Sigma Alpha Epsilon nationals closes Ole Miss chapter after hazing investigation

Posted on Jan 22 2018 - 8:00am by Lana Ferguson

There is one fewer Greek organization on campus as of this semester.

The University of Mississippi’s chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, also referred to as SAE, was closed by its national headquarters in mid-December and disbanded the group until at least 2021.

Months of investigation led to SAE nationals and the university finding health and safety concerns within the organization and members not upholding the fraternity’s national standards for behavior, according to a statement SAE headquarters released.

All current members of the chapter have been suspended from the fraternity indefinitely, and members recruited this fall have been released. Members who were planning to live in the fraternity’s house on campus this semester had to find other living arrangements.

Melinda Sutton Noss, assistant vice chancellor and dean of students, worked closely with the investigation that led to the chapter’s closure. She said the university received hazing allegations involving SAE shortly after the Interfraternity Council’s Bid Day in September and began investigations immediately.

SAE fraternity house. Photo by Marlee Crawford

“Information gathered during the investigation by the Office of Conflict Resolution and Student Conduct uncovered serious and concerning conduct, and we had significant concerns for the health and safety of students,” Sutton Noss said. “The results of the investigation revealed actions concerning enough that the chapter should be closed for a period of time.”

Sutton Noss said the university made the national organization aware of the allegations and investigation very early on in the process and shared the findings with it again at the conclusion of the investigation.

“Ultimately, the national organization made the decision to close the chapter,” she said.

Sutton Noss said that throughout the 3 ½ years she has been at the university, SAE has not been under investigation or served a penalty.

“The loss of this long-standing chapter is unfortunate, but it serves as a crucial reminder to our collegiate members, chapter officers and alumni that violations to Minerva’s Shield and failure to follow our membership-education program known as the True Gentleman Experience will not be tolerated and may result in closure,” the SAE nationals said.

The statement said that although nationals regrets the closure of any chapter, there are situations in which it becomes necessary and warranted.

“We remain optimistic that we can re-establish Mississippi Gamma in the future and members who exemplify our Ritual and beliefs and who serve as leading role models on campus and the greater Oxford community,” the statement said.

Former SAE Alumni Advisor Watson Horner was unavailable for an interview and deferred to SAE national’s statement. Former SAE President Holcombe Crosswell and IFC President Jarrett Estess did not respond to emails requesting interviews.

SAE is not the only Greek organization that has been accused of hazing on campus this year.

In October, Vice Chancellor Brandi Hephner LaBanc told The Daily Mississippian four Greek organizations were under investigation for possible hazing. Sutton Noss confirmed some of those groups are still under investigation but could not share the organizations’ names.

She said she doesn’t necessarily believe there has been an increase in hazing occuring on campus but that more is being reported.

“In recent years, we’ve made a concerted effort to educate campus community members about hazing, and I think this education is paying off through increased reporting,” Sutton Noss said. “Knowing about hazing allows us to address it.”

She said hazing is not confined to just fraternities and sororities, but it can also be found in many different pockets on campus and the Office of Conflict Resolution and Student Conduct conducts investigations whenever it receives any allegations.

Sutton Noss said the university is working to be more proactive in its approach to combat hazing and do more education and outreach programs. One example is the Division of Student Affairs forming a Hazing Work Group composed of faculty, staff and students from various areas on campus to explore the climate related to hazing and take actions to eliminate it.

“We’re only able to address hazing if we know when and where it is occuring,” Sutton Noss said. “Ultimately, though, we must rely on our community and our organizations to hold each other accountable with respect to hazing.”

The last time a chapter was closed on campus was in 2014, after two members of Sigma Phi Epsilon put a noose and old Georgia flag with a Confederate battle emblem on the James Meredith statue. The university requested a review by the fraternity’s national headquarters, which found a pattern of underage drinking and hazing, resulting in the closure of its Ole Miss chapter.

– Lana Ferguson