Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity returned to NU this quarter, a decision that has caused controversy both in the Greek community and among the general NU student population.
In February of 2017, the university announced it was investigating claims that four women had been given date rape drugs at the SAE fraternity house and that two of these women had been sexually assaulted. However, in March, Northwestern announced it did not have enough evidence to take action against the fraternity, and SAE was allowed to return to normal activities. Then, in April, SAE was suspended for having social events with alcohol while they were under probation, which they had been since 2016. The suspension was unrelated to the allegations of sexual assault, and they were allowed to return in September 2018.
Now, SAE is back. Kind of.
Each member who wanted to return with SAE this year had to go through an interview process and be approved by the SAE National Director’s Board, said to SAE president and SESP junior Thomas Vaughan. Only 17 of the 40 original members of SAE who were eligible to return will be returning next year, director of Fraternity and Sorority Life Travis Martin said in a statement.
“This interviewing and selection process is just one of the steps being taken to ensure that the previously suspended Illinois Psi-Omega Chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon implement a safe and successful return to campus this fall,” Martin said in the statement.
Still, some students remain skeptical.
“Not only has the duration of their expulsion been significantly shortened but also the conditions they were supposed to fill in order to return to campus have also been decreased, and so this kind of sends a message from the university that says we don't really care what goes on at SAE,” Communications senior Lindsey Weiss said.
The university originally suspended the fraternity until 2021, but conceded, saying the fraternity could return. The fraternity will not be a full member of IFC and will have limited voting power in the organization, according to The Daily Northwestern.
Since they were last on campus, Vaughan said the internal policies of SAE have changed as well. The chapter is developing a bystander intervention program, as well as redeveloping health and safety codes and changing the recruitment process, he said.
“Changing culture is not something you do with one policy. It’s a general attitude change that we’re having that I think anyone who’s been to our house this year as opposed to years before would notice,” he said.
Weinberg senior David Fishman, director of Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault (MARS), thinks the return undermines the harm done to survivors of sexual assault on campus.
“As an organization that believes and stands with survivors, we are disappointed that SAE will be returning to campus,” Fishman said in a statement. “But the issue of sexual violence does not begin or end with this fraternity. Instead, it pervades many aspects of a culture rooted in toxic masculinity. We remain committed to working with fraternities to highlight and combat these harmful aspects, and to make Northwestern safe for everyone.”
Weiss, along with many other students, still have doubts.
“It would take a lot for me to come around to SAE as an organization,” said Weiss. “Built into the very framework of what a fraternity is is a culture of sexual- and gender-based violence, so I'm not really sold on any fraternity, to be honest.”
SAE will be allowed to recruit new members in winter of 2019, but will remain on alcohol and disciplinary probation, Martin said.
Editor's note: A previous version of this article stated that SAE had been suspended before the allegations of sexual assault were investigated. That version also stated that SAE would not return until January 2019. NBN regrets the error.