News & Politics

Meet the Deadliest Fraternity: Sigma Alpha Epsilon Hazing Rituals Have Led to 9 Deaths

The Salisbury University chapter's frat locked members in a dark basement without food, water or a bathroom.

Photograph of Sigma Alpha Epsilon at the campus of Dartmouth College.
Photo Credit: Kane5187/Wikimedia Commons

Meet the nation’s deadliest frat:  Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE). The fraternity, which funnels many members into the high-rolling world of finance, has over 200 chapters across the country. It has also earned the distinction of being the frat linked to the most deaths as a result of hazing, as Bloomberg points out today in an investigation.

Bloomberg focuses on the story of a student named Justin Stuart, who attends Salisbury University in Maryland. As part of a hazing ritual he endured last winter, Stuart was forced to recite SAE’s motto while standing naked in a trashcan filled with ice. Stuart was sprayed with a hose and had buckets of water poured on him.  

That’s not all that happened. Stuart said that over the course the eight-week initiation period, fraternity members beat him with a paddle, force people to drink until they passed out and even locked frat members for hours in a dark basement without food, water or a bathroom.  They blasted the same German rock music at an extremely high volume.  Stuart says it “reminded” him of Guantanamo Bay and that it was “almost like torture.”

Stuart’s story was confirmed in an investigation by Salisbury.  According to Bloomberg, the first outlet to publish the details of the investigation and Stuart’s ordeal, the college concluded that “the actions of the members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity put the members of the pledge class in harm’s way both physically and emotionally.”

SAE was suspended temporarily as a result of the investigation, and as a result of that, a rich alumni of the frat and school withdrew a $2 million donation, illustrating the pitfalls colleges could fall into when cracking down on violent fraternities.

The SAE chapter at Salisbury is hardly the only one to be disciplined. More than 100 chapters have been slapped with action by colleges. They’ve had nine deaths related to hazing, drugs and drinking since 2006, the most of any frat. In 2011 a Cornell sophomore died as a result of alcohol poisoning during an SAE induction.

Stuart eventually blew the whistle, and was ostracized at his school because he went to the police. The police investigation did not result in much, though, and Stuart still has nightmares of his time spent locked in the basement. 

Alex Kane is former World editor at AlterNet. His work has appeared in Mondoweiss, Salon, VICE, the Los Angeles Review of Books and more. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.