There was a problem when Sigma Alpha Epsilon first formed on campus.
They weren’t allowed to.
They formed in 2003, and after several fraternities were removed from campus for a long list of violations, Bruce Roscoe, then the dean of students, placed a moratorium on Greek chapters, forbidding new Greek letter organizations to charter.
Daniel Gaken, the director of the Leadership Institute and founder of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, immediately saw the reason why when he first came to campus.
“A friend asked if I would join him as he explored some fraternities during rush week. I was appalled by what I saw,” Gaken said. “At that time, the use of alcohol at recruitment events was common; little philanthropy or service was discussed, and academics were not part of the equation. I assumed at this point that I had my last encounter with the fraternity and sorority system on campus.”
Gaken was intrigued by the concept of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, though. The chapter wasn’t going to follow the path of other Greek fraternities. Their vision was to create a chapter for men who valued leadership and served the university and community.
Gaken and the other founding members were turned on to the chapter by Dyke Heinze, the former director of the Leadership Institute.
“Dyke had been a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon while attending the University of Michigan, and he shared with us their national values,” Gaken said. “These ideals, in particular the group’s creed, ‘The True Gentleman,’ resonated with us.”
Yet, a significant roadblock was in their way: Greek life on campus was still recovering from a variety of scandals, painting it in an array of negative stereotypes.
They appealed to the Office of Student Life and indicated that their group wouldn’t fall into line with the other Greek fraternities. The chapter decided to change the way they recruited, accepting students who were sophomores or higher, had earned a 3.0 GPA and were involved in at least one other student organization.
This was enough for the Office of Student Life to make an exception.
Brad Kloha, a CMU alumus and enrollment management analyst for Enrollment and Student Services, was another original member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon. He too, didn’t fit the traditional Greek mold.
“When I came to college, I didn’t consider Greek life. I bought into the stereotype of what you saw on TV or ‘Animal House,’” Kloha said. “But, the members of Sigma Phi Epsilon, they wanted to break that stereotype. The men that were a part of it had the right values and made sure every member lived up to them.”
Kloha said since Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s inception, Greek life has changed as a whole, leading to a better environment on campus.
“Sororities and fraternities on campus have changed,” Kloha said. “The dynamic has improved greatly. They’re having a much more positive impact in the community and the campus community. And, they’re starting to form a positive relationship with the city of Mount Pleasant.”
Clarkston senior Andrew Cabaj, who is an active member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, said they still hold themselves to a higher standard today. In reference to alcohol policies alone, Cabaj said the group never drinks while wearing letters and refrains from drinking for the entirety of orientation week.
The group has also helped him personally to succeed.
“I was a shy kid when I first joined, and I wanted to be gain leadership skills,” Cabaj said. “The fraternity helped place me in several different positions and develop those skills. I can confidently say I wouldn’t have the job I have today without Sigma Alpha Epsilon.”