Sigma Alpha Epsilon suspended for spring semester but ruled not in violation of UM hazing policy

The University of Miami Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter has been suspended for the remainder of the spring semester following the conclusion of a joint-investigation by the University of Miami Dean of Students Office and the Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity Service Center on March 12.

The fraternity will resume full operation in the fall 2024 semester under final disciplinary probation status, according to a statement released to The Miami Hurricane from the University of Miami. Potential new violations committed during this time could be escalated to a higher level of punishment.

“The University of Miami Dean of Students Office, in collaboration with the Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity Service Center, has concluded its investigation related to alleged conduct violations by the Sigma Alpha Epsilon Chapter. While the investigation did not uncover a violation of the University’s hazing policy, it did uncover other conduct violations. As a result of the investigation, the chapter has accepted responsibility for violating the University’s disorderly conduct and alcohol policies. The University has suspended chapter operations for the remainder of the spring 2024 semester and the chapter will be placed on final disciplinary probation starting in fall 2024,” the University of Miami said in its complete statement to The Miami Hurricane.

The investigation followed the leaking of a video that appeared to show SAE members engaged in an act of hazing in the backyard of their fraternity house. A verified source confirmed that SAE self-reported the video to UM administration prior to The Hurricane’s initial publication of the incident. This launched the investigation.

The video, taken from the neighboring Alpha Epsilon Pi house in the fall 2023 semester, shows one member crouched in a trash can while other members drink large quantities of milk, then spit or vomit the milk onto the member in the trash can.

Hazing is prohibited at UM. According to the UM hazing policy, hazing includes “forced/encouraged consumption of any food, liquor, drug, or other substance, or other forced/encouraged physical activity that could adversely affect the physical or mental health or safety of the student.”

The school did not consider what it deemed to be chugging of milk to meet this standard. However, in an article published by the Miami Herald, attorney David W. Bianchi, a leader in hazing litigation and author of the Chad Meredith Act, Florida’s anti-hazing law, said the video would meet the requirements for hazing, even if the actions were voluntary.

“I think that closing them this semester was the right move, but I think to actively have them come back fully able to function is quite crazy,” a high-ranking member of a UM fraternity who has chosen to remain anonymous said.

The student found it disappointing that the University was not taking this opportunity to uphold its zero-tolerance policy for hazing and “set the precedent” of what UM greek life stands for.

The Hurricane was made aware that the membership status of the people in the video created a roadblock to declaring this a hazing violation. Though not confirmed by the University, based on the time the incident occurred, it may be unlikely many of the members present were pledges, the ones typically subjected to hazing.

In legal terms, it does not matter. Hazing can affect any member of an organization, not exclusively new ones.

“Hazing does not necessarily mean that it has to be new members versus current members,” the anonymous fraternity member said. “Even if you’re just treating your members like that, and degrading them and putting them in uncomfortable situations, that can still be considered hazing.”

Instead, the investigation revealed a general violation of University alcohol policies and disorderly conduct. The policy prohibits any behavior that “impacts the safety, viewing, or enjoyment of other attendees in the context of a University of Miami event,” lewd expression or threatening behavior that disturbs the peace of others. It is unconfirmed which part of the policy was violated.

While serving their suspension, SAE members are allowed to refer to themselves as members of the fraternity and can continue to live in the fraternity house, but the chapter is unable to host or attend any events. When they return next fall, the chapter will be placed on final disciplinary probation, essentially a “last strike” status.

“The University’s conduct system is progressive in sanctioning. This means that once a student has been involved in a case that was adjudicated and given a particular sanction, any subsequent violations of the Code of Conduct by that student that result in adjudication and sanctioning will warrant an elevated sanction,” stated the Student Rights and Responsibilities Handbook.

The anonymous fraternity member stated his concern for what the lack of hazing violation could mean for fraternities in the future.

“I think this could lead to more incidents for sure, because people are going to feel comfortable with the fact that all they got was suspended for that semester and the next semester they can come back like no problem.”

During the investigation, several students raised concerns online and to The Hurricane about Sr. Assoc. Dean of Students Steven Priepke’s involvement with the case. They worried there would be a conflict of interest because Priepke was a founding father of UM’s SAE chapter.

The Hurricane reached out to Priepke who was unable to answer any questions because the investigation was led by Dean of Students Cristina Luna.

The Hurricane reached out to the SAE chapter and UM Interfraternity Council for comment but have not yet received a response

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Jenny Jacoby
Jenny Jacoby is a junior from Cape Coral, FL majoring in political science and ecosystem science and policy with a minor in Arabic studies. She joined The Miami Hurricane her freshman year writing for the news section and went on to serve as managing editor the following year. She is looking forward to sharing what she has learned about writing and managing a news team with her fellow staff and hopes to continue the TMH legacy of strong reporting on campus and in lively Miami. Outside of the paper, Jenny conducts undergraduate research, is a P100 tour guide and spends her free time running, scuba diving and reading.