The Emerson chapter of a national fraternity is under investigation by both the Emerson administration and the organization's national headquarters after Boston Police Department (BPD) officers observed four pledges allegedly planning to vandalize city property last month. The men were dressed in black, carrying spray paint and acting suspiciously near the Massachusetts Avenue footbridge near the Esplanade last month, according to a BPD press release.
On Nov. 2, police stopped the four men before they started painting the structure, according to the BPD. The men were identified as Emerson College students pledging for Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) and then said they were ordered to paint structures in the neighborhood with the fraternity logo as part of their initiation rites, the press release said.
SAE was colonized as a local chapter in 1999, according to the Emerson College Web site.
The organization's national Web site lists SAE as North America's largest social fraternity, with more than 280,000 initiated members and prominent alumni, including David Spade, William Faulkner, Nick Lachey and Fred Savage.
SAE's Emerson chapter has been involved in several on-campus activities and fundraisers in the recent past.
In 2002, SAE's Emerson chapter raised more than $400 for the Children's Miracle Network, an organization that helps pay the costs of medical care for underprivileged children. This fall, SAE members stood in front of the Little Building and collected donations for the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
The fraternity had operated without incident until Nov. 2, when the police searched the students' backpacks and found cans of spray paint, stencils and SAE pledge manuals, according to senior film major Donnie Thiel, president of the Emerson chapter of SAE.
Police confiscated the spray paint and stencils and called Emerson Public Safety to pick up the students.
Emerson College's anti-hazing policy prohibits student clubs and organizations from any means of action that recklessly endanger the mental or physical health or safety of a student for the purpose of initiation, according to college policies listed on Emerson's Web site.
Despite the BPD press release's assertion that the pledges said they were ordered to spray-paint the structure, Thiel said that no one was forced or coerced in the incident.
"There was no hazing involved," Thiel said in an e-mail interview. "Our chapter has a strong and abiding policy against hazing and such a practice is contrary to our ideals and principles."
Brad Hinton, the student affairs associate responsible for college conduct, declined comment on the pending investigation and the allegations of hazing, because he said he wanted to ensure the privacy of all students and groups.
According to Brandon Weghorst, the national SAE Director of Communications, neither college administrators nor police informed SAE's national office about the incident.
After speaking with The Beacon, however, Weghorst said the national headquarters is now conducting an investigation into the matter to confirm that the fraternity did not violate its charter or national policies.
"It is difficult for us to believe that the allegations [of hazing] would be true," he said. "The group has never been sanctioned and never been disciplined."
Although Emerson SAE members were hesitant to discuss the incident, this past Monday the group's Web page read, "We are currently experiencing difficulties. Our 5th Amendment rights prevent us from explaining further . We don't know if it's up to our ankles or up to our necks. We just know we're in it ."
Weghorst said that the Web site message is strange and said he does not understand why the chapter would have posted a cryptic comment.
"I don't believe this has anything to do with the allegations, but I know that students at Emerson College are a little more artistic," he said.
Chad Bates, a student life associate responsible for the Greek Life assessment, said he was unaware of the investigation because he does not deal with conduct-related issues. But, he added that the organization's presence is a valuable asset to Emerson Greek life.
"It's always good to have a national organization because they tend to give students more networking opportunities," Bates said.
Hazing has been a recurring problem in Greek organizations across the country. Several local news sources have reported incidents in Massachusetts.
Last April, Tufts University suspended Delta Tau Delta for one year following a hazing incident in which an intoxicated student lost consciousness and stopped breathing, according to The Associated Press.
Two students in a Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts fraternity were charged for wanton destruction of property valued under $250, possession of burglarious instruments and disturbing the peace in February for attempting to steal a sign from a local pub, according to the Berkshire Eagle of Pittsfield, Mass.
Some students interviewed said that hazing might be prevalent at Emerson, but that the culprits are difficult to catch because of the size and layout of the campus.
"I'm sure it is difficult for people to find out about hazing because at a normal college campus, fraternities and sororities have their own houses on or close to campus," said Baleigh Wark-Acebo, a sophomore writing, literature and publishing major. "With Emerson, it is really difficult because they are all spread around and they don't really have one place to meet."