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Fraternity deaths put scrutiny on safety

NEW YORK — Two students at colleges in Virginia and Michigan have died since December after leaving Sigma Alpha Epsilon parties, renewing questions about safety at one of the largest US fraternities.

SAE’s national office recently suspended its chapter at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., for three years after an alleged drunk-driving accident that killed a student who was a passenger. The driver belonged to SAE.

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Alma College in Michigan has put all fraternity recruiting on hold as it investigates SAE’s role in the death of a freshman last seen at a party in its chapter house. Not counting that case, 10 deaths since 2006 have been linked to hazing, alcohol, or drugs at SAE events, more than at any other fraternity, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News.

SAE officials are ‘‘in complete denial about what’s going on in their various chapters,’’ said Leslie Lanahan, founder of the Gordie Foundation, an alcohol awareness group. ‘‘There’s a lack of leadership at the top.’’

The deaths are isolated incidents, and fraternities are a positive experience for most students, SAE spokesman Brandon Weghorst said in an
e-mail.

‘‘Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s leadership will not tolerate activities that are not aligned with our core values,’’ the fraternity, based in Evanston, Ill., said in a statement.

As membership in Greek societies has swelled, more than 60 people have died in fraternity-related events since 2005, according to Bloomberg’s data. Almost half were freshmen.

National fraternity leaders have fought efforts to curb hazing, drinking, and other misbehavior. They have lobbied against a proposed federal antihazing law and opposed campus initiatives to ban fraternity recruiting of freshmen.

Colleges have disciplined more than 100 SAE chapters since 2007, according to a list published on the organization’s website as a result of a legal settlement. They have suspended or closed at least 15 SAE chapters in the past three years.

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