The atmosphere on the legislative floor at SigEp’s 54th Grand Chapter Conclave was electric today after an undergraduate-sponsored resolution to replace pledging at all chapters with the Fraternity’s Balanced Man Program was passed.
“Today, SigEp became the first fraternity to abolish pledging completely by way of undergraduate vote,” said SigEp CEO Brian Warren, Virginia ’04. “SigEp has proven that undergraduates are capable of leading major, positive change for their fraternity.”
The Balanced Man Program has continued to gain popularity since its inception more than two decades ago. By the end of the 2014-2015 school year, 215 of SigEp’s 228 undergraduate chapters had officially voted to adopt the program.
Over the past two decades, many national fraternities have followed in SigEp’s footsteps by adopting non-pledging development models at the national level. However, SigEp remains alone in making the decision through an undergraduate vote, rather than a top-down mandate.
The vote followed a recent undergraduate-led effort to align the Fraternity behind the Balanced Man Program. Over the summer, a coalition of undergraduate brothers from South Carolina, Ohio State, Georgia, South Florida, Drexel, Montana State, Oklahoma State and Nebraska convened to draft the resolution. By the time the resolution reached the floor, 140 chapters had already voiced support. The resolution also received the support of each of SigEp’s district governors.
“I voted for this legislation because I truly believe in the benefit of the Balanced Man Program,” said Chapter President Conner Jackson, Nebraska ’16, who was a member of the undergraduate coalition. “It is constantly pushing individuals and chapters to innovate and strive to become better. I also believe that, from a national standpoint, Sigma Phi Epsilon will be stronger when all chapters are united under one development model.”
Jackson said he believes the legislation will also set the bar for other national fraternities. “This will show that we came together as brothers to prove that we are a needed organization, and model the way for other organizations in a time where the relevance of fraternities is in question,” he said.
Now that the resolution has passed, Jackson said he and the rest of the coalition are eager to work with pledge-model chapters who will be transitioning to the Balanced Man Program.
Recent graduate Max Fowler, South Carolina ’15, said he too believed the vote would unify the Fraternity on a national scale. Last semester, he and fellow chapter brother Zachary Knight, ’14, shared the story of their introduction to SigEp, the hazing and disappointment they experienced as pledges, and how they eventually turned their chapter around. Their story spread like wildfire, reaching more than 35,000 readers online in a matter of days and sparking a national discussion about the value of the pledging experience.
“The modern fraternity world is broken,” Fowler said. “Hazing allegations, mortalities, substance abuse and a number of other serious issues riddle fraternity chapters across the country. Society needs to see that the American college fraternity is still relevant, and we have to show them SigEp is leading the charge.”
CEO Warren said the decision to universally adopt the BMP comes at a critical time in SigEp’s history.
“Negative reports of fraternity dominated the spring news feeds,” Warren said in a recent Fraternity report. “In the first four months of 2015, almost 8,000 articles were published about alcohol and sexual assault on college campuses. Meanwhile, communities in higher education were consumed by conversations about sexual assault prevention, racial and ethnic diversity on campus, and the overall value of Greek life.”
Warren said while fraternities have become easy targets for sensationalist headlines, SigEp is committed to providing meaningful and lasting solutions for their campus partners. “Our recent efforts and future priorities intend to fill voids felt by students, faculty and administrators, and offer a more complete collegiate experience,” he said.
SigEp Faculty Fellow Debra Mullen, who serves as associate dean of the College of Education and Human Sciences at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, says she sees programs like the BMP as the future of Greek life on college campuses.
Responding to the story of Max Fowler and Zachary Knight’s experience, she said, “The mug and paddle days have passed,” Mullen said. “If collegiate age SigEps are growing into manhood, they will get there faster and with more dignity by challenging their need to be egocentric, hedonistic and constantly vying for dominance. Real men recognize real challenge.”
Speaking on SigEp’s contributions to higher education and his campus, Valparaiso University president Mark A. Heckler said he too has seen the difference the Balanced Man Program makes.
“Many presidents who come to colleges and universities assume the worst,” he said. “[SigEp] provided a wonderful example of what a group of brothers could do if they came together and said: ‘We want to have the best house possible, the best living environment, the best academic support community, the best group of athletes.’”
Over the past two years, SigEp’s Grand President, Phillip A. Cox, Indiana ’84, has emphasized the importance of SigEp’s commitment to the Balanced Man Program. At Conclave this week, he reminded brothers of the program’s impact over the past two decades.
“A 1993 Conclave vote introduced the Balanced Man Program as the new development model for SigEp chapters. Eleven Conclaves and 22 years later, it has become a benchmark for our peers and the expectation of our campus partners,” Cox said.
“Today, 90 percent of the college experience takes place outside the walls of a classroom, and the Balanced Man Program provides the structure, support and guidance that students need to excel in college and beyond.”
In an open letter co-signed by SigEp’s Past Grand Presidents, Order of the Golden Heart recipient and Past Grand President John Hartman, Missouri ’61, said the world of higher education has changed over the past 20 years, and that the vote to align all chapters with the Balanced Man Program would be a triumph for the Fraternity.
“Sigma Phi Epsilon takes pride in being a fraternity that continues to innovate within the ever-changing landscape of higher education. We did so over 20 years ago with the introduction of the Balanced Man Program, and again, have the opportunity to reconfirm this commitment and unite our fraternity in implementing the most effective development program in the Greek World.”