'Rogue' fraternity, formerly UT SAE, continues operations after suspension

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Photo Credit: Katie Bauer | Daily Texan Staff

Former members of the UT chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon are continuing fraternity activities, despite being suspended for a number of serious hazing offenses.

Their organization, operating under the name Texas Rho, recruited a new pledge class this fall, held fundraisers and hosted events without any University, national chapter or UT Interfraternity Council oversight after being suspended by the University and SAE national chapter. Texas Rho has now taken the stance of “an independent organization,” according to a press release. However, their organization continues to use the colors and letters of SAE Nationals. The Office of the Dean of Students and IFC have both released statements condemning the unaffiliated fraternity’s continued operations.

‘Fear factor like’ hazing

SAE Nationals suspended the UT chapter last November after receiving an anonymous tip to their hazing hotline, according to a Daily Texan report. Following the suspension, UT’s Office of the Dean of Students conducted its own investigation and suspended the chapter in March for multiple forms of hazing.

Several SAE members said they personally experienced or witnessed hazing during fall 2017, according to the “Finding of Fact” section of Administrative Disposition Form created by the office and obtained by The Daily Texan through a Texas Public Information Act request. 

The document details hazing acts such as “physical brutality” and members “being confined to uncomfortable spaces” inside something referred to by members as “the hatch” — a small, underground hole on the property of the chapter house. The chapter’s adviser provided the University with photographic evidence of “the hatch,” which was obtained by the Texan through a public information request. Texas Rho President Robert Perlick confirmed in an interview with The Texan that “the hatch” is present on their house grounds but said he didn’t know its purpose.

“The hatch” used to confine UT SAE chapter pledges as part of a hazing ritual in the SAE chapter house. Obtained via TPIA

Student Conduct also found reports of members required to “ingest ‘fear factor like’ substances/concoctions” and drink alcohol. Last year, a fraternity member at both Texas State University and Louisiana State University died after being forced to consume alcohol, according to police reports.

“The boys this year have been through a shit storm … and it’s just not right for young men to have to endure this crap ‘in the name of brotherhood.’ I’m talking a few hospital visits and mental scars to prove it,” according to an anonymous letter sent to Student Conduct in November 2017, which was used as evidence by the University to suspend the chapter and obtained by The Texan through an information request.

Economics senior Perlick, who was accompanied to the interview by public relations representative Lia Truitt, said he couldn’t confirm or deny the hazing detailed in the document.

“If there was a member who said this happened to him, I completely trust a member to say that took place, as unfortunate as that is,” Perlick said. 

Andel Fils-Aime, director of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity, said the Office of Dean of Students doesn’t believe the hazing were isolated incidents at the UT SAE chapter.

“There’s never going to be a case where there’s a one-off,” Fils-Aime said. “Had it potentially been a one-off situation, the organization would likely still have some kind of relationship where they could return sooner … and, if that were the case, it would have been reflected in the information that we gathered.” 

Severing all ties

Texas Rho has recently attempted to publicly separate itself from the national chapter of SAE, despite being engaged in a legal dispute with SAE Nationals regarding their use of SAE Nationals branding.

In an Oct. 1 press release, Texas Rho declared its independence from SAE. 

“While there has been some misunderstanding and misrepresentation about who we are, we want to make it clear that Texas Rho is not affiliated with SAE or the Interfraternity Council,” Perlick said in the press release. 

The SAE Greek letters still hang on the house entrance. The name Texas Rho has been associated with the UT SAE chapter since its conception as its official charter name, or its identifying name within the SAE Nationals organization. Texas Rho members currently live in the former SAE house.

“The fact that they’re using our name is just not congruent with what they’re trying to portray because they’re still operating with our colors, with our branding, with everything,” said Johnny Sao, SAE Nationals director of communications. 

Sao referred to Texas Rho as a “rogue” chapter of SAE but said if the Texas Rho were to rebrand itself and use a different name, SAE Nationals would have “no issue” with that, Sao said.

In a letter to UT SAE alumni, the national chapter said they believe Texas Rho members are misguided thinking that ignoring the suspension will someday lead to a “realignment with national” for the group. The letter went on to detail how the earliest SAE could open a UT chapter again would be in at least four years after Texas Rho disbands.

However, Perlick said Texas Rho is wholly independent, citing Texas Rho’s nonprofit status, new governing body and new insurance.

But — only excluding last year’s graduating seniors and two students — all of the former members of UT’s SAE chapter are in Texas Rho, Perlick said. 

In an attempt to stop hazing, Perlick said Texas Rho’s new Behavioral and Financial Responsibility Agreement has many measures and “strict, ethical codes” each member was required to sign. 

Under these new rules, Texas Rho banned the serving of hard liquor, hires licensed bartenders to card and serve guests and uses a third-party security for safety.

“The worst of all worlds”

For Peter Driscoll, IFC’s president, Texas Rho represents “the worst of all worlds” when it comes suspended fraternities. 

“Everyday (Texas Rho) operates is a day that they’re spitting in the face of the University and IFC and the Nationals,” said Driscoll, science and technology management and government senior. “As long as they stand, it’s just a shining example of how you can do whatever you want and get away with it.” 

In response to learning about Texas Rho’s pledge recruitment this fall, the IFC Executive Board released a statement to condemn unrecognized fraternities and to “strongly recommend” students involved with Greek life not interact with Texas Rho due to their previous hazing offenses, Driscoll said. 

In addition to its written statement, IFC is working with Texas University Panhellenic Council to enforce the Panhellenic policy of sororities not being allowed to have formal association with unregistered fraternities, said UPC President Evana Flores. 

Fils-Aime, the University student conduct director, called joining an unrecognized fraternity a “significant risk” with immediate “health and safety concerns.” 

“If you’re attempting to join an organization that doesn’t have certification or an accredited body, you’re wasting significant time and money with the amount and effort you’re putting into an organization that — in reality — doesn’t even exist,” Fils-Aime said. 

Fils-Aime said Texas Rho has no affiliation with the University and compared joining an unrecognized fraternity to a suspended student continuing to attend classes. 

“You’re kind of delusional in what you’re going about and wasting your time because you’re not a part of the university,” Fils-Aime said. “The only one you’re fooling is yourself.”

Megan Menchaca contributed to this report.