly been subjected to rituals that run the gamut from goofy high jinks straight out of "Animal House" to grisly physical abuse that some say turns recruits into veritable prisoners.

The pledge process usually involves initiates doing menial chores or memorizing obscure fraternity trivia for weeks or months. But in some instances, initiates have alleged being forced to guzzle gallons of alcohol while others say they were brutally beaten by their compatriots.

SAE said the organization has endured "painful" chapter closings after reports of pranks and stunts gone awry. Chapter leaders have said that the damage inflicted on the frat's public image has hindered their ability to operate.

At least one fatality attributed to hazing was that of Carson Starkey, 18, who died of alcohol poisoning in 2008 while pledging to SAE at California Polytechnic State University, in San Luis Obispo, Calif.

Starkey chugged rum, beer and Everclear — which contains 75 percent alcohol — in just minutes on orders from frat leaders, according to a media report on the incident posted on SAE's website.

Four men were charged criminally and received time behind bars for the incident.

The fraternity was founded at the University of Alabama on March 9, 1856. It has its 158th anniversary Sunday.

— Daniel Arkin

Image: Students leave the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity on the Dartmouth College campus in Hanover, N.H
Students leave the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity on the Dartmouth College campus in Hanover, N.H. on March 12, 2012. Jim Cole / AP, file