“The TKEover has begun”: Did Cornell Frat Market Its Coolness After the Death of a Brother?

Last March, Cornell revoked its recognition of Sigma Alpha Epsilon after the alcohol-related hospitalization and death of SAE brother George Desdunes ’13. Of the 22 pledge brothers in that year’s pledge class — whose reverse-hazing contributed to Desdunes’ death — six left Cornell for good. All of the remaining 16, meanwhile, flocked to Tau Kappa Epsilon. But did TKE take them in — or did SAE take them over?

It’s getting clearer: TKE now faces losing university recognition, after another alcohol-related hospitalization of another pledge a freshman (who thankfully survived). This follows TKE’s hosting planning to host, last September, the White Party, a bash traditionally thrown by SAE, and other signs that the killed-off frat had reanimated in TKE’s body.

Now, thanks to a tipster, we have a better idea of how this all came about.

First, background: Publicly, SAE/TKE brothers have basically stuck to the position that their union was immaculately conceived. One pledge told the Cornell Daily Sun last April that “It’s hard to say where the idea [of TKE taking SAE’s pledges] first came about, but a bunch of guys in SAE and TKE know each other, so it just seemed logical.” And Ryan Yeh ’13, incumbent president of TKE, gave the Sun the same impression: “Like all great ideas, it’s hard to say who came up with it first . . . The two fraternities had quite a few brothers that were mutual friends outside of the house.”

TFM, right?

Not quite. A well-placed tipster tells IvyGate that SAE made the rounds with a sales pitch of sorts (bolding ours): Read the rest of this entry »

Cornell Frat Presidents Plagued With Selective Memory

In today’s Cornell Sun was a letter from six fraternity presidents who urged all houses to come together and implement reforms to help save the Greek system. Which was all well and good. A kid died last spring, and some changes are in order. Nothing wrong so far.

It wasn’t all that long, though, before the writers jumped into one of those forceful — and predictable — declarations of victimhood you see every time a Greek system at any school winds up in hot water:

Most chapters are using safe practices and following all of the rules that are in the recognition policy. Unfortunately, what we do every day, every week and every semester is overshadowed by the shortcomings in judgment and leadership of a select few houses.

They go on to talk about all the philanthropy and public service they do, and how, in spite of that, they’re still unfairly villainized, or something along those lines. This is boring.

What is interesting, though: One of the letter’s cosigners, Ryan Yeh, is president of TKE, the fraternity that absorbed 16 SAE pledges after that house was kicked off campus. That being the case, remnants of one of those “select few houses” who screwed the pooch are actually, in a way, represented in this letter. Symbolism. Read the rest of this entry »

Desdunes’ Mother on Cornell SAE: “I Want Those Kids To Take Responsibility For Their Actions”

Marie Lourdes Andre appeared on NBC’s “Today” show this morning for a conversation with Matt Lauer about her $25 million wrongful death lawsuit against Cornell’s SAE. Andre filed suit against the fraternity earlier this week, a little more than four months after her son, George Desdunes, was found dead following a night of “reverse-hazing.” She appeared alongside two of her attorneys, and all three made it very clear that they intended to ensure that nothing like her son’s death could ever happen at SAE-Hillcrest again.

Watch the video below:

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Cornell SAE Sued For $25M Over Death of Brother

It always felt like the other shoe had yet to drop in the case of George Desdunes, the Cornell sophomore and SAE brother who was found dead in his fraternity house on Feb. 25. Four former SAE pledges were charged in May with first-degree hazing and first-degree “unlawfully dealing with a child” — which carry with them maximum penalties of one year in prison (no small punishment, to be certain). But still, given the magnitude of the circumstances, it felt like retribution hadn’t been fully doled out.

Not so much any more: Desdunes’ mother, Marie Lourdes Andre, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the frat with a price tag of $25 million. She said, according to the Associated Press (by way of the Cornell Sun):

With the death of my son, I find some comfort in knowing that this lawsuit may bring about changes in fraternities that will prevent other families from suffering as I have.

In the initial weeks and months following Desdunes’ death, its circumstances remained shrouded in mystery. But the story we now know goes something like this:

George and another SAE brother had been whisked away on the night of Feb. 24, in what was called a “voluntary kidnapping.” (SAE had a history of such stunts.) His captors were a group of pledges, who administered “reverse-hazing” — wherein Desdunes would answer questions about the frat, drink for wrong answers, and perform calisthenics, according to the suit. The pledges later returned him to the SAE house, his wrists and ankles bound with zip ties and duct tape, and left him asleep on a couch, where he was later found. An autopsy revealed that his BAC was 0.409 at the time of his death.

The lawsuit deals another brutal (but not unwarranted) blow to SAE, who had already been suspended from operation for five years following a Cornell investigation into George’s death. “Local chapter officers and members” were also named as defendants in the suit, according to the AP, though their names have not yet surfaced.

Update: Here’s an ABC News video clip detailing the story. — C.B.

Update No.2: The Cornell Sun is now reporting that the lawsuit names 20 former SAE brothers and pledge members as defendants, in addition to the fraternity. — C.B.

Four Cornell Frat Boys Indicted for Crimes Tied to Their Brother’s Death

The death of Cornell student George Desdunes at the alleged hands of his frat brothers is now officially a matter of law. Four individuals–three of them known to be former Sigma Alpha Epsilon pledges, and a 19-year-old whose court records are sealed due to his age–were indicted yesterday for charges associated with Desdunes’ demise. The defendants, who pleaded not guilty, have been pegged with the misdemeanor crimes of first-degree hazing and first-degree unlawfully dealing with a child, according to the Cornell Daily Sun. SAE faces the same charges, and representatives of the frat will be summoned to court to deal with them–although considering that SAE has been disbanded at Cornell and its recognition rescinded by the university, it’s not totally clear who’s going to show on its behalf.

The four former frat brothers, among them Max Haskin, Benn Mann, and Edward Williams,  have been released without bail and are now roaming free–although not on Cornell’s campus, since (according to a press release from the county DA) none are enrolled in the school any longer. Presumably they’re counting their lucky stars that they haven’t been charged with anything as serious as manslaughter. Still, the Sun reports that the attorneys plan to “vigorously contest” the allegations, and that the brothers don’t believe they’ve committed any crime.

Details of Desdunes’ death, an event that’s been shrouded in gossipy mystery for weeks, are also beginning to emerge. It’s already common knowledge that he died from alcohol poisoning, but authorities have since asserted that his blood alcohol level was 0.35 percent–more than four times the state’s legal limit. The Wall Street Journal has unearthed more information on the circumstances of this intoxication:

In the early morning hours before his death, Desdunes had consented to a mock kidnapping — a fraternity ritual in which pledges quiz brothers on fraternity lore. Desdunes and another brother had their hands and feet tied with zip ties and duct tape. When they answered questions incorrectly, the pair did exercises or were given drinks like flavored syrup or vodka. Pledges dropped him off at the Ivy League fraternity house after 5 a.m., according to court documents.

SAE has a history of such “kidnappings,” but no word on whether they also have a history of this kind of sadistically fruity bondage. They’ve claimed in the past that their “hazing” activities involve some level of complicity on the victims’ part, but having experienced flavored syrups firsthand, we find it hard to believe that someone would drink them with any degree of willingness. In all seriousness, though, the events of this case will hopefully shed some much-needed light on a form of fraternity stupidity that goes way beyond keg stands and ice luges.

Cornell’s SAE Has History of Alcohol-Fueled Brother “Kidnappings”

As we reported on Friday, the circumstances that led to the death of Cornell sophomore and SAE brother George Desdunes on Feb. 25 are still somewhat mysterious. The university confirmed in a press release that George was “provided alcohol while in the care of certain members and associate members” of his fraternity, and that the resulting intoxication contributed to his eventual death. Still, much about the account struck us as frustratingly (and deliberately) vague.

It does seem pretty clear that the “members” and “associate members” described in the account were brothers and pledges, respectively. But, we still weren’t certain if the drinking occurred during a pledging event; nor did we know exactly what it meant that he was “provided” the alcohol. Today, however, we have a genuine theory.

Yesterday morning, IvyGate received an email from a someone claiming to be an alumnus of the Cornell chapter of SAE. We were able to verify that this person was in fact in the fraternity, and that he graduated within the past 10 years. He told us that during his time at Cornell, SAE pledging protocol involved a custom whereby new members were “encouraged to occasionally kidnap a brother.” The basic scenario involved three-to-five pledges corralling the chosen brother, then spiriting him away to an isolated location for some form of reverse-hazing.

Said our tipster:

At that point usually the pledges would haze* the brother in some way, mostly by just getting him really drunk (usually, really drunk).  When I read that [Desdunes] was “in care of … associate members” that is what came to mind. Especially around this time: late feb to early march is when pledging has fully gotten under way and before the busier stuff starts so that’s the couple weeks when the “fun” pledging activities went on.  But considering how drunk the kidnapped brother would be when he was returned, it’s not hard to see how it could have gone too far.

(*In a later email, the alumnus said that “hazing” was meant in “at least some jovial sense” that “usually meant that the brother was at least somewhat complicit.”)

Read the rest of this entry »

Cornell Rescinds University Recognition of SAE After Death of Brother

The Cornell chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon is no more. The University withdrew its recognition of the fraternity today — quite coincidentally the Friday before Spring Break; almost like they were trying to bury the story, huh? — and demanded that all brothers vacate the house by the end of the month, according to the Cornell Sun.  The University had previously put the frat on temporary suspension, pending the results of an internal investigation into the death of SAE brother George Desdunes on February 25. The house will be barred from operation for at least five years.

Desdunes’ death is a subject that’s dominated campus scuttlebutt this past month, though few officially confirmed details have yet come to light. Up until now, we knew that alcohol was involved, and that George’s body was found in the frat house. But, neither the university, nor investigators, nor (especially) SAE were forthcoming with regards to specifics. Now, however, Cornell is releasing a little more information:

The University found that Desdunes was provided alcohol “while in the care of certain members and associate members” of SAE and became incapacitated, [Vice President of Student and Academic Services Susan] Murphy stated.

“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.

We still don’t have any official confirmation about what exactly was going on that night — though rumors are aplenty. Parsing through Cornell’s statement, a few more interesting bits of information pop out. “Members and associate members” presumably means brothers and pledges, respectively; although we don’t know for certain whether there were pledging activities involved. The part about Desdunes being provided alcohol while “in the care” of others is peculiar, to say the least. And the bit about no one calling for help is incredibly sad, though unfortunately not all that remarkable. (For what it’s worth, Cornell’s Interfraternity Council passed a new “medical amnesty” resolution this week, with the hopes of avoiding that sort of inaction in the future.)

The Ithaca Police Department has been investigating the circumstances of the death in consultation with the Tompkins County District Attorney, which seems to indicate that investigators are looking into the possibility of some manner of malfeasance. However, we can’t prove that. The IPD declined to confirm the specifics of the investigation — or even that the investigation is still ongoing — and the Tompkins County DA’s office hasn’t yet responded to our inquiry for more information.

Whatever the case may be, this all still seems very opaque and suspicious. We’ll keep you posted. And if you have any information that can help us confirm what actually happened that night, hit is up at tips@ivygateblog.com.

UPDATE: After the jump, read the University’s entire statement, per Vice President for Student and Academic Services Susan Murphy:

Read the rest of this entry »

Cornell Temporarily Suspends SAE Fraternity After Death of Brother

After recent tragic news that George Desdunes, Cornell ’13 and a brother in the house, was found dead last Friday morning in the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house, Cornell has announced today that they have placed the fraternity on temporary suspension.

This is also following news that Desdunes’ death was likely due to alcohol consumption. However, according to the Cornell Sun, investigation into Desdunes death is still ongoing.

Cornell’s Recognition Policy for Fraternities and Sororities does not explicitly use any language concerning alcohol.  However, it does state:

Recognition serves only the limited purposes described herein and is not
intended in any way to alter the legal relationship between Cornell and the fraternity or sorority. Each fraternity or sorority is, and remains, an independent legal entity responsible for its own actions and for meeting its own legal duties and obligations. It is understood that Cornell does not, by this action, assume any legal responsibility for the supervision or control of fraternity or sorority activities, but reserves the right to withdraw the privileges conferred by this Policy and to take such other actions as may be
lawful and appropriate. Recognition pursuant to this policy does not constitute an endorsement by Cornell of a particular fraternal organization or its activities.

Further, requirements of recognition consists of:

12. Compliance  with  the  terms  of  all  contractual  agreements  with  the

13. Compliance with all applicable University policies, rules and regulations.

14. Cooperation in University investigations concerning compliance with any University policy, rule or regulation.

We don’t know what this exactly implies for the actual grounds of SAE’s suspension, but make of this what you will.

It is uncertain whether Cornell’s policies toward alcohol or Greek Life will change any after this. We do know that the University has been making a concerted push to scale back the role of alcohol on Greek Life this academic year, and Desdunes’ death will likely magnify those efforts. We’ll keep you posted on any new developments.

Creative Dartmouth Fratboys Snort Coke off of Their Brothers’ Photographed Faces, Urinate on Their Socks, Destroy Their Tables; Police Confused

As generations of uptown yuppies, downtown hipsters, Austrian supermodels, and Ivy society types have discovered, cocaine is one versatile and fashionable narcotic. Stylish as it is already, snorting it through rolled-up Ben Franklins makes it even classier. Or off of a mirror: super 80s chic. You can slice it and dice it every which way: really, it’s an outlet for creativity.

So, how to amp up the cool-quotient of your high, while adding that special Ivy League flavor? Well, turns out the DartCoke bros and an unknown number of their SAE cohorts have found a way: snorting the drug off of the grinning visages of their fellow brothers, immortalized on alumni photo composites. Combine that with Jim Beam shots, unrequited lust, post-Tabard fun, and the venerable SAE “Pool Room” (all chronicled in Sarah Koo’s arrest affidavit, great bedtime reading) and you’ve got real Hunter S. Thompson fodder. And apparently, past partakers in the common-room antics that got the “SAE 3” — Andrew Lohse ’12, Brian Shea ’10 (for snorting) and Clark Warthen ’10 (for witness tampering) — pinned with felony charges and kicked out of SAE have left traces all over their frat, confounding the cops.

The basic story: eyewitnesses told police that they had seen some of the foolhardy fratboys snorting off of composites– picture frames with head-shots of every brother in a certain year, usually festooning frat walls and trophy closets. The dutiful police went in to test the pictures for cocaine residue, CSI-HPo style.

But here’s the rub: According to an insider source, the crusading popo picked up the wrong composite for testing, one that Shea and Lohse had never used. The guys thought they were in the clear, and probably headed off to go dance to house music and clench their jaws. One problem though: the other composite also had cocaine residue on it, allowing the cops to bust the unlucky trio. Catch 22, we guess. They can’t really say, “no, test the other one!”, can they?

You could definitely see headshot-snorting as a profound gesture of brotherhood, though one sort of nullified by the fact that it was a fellow brother, Phil Aubart, that called security on the drug trio. Seems as if the frat has a double problem: a snake in the grass and coke in the composites. A bro civil war is afoot! That said, does Aubart really deserve the destruction of his pet brotherhood project, an apparently-cool table, as well as people peeing on his socks?

“[Aubart] cared a lot about that table.”

Never come between a boy and his furniture. According to Phil, quoted Warthen’s arrest affidavit, it gets worse, with plans for

“pissing on all my stuff”

and statements like

“a number of guys want to kill you.”

Witness-tamperer Warthen, former Vice President of SAE, showed off some impressive, Solomon-like leadership by issuing an open fratwa against Phil. (For reference, here he is in The Dartmouth defending the display of the Confederate flag and chastising an offended black woman for her ignorance.) He had this to say about Benedict Aubart, in an angry email to his pals, planning vengeance:


can you seriuously [sic] smash-bros the shit out of phil’s table? it would really mean a lot to Brian, and would be a great signal to Phil that it’s not just a small contingent of people in the house that despise him, it’s truly a widespread sentiment that he’s the most abhorrent thing ever happen to this house and this campus.

And Smash Bros they did (Falcon Punch; none of that lame-ass Kirby nonsense). The table was shattered and immolated, post haste. Andrew Lohse just spit on Phil, while others poured beer on his door and put their bladders to work on his clothes. “They stand together“: fraternity and camaraderie, obviously bonds everlasting. At the very least, the sad, gonzo story of shattered brotherly love and squandered opportunities has left us with this tidbit, probably the best thing ever written in a Hanover Police arrest warrant:

I asked Mr. Shea about his relationship with Bernadette Reyes [accused snitch]. He stated that she is a girl that wants to “hook up” with him. He denied that he has any interest in her and attributed the attraction to being primarily one way. I told him that I had some further work to do with Bernadette Reyes and that I did not want him to communicate with her until it was completed. He agreed not to be in contact with Miss Reyes.

And of course, making the rounds from an anonymous source:

I asked an SAE what happened. He said, “I’d love to Phil you in, but can’t Shea anything other than doing drugs is not Warth it because you could Lohse everything you’ve worked for. I told him that’s Koo but it will be Hart not to Reyes the question later.”

Op-Ed: GoodCrushFail

It’s about that time of the year when your pants are fitting a little tighter and couples, making you snarl: Valentine’s pre-week, and if you’re lucky, Sex Week as well. Slushy snowy nonsense keeps you indoors, and your achy breaky heart’s asking you to look for love in all the wrong places. What options have you got? Facebook? Umm…Grandma’s on that, now. Craigslist? Not, unless you want to be brutally axe-murdered. How about their twisted, nymphomaniac grandchild: a new site, just for lonely collegiates like yourself?

Well, why not? Guess it’s about time for a techno-regime change; young, bored college students need to redefine what’s already been defined. Myspace failed where Facebook triumphed. And now, e-Harmony’s been bested by this new, perky young thing, fresh to the Interwebs. Her name’s GoodCrush, and she’s on the prowl, eating away the last three minutes you have after Facebook-ing, Twitter-ing, Digging, Myspace-ing, Masturba… – taking long showers etc.

If your inbox hasn’t already been thoroughly molested by GoodCrush’s prying hands, then sorry… guess you’re not attractive. (Or just not the Yale student body president.) Either way, the love notices are as sex-starved as…well, as all the Ivies themselves. Take these Shakespeareans, for example:

Your beauty is so radiant it’s like you have eight legs. Mmmmmmmmmmmmm.

You were wearing an argyle sweater. You’re descended from Xerxes.

You’re short and Asian and always so well-dressed…I love that you use a pink ruler to draw your graphs when taking notes….any chance you’d want to hold my ruler and lie tangent to my production possibilities frontier?

Hot. If people weren’t so busy being awkward stalkers, who knows how many children would be running around on campuses? The smell of love’s in the air, and GoodCrush is cooking up a feral pheromone stew. Or maybe that’s just the smell of lube, SAE. Either Cupid’s shooting blanks or college kids have finally realized that mystery is sexy (do me, Sherlock).

So how does it work? Crush on anyone (literally) by typing their e-mail into a precarious “crush list.” They’ll get your anonymous note and – ta-da! More confusion. They sign-up and are forced to find you by “matching” your crush. Sound like a romantic disaster? Yup: In every way possible. But it’ll get you laid, right? This Valentine’s, don’t sit alone in your room with Mr. Vibes, a Fleshlight, or your best friend: Jergens. Get out there. GoodCrush…and then smash!

Or, maybe just get trashed. Love is overrated.