Montana State University suspended the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity earlier this month following the hospitalization of a female student who suffered alcohol poisoning at a party at the SAE house. MSU officials also launched an investigation into the incident, which may have also involved illegal drug use and underage drinking.
And now the fraternity's national organization has stepped in, ordering the MSU chapter to cease all fraternity-related social, philanthropic and recruitment activities pending the conclusion of its and MSU's investigations.
The situation here follows high-profile national stories involving fraternities, including:
- Four students died in heavy drinking episodes this year at Florida State University, Texas State University, Louisiana State University and Penn State University.
- Ohio State University has suspended almost all its fraternities citing ongoing investigations into hazing and alcohol violations.
- The University of West Florida suspended two Greek organizations over hazing incidents there.
And those are just the ones that make the national news.
These cases are not rarities. In 2014, six young men died nationally in fraternity hazing and drinking episodes; seven died in a single year two years before that. Is it just a matter of time before a tragedy happens at MSU?
In addition to the recent case, a second student required medical attention after drinking at the MSU SAE house a few weeks ago. And this is the second time SAE has faced suspension in the last couple of years. In 2015, similar action was taken when students were injured in SAE-sponsored off-campus parties.
The suspension means SAE cannot take part in any fraternity events and cannot host any events with alcohol. And students who attend any events at the SAE house risk discipline under the student code of conduct.
But perhaps it's time a louder message was sent.
Why shouldn't MSU issue strict guidelines on when and how limited amounts of alcohol can be served at events hosted by university-sanctioned fraternities and sororities? Violations of those guidelines should be met with harsh penalties, up to and including expulsion from the university for individual violators. Any violations of the law — underage drinking, illegal drug use, driving under the influence — should be referred immediately to city law enforcement officials for prosecution.
And the onus should be on the fraternities to police themselves. MSU has an Interfraternity Council that should appoint — hire if necessary — monitors that visit frat houses regularly to ensure the guidelines are being followed.
Fraternities and sororities have a long tradition in academia and eliminating them from campus life would be a drastic measure. But if an MSU student or students end up dead, will we be looking back and asking ourselves what could have been done?