Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) — a fraternity with a history of sexual assault allegations and misconduct related to underage drinking dating back to at least 1998 — is planning a return to the University of New Mexico this fall.
As the Daily Lobo previously reported, SAE had its charter revoked in 2013 for student code of conduct violations, including consumption of alcohol by minors. Per the revocation, they were eligible to come back to campus in 2017.
After two months of investigation, the University administration revoked the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity’s charter in May of 2013. According to a press release from UNM at the time, SAE was disbanded because of student code of conduct violations, which included use of alcohol on campus at an unauthorized event and consumption of alcohol by minors. The Daily Lobo reported at the time that members admitted to consuming alcohol at the party and said they didn’t register the party with the University.
Two underage women also confirmed that members of the fraternity provided them with alcohol, which they consumed. No mention of sexual assault was cited as a reason for revoking the fraternity’s UNM charter.
In 2013, Rolling Stone ranked UNM’s SAE chapter as the 3rd most “out-of-control” fraternity in the nation.
“Over the past five years, the SAE brothers (were) repeatedly cited for hazing and damaged property,” Blaine McEvoy wrote. “But rapes have plagued this Albuquerque house since 2007. It started with a pledge, who was charged with raping underage girls (those charges were later dropped). Then, on April 2, another sexual assault was reported; the girl in question ‘doesn’t remember a lot.’”
The last sexual assault allegedly happened days before the fraternity was suspended in April seven years ago.
SAE declined to do a phone interview with the Daily Lobo, saying it was the organization’s policy to only do email interviews for record-keeping purposes.
When asked a series of questions about why the fraternity should be allowed back on campus given its history and whether they’ve started recruiting — among other questions — SAE director of communications Johnny Sao responded with a three-sentence statement.
In part, the statement reads, “SAE is committed to the positive growth of our members and the communities in which they reside by providing education and training on various topics, including sexual assault, hazing, alcohol and substance abuse, diversity and inclusion, service and philanthropy, and campus involvement.”
Meanwhile, a petition started by the UNM College Democrats is calling on UNM President Garnett Stokes and the Board of Regents to permanently ban the fraternity because of its history of sexual assault allegations.
“We need to say that sexual assault at UNM is unacceptable and will never be welcome,” the petition states.
In reference to the sexual assault allegations, College Democrats member Noah Dowling-Lujan said, “I think it’s almost a guarantee that it’s going to happen again. I think we’re kind of lying to ourselves that it’s not.”
As of the publication of this article, the petition had nearly 400 signatures.
In response to a Daily Lobo request for comment, President Stokes offered the following statement.
“The petition is 100 percent correct in its assertion that ‘sexual assault at UNM is unacceptable and will never be welcome,’” the statement reads in part.
Stokes said after its charter was revoked in 2013, SAE’s application to recharter was accepted by the Interfraternity Council and the Student Activities Center in 2017. She added this fall they'll be able to start recruiting.
The rest of Stokes’ statement reads: “The young men who choose to represent SAE as Lobos will have to work harder than ever to demonstrate a culture of respect that aligns with and upholds UNM’s values.”
“I’ve said it before and am unwavering in my position: As long as sexual misconduct continues to occur, we will remain committed, both as an institution and through my personal leadership, to preventing sexual misconduct, conducting fair processes for all and providing a secure and caring environment for the entire community,” Stokes concluded.
Current and former students weighed in on why they signed the petition in the comments section.
“As a UNM alum, I believe this fraternity has no business being supported by the University and should not be on campus,” Rachel Kain wrote. “End the silencing of rape and sexual assault survivors, end the toxic culture of fraternities and keep them out of our institution for the safety of all students!”
“SAE was notorious when I graduated from UNM in 2003,” Regis Lacher wrote.
“Sexual assault has no place on this campus,” added Hannah Johnson, another former student.
The petition also makes note of a racist incident involving SAE members at the University of Oklahoma in 2015. Members were captured on video chanting, “There will never be a n***** in SAE. You can hang him from a tree, but he can never sign with me.”
The members were suspended and the fraternity’s national headquarters closed the chapter, saying they were “disgusted” by the “unacceptable and racist” incident.
UNM architecture student Jameison Wiggins signed and commented on the petition, “I don’t want white supremacy on my campus.”
Interfraternity Council President and Sigma Chi member John Cooke, on the other hand, supports SAE returning to campus.
“They have done what I believe any fraternity needs to do to come back: Learn from the issues of the past, made massive changes and have shown that they are dedicated to coming back here in due time,” Cooke said.
Members of the previous chapter had their membership revoked in 2013, according to Cooke, and the two recruiters leading the plan to bring SAE back to campus — Grant Maris and Jeremy Bellman — aren’t from New Mexico.
Cooke said SAE returning could be beneficial for Greek life at UNM as a whole.
“With a fraternity in national size and prominence — both good and bad prominence — some (fraternity and sorority members) believe that it will help boost our chapters currently on campus in ways of numbers, morale and campus involvement,” Cooke said. “A new fraternity is an opportunity of a lifetime. It’s a blank canvas.”
In stark contrast, James Goodman commented on the petition to ban SAE that the fraternity’s history and pledges to eradicate a toxic culture were empty words.
“Names matter, and all the good intentions and new faces in the world won’t change what these letters represent to so many people,” Goodman said.
Responding to an email request for comment, ASUNM President Mia Amin said she didn’t have enough information to give an informed answer.
“I looked at the questions you sent me, but as someone who has never been involved with Greek life, I am not sure I will be the best person to answer these questions,” Amin said.
She suggested the Daily Lobo instead speak with Cooke and Chris Brooks, the Greek advisor at the Student Activities Center, as “they are more knowledgeable on the subject.”
Like other student organizations, fraternities and sororities are chartered through the Student Activities Center. Brooks said if SAE indeed returns to campus, they’d likely start as a pre-chartered organization before gaining enough members and meeting the requirements to get chartered.
Brooks said Student Activities has been in talks with the fraternity — along with the Office of the Provost, the Office of Student Affairs, the Division of Equity and Inclusion, staff from campus resource centers and fraternity and sorority chapter presidents — for two years about “what a successful return to campus would look like.”
“They (SAE) have taken steps to address the changes that were needed in their organization,” Brooks said.
These changes include redesigning their new member program, which now features trainings on “bystander intervention, healthy relationships and respect,” according to Brooks.
In addition to meeting Student Activities’ requirements, the fraternity is also required to meet conditions outlined by the Dean of Students’ office in a sanctioning letter issued in 2013. Dean of Students Nasha Torrez said they have met those conditions.
The Daily Lobo submitted a request to obtain the sanctioning letter that went unfulfilled as of the publication of this article.
Torrez said SAE, like any other student organization, is protected by the Constitution and the freedom of association.
“I think if they want to come back to UNM — that’s kind of their choice — I would prefer that we work more closely together for training, for oversight, for outlining our expectations for them so that it could be, hopefully, a positive relationship,” Torrez said. “I don’t know that I have a preference — or an opinion, I guess — about their returning.”
Reina Davis, who works at the Women’s Resource Center, said the University’s fraternities and sororities have been working with the center and utilizing the resources it offers.
“UNM’s Greek life has been proactive in contacting us for education and holistic support of their members on various levels,” Davis said. “Our hope is that this fraternity, upon reinstatement, will continue working with organizations like ours and other fraternities to become a place that is safe and supportive of students.”
Bella Davis is a senior reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @bladvs
Cameron Ward is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @xx_cameo_xx