Six freshmen who were pledging Sigma Alpha Epsilon when George Desdunes ’13 died in February have left campus, according to a former SAE pledge member. Administrators and former SAE members declined to say whether the students faced disciplinary action or left campus voluntarily, or whether the students were still officially registered at Cornell.
The departures come about a month after Desdunes, a brother at SAE, was found unresponsive in the SAE fraternity house and later died at Cayuga Medical Center.
Citing privacy laws and Cornell policy, several administrators declined to comment on the students’ status at the University or whether their departures were related to any disciplinary proceedings.
The University found that Desdunes was provided alcohol “while in the care of certain members and associate members” of SAE and became incapacitated, according to a statement released by Vice President of Student and Academic Services Susan Murphy ’73 on March 18.
“Even though the members and associate members recognized the condition Desdunes was in, they failed to call for medical care. He subsequently died,” she said.
The Ithaca Police and the Tompkins County District Attorney’s office, which are continuing the investigation into Desdunes’ death, did not respond to multiple requests for comment last week.
Several of the freshmen who left the University were listed last month on Cornell’s online directory of active students, but their listings are now removed.
“Students who appear in the directory are active students,” but students may also request that their information be removed from the directory, according to University Registrar Cassandra Dembosky.
Dembosky declined to speak specifically about the freshmen who have left campus.
It is unclear if the removal of their directory listings indicates that the students are no longer active at Cornell, or if the students requested the listings to be removed.
Several students formerly associated with SAE confirmed the departures of the freshmen.
“Six freshmen associate members of the SAE fraternity have left campus,” said a former SAE associate member, or pledge, who requested anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the topic.
The departure of the six freshmen comes as SAE faces other consequences following Desdunes’ death.
On March 18, the day before spring break began, the University withdrew its recognition of the fraternity for at least the next five years, Vice President Murphy said. All former SAE members must vacate their fraternity house, which is owned by the University, by March 31.
SAE members said they had not been expecting to have to leave the house so quickly.
“There was much more surprise about vacating the house than the loss of recognition,” Eric Barnum ’12, SAE president, said.
Dean of Students Kent Hubbell ’67 said the building will be used for student housing beginning in the fall.
The SAE national organization also closed the Cornell chapter and suspended all its members until they graduate. After graduation, they will become alumni members of SAE, according to a fraternity press release.
Representatives of SAE’s national organization did not respond to requests for comment last week.
Cornell's decision to revoke recognition of the chapter means that its former members lose a number of privileges.
“The loss of University recognition is the loss of any and all privileges and benefits bestowed upon a recognized fraternity or sorority,” Murphy said.
Such privileges include the ability to “use the University’s name in any fashion,” participate in “educational, social, philanthropic/service and athletic programs,” or use any University facilities for fraternity functions, she said.
The University will offer SAE members who were living in the fraternity house access to campus housing.
Some SAE members are looking for apartments in Collegetown, while others will use the University housing, said Barnum, the fraternity’s president.
On March 1, the University temporarily suspended SAE after an investigation revealed that alcohol involved in Desdunes’ death likely constituted a violation of Cornell’s recognition policy for fraternities.
The SAE national organization is facing pressure after Desdunes’ death and a high-profile hazing incident at the organization’s University of Michigan chapter. Emails obtained by the Michigan student newspaper and the Detroit Free Press depicted a variety of hazing practices, prompting the fraternity’s national organization to suspend the chapter for the remainder of the school year.
Rather than its regular homepage, the front page of the national organization’s website now lists an anti-hazing hotline and a link to the fraternity’s “We Stand Together” anti-hazing program.
Max Schindler contributed reporting to this article.