Student leaders focus on protecting students as SAE returns to campus


Colin Boyle/Daily Senior Staffer

The Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity’s house on campus. SAE returned to campus housing after completing its year-long suspension.

Amy Li, Assistant Campus Editor

In April 2017, Northwestern suspended its chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon for one year. Many students hailed the decision, satisfied the University finally took action against a fraternity accused of being the location of sexual assaults earlier that year.

But the suspension was not for the sexual assault allegations. Instead, SAE was suspended for hosting parties in violation of its probation and providing alcohol to minors, a finding that arose from NU’s initial investigation into the sexual assault report.

The action came as bittersweet news to students, who had renewed calls for the administration to do more to protect survivors of sexual violence.

“As happy as I am that they are being suspended, it still felt like a slap in the face to women that the reason for the suspension was over alcohol-related policy rather than sexual assault,” SESP senior Cate Ettinger said at the time. “I’m just looking on the positive side that something’s happened, but it is a little frustrating.”

Now, with the return of SAE this fall, students are still worried about sexual misconduct allegations made against the fraternity, despite the University’s announcement that it would not discipline the fraternity or continue with an investigation after a review. Student leaders are promising to work vigilantly to provide more resources to survivors and strengthen Northwestern’s stance against sexual misconduct.

“In light of SAE’s return to campus, the student body is owed a re-commitment to supporting survivors from not only this particular chapter, but all of FSL,” Associated Student Government president Sky Patterson and executive vice president Emily Ash said in a statement, referring to the University’s office of Fraternity and Sorority Life. “ASG leadership will continue to believe and support survivors.”

ASG representatives hope all Interfraternity Council chapters will commit to “transparency, accountability and concrete action” in the future, which requires engaging with students both within and beyond NU’s Greek community, Patterson and Ash said.

David Fishman, director of Men Against Rape and Sexual Assault, said while he is “disappointed” that SAE will be returning to campus, the issue of sexual violence on campus extends beyond this fraternity and is rooted in a “culture of toxic masculinity.”

The Weinberg senior, a former Daily staffer, said MARS will also remain committed to working with fraternities to “make Northwestern safe for everyone.”

Other students expressed concern that the fraternity’s swift return to campus is a step backwards. “The Greek system has always had a lot of institutional power,” Weinberg sophomore Meilynn Shi said. “And the return of SAE just reinforces the idea that frats can get away with anything.”

Weinberg sophomore Sanchita Sen said that she does not feel comfortable setting foot in any event affiliated with SAE. She added that she is disappointed by the “diplomatic” way the University has decided to address allegations against the fraternity.

To Sen and Shi, the fast turnaround time for allowing SAE back on campus reflects an inappropriate amount of influence the Greek community has at NU.

“There’s enough evidence that SAE has made this community an unsafe space,” Sen said. “And all the university does is ask them to leave for a year? That doesn’t add up to me.”

SAE President Tommy Vaughan did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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