True Gentlemen

The Broken Pledge of America's Fraternities


By John Hechinger

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An exclusive look inside the power and politics of college fraternities in America as they struggle to survive despite growing waves of criticism and outrage.

College fraternity culture has never been more embattled. Once a mainstay of campus life, fraternities are now subject to withering criticism for reinforcing white male privilege and undermining the lasting social and economic value of a college education.

No fraternity embodies this problem more than Sigma Alpha Epsilon, a national organization with more than 15,000 undergraduate brothers spread over 230 chapters nationwide. While SAE enrollment is still strong, it has been pilloried for what John Hechinger calls “the unholy trinity of fraternity life”: racism, deadly drinking, and misogyny. Hazing rituals have killed ten undergraduates in its chapters since 2005, and, in 2015, a video of a racist chant breaking out among its Oklahoma University members went viral. That same year, SAE was singled out by a documentary on campus rape, The Hunting Ground. Yet despite these problems and others, SAE remains a large institution with strong ties to Wall Street and significant political reach.

In True Gentlemen, Hechinger embarks on a deep investigation of SAE and fraternity culture generally, exposing the vast gulf between its founding ideals and the realities of its impact on colleges and the world at large. He shows how national fraternities are reacting to a slowly dawning new reality, and asks what the rest of us should do about it. Should we ban them outright, or will they only be driven underground? Can an institution this broken be saved? With rare access and skillful storytelling, Hechinger draws a fascinating and necessary portrait of an institution in deep need of reform, and makes a case for how it can happen.



On a sultry August morning in the Port of Miami, seven hundred fraternity brothers streamed onto the Majesty of the Seas, a cruise ship with nine bars and a “Vegas-style Casino Royale.” In flip-flops and backward baseball caps, rolling hip-tall suitcases stuffed with blazers and bow ties, they came to learn the ways of “The True Gentleman,” the solemn creed of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, one of the largest college fraternities in America. “The True Gentleman,” a 123-word passage all members must memorize, amounts to a secular Golden Rule drenched with nostalgia. The creed stresses propriety, self-control, frankness, sincerity, sympathy, humility, and respect for the rights and feelings of others. The True Gentleman is “a man with whom honor is sacred and virtue safe.”

This cruise represented the modern incarnation of an eighty-year-old tradition, SAE’s annual leadership school. Here, recent initiates would learn how to be social chairmen and chapter presidents—and one day, perhaps, become politicians and chief executive officers. As is often the case with the activities of fraternities, this event might not look good to the outside world. “A booze cruise,” a fraternity critic could call it. In reality, SAE has held the school at sea since 2006 because it was easier to control drinking. Once aboard, only those twenty-one and older had bracelets letting them buy alcohol. On the Royal Caribbean excursion, the brothers could also be held captive in conference rooms during daylong classes.

The cruise will long be remembered for its role in violating, in every sense, SAE’s own creed. Four years earlier, on this same ship, a few men, perhaps in a hot tub or in hushed voices in their cabins, shared a song, its melody from a childhood sing-along, “If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands.”

There will never be a nigger in SAE,

There will never be a nigger in SAE,

You can hang him from a tree,

But he can never sign with me,

There will never be a nigger in SAE.

The song traveled from the Caribbean to the University of Oklahoma, where it was repeated behind closed doors at its SAE chapter before going viral in March 2015 when two drunk members on a bus were caught singing it on a cell-phone video that horrified the world.

Just five months later, on the August leadership cruise, members of SAE—including several dozen African Americans—gathered in the ship’s Broadway-style main theater to hear Bill Dorfman, a motivational speaker and dentist-to-the-stars known for his on-air makeovers on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Dorfman dropped the names of celebrities such as Lindsay Lohan and Jessica Simpson. He showed a picture of his rippling fifty-something physique featured in a men’s magazine. He recounted how he turned a knack for self-promotion into a $200-million-a-year business and stormed the New York Times best-seller list by buying copies of his own book. “People always say money doesn’t make you happy!” he thundered into a microphone. “I say, b.s. It makes you really happy!” The crowd roared, perhaps forgetting that the True Gentleman “does not flatter wealth, cringe before power, or boast of his own possessions or achievements.”

Later in the voyage, a thirty-five-year-old father of four daughters took the stage to teach “Etiquette for a True Gentleman.” He was known as “Boomer,” though his full name was Blaine K. Ayers, and he held the grand title of “Eminent Supreme Recorder of SAE”—what most organizations would call executive director. Ayers, a blond, boyish figure, a former homecoming king who married a sorority girl, wore a crisp gray suit, white shirt, and baby-blue bow tie. “Good manners will open doors that the best education cannot,” he said, the soft vowels of his native Kentucky floating like a mist from a bygone era. A gentleman, he said, opens doors for a lady. He rises when a woman approaches a table. He stands to her right on a sidewalk. At parties, he holds a drink in his left hand so the right is free to greet others. No matter how hot, he never loosens his necktie or removes his suit jacket. He pens handwritten thank-you notes. “You should be a better man than you were when you woke up in the morning,” Ayers told his protégés.

In another room aboard the vessel, Russell Best faced the challenge of teaching nineteenth-century manners to twenty-first-century bros in the age of Tinder. In a class about preventing sexual assault, Best, a former president of his chapter at the University of Cincinnati, began with the basics, words to avoid: “hitting it,” “slut,” “ho,” “stud,” “stallion,” and “fraternity slam piece.” Words matter, Best told the young men as he strained to reach them in their own language. “The way we talk about sex sounds kind of rapey,” said Best, who worked for the fraternity’s national office. “How many of you think that drunken hookups are part of college life?” All twenty members of the audience raised their hands. “How many of you have gotten so drunk that you woke up in bed with someone, and you didn’t know what happened the night before?” Just about everyone assented. Best urged the men to reconsider such behavior. Colleges—or the police—could accuse them of rape if a woman was too drunk to give consent. A junior from Indiana University complained about what he saw as a double standard in sexual assault: “Why is it always the dude’s fault when both people are drunk?”

Another class revealed the unholy trinity of fraternity life: racial insensitivity, dangerous drinking, and misogyny. Brandon Weghorst, the fraternity’s communications chief, called it: “PR Nightmare: Our Public Image Exposed.” He flashed photos on a screen, a growing collection he kept as a cautionary tale for occasions like these: Strippers in front of a chapter house. A Confederate battle flag. A brother pouring vodka down a young woman’s throat. “Rush SAE” painted across naked breasts (a fraternity recruitment phenomenon called “rush boobs”). And a couple of unofficial creeds, painted on rocks and walls, the proud handiwork of the late-teenage mind uncluttered with ideals of honor and virtue: “SAE. Work Hard. Play Hard. Stay Hard.” and “SAE: We do bitches!! Pulling hoes since 1856.”

FEW AMERICAN INSTITUTIONS face as wide a chasm between high-minded ideals and on-the-ground reality as the college fraternity. It is among the many contradictions of the Greek-letter movement, which is as old as the United States itself. Fraternities once faced near-universal condemnation from college presidents, who viewed the secretive brotherhoods as a threat to morality and scholarship; yet today, fraternities are, more often than not, partners with school administrators who praise them for fostering philanthropy, community, and leadership—even as alcohol-soaked Greek parties generate no end of injuries and embarrassing headlines. Women now dominate higher education in numbers and accomplishment, yet these all-male organizations control social lives with their exclusive parties and face complaints of misogyny and sexual assault. Fraternities profess to judge men solely by their character, yet they have long been criticized for fostering divisions of class and race. Their reputations are in tatters, yet fraternities are more popular than ever. They lash out at critics; yet in private they are often withering in their self-criticism and eager for reform.

Over two years, I traveled across the country, trying to understand the jarring conflict between fraternities’ words and deeds. I examined their darkest moments, the brutality hidden in basements and bedrooms, shielded by covered windows and student “lookouts” and denied long after overwhelming evidence had revealed the truth. I visited chapter houses at state colleges with big-time football teams, Ivy League schools with pipelines to Wall Street, and smaller colleges with accomplished alumni who dominate Main Street businesses across America. I joined fraternity men and sorority women as they cruised in the Caribbean and had cocktails with members of Congress at a Capitol Hill hotel. I saw a billionaire fly in and out of a meeting in Southern California on his private jet, addressing members before they debated a contentious plan to make their chapters safer. I witnessed a national president confronting an ugly history of hazing and racism, and I watched an unlikely fraternity man devote what could be the last year of his life to keeping a promise to a troubled chapter he helped transform into a national model.

At many schools, especially the public universities that award most bachelor’s degrees, the Greek-letter groups that dominate the physical and social landscape have a greater influence on students’ lives than any academic department. Visit a college with a flourishing fraternity scene, and you’ll find an “Office of Greek Life,” where administrators endorse materials that make fraternity gatherings sound as innocent as a square dance. Stroll along fraternity row, and you’ll find jaw-dropping mansions that look like the set of Gone with the Wind. Greek organizations own $3 billion in real estate on eight hundred US campuses, offering some of the most expensive and sought-after housing and dividing campuses into haves and have-nots. Their members often form a voting bloc that gives them unrivaled power in student government and, later, a lifelong social network that can catapult them ahead of less-connected classmates. About 40 percent of US presidents have belonged to fraternities, including Gerald Ford (Delta Kappa Epsilon [DKE], University of Michigan), the two Presidents Bush (both DKE, Yale), Ronald Reagan (Tau Kappa Epsilon [TKE], Eureka College), and Bill Clinton (Phi Beta Sigma, honorary member). Donald Trump, though frequently called out for the worst kind of frat-boy behavior, never belonged to a chapter. Thirty-nine percent of senators in the 113th US Congress and one-fourth of US representatives belonged to fraternities. So did one-third of all US Supreme Court justices; and business titans such as Berkshire Hathaway’s Warren Buffett (Alpha Sigma Phi) and Walmart’s late founder, Sam Walton (Beta Theta Pi). There’s even a lobbying arm, the Fraternity and Sorority Political Action Committee known as FratPAC, that opposed national anti-hazing legislation and supported a bill that would make it more difficult for colleges to investigate sexual assault.

Fraternity brothers themselves tend to cherish their experiences, viewing their time in chapter houses as among the most meaningful of their college years. The organizations promote close friendships, no small matter at larger, more impersonal universities. Members learn to govern themselves, electing officers who oversee budgets, plan events, and punish those who break the rules. Joining up can often be a stepping-stone to student government. Like corporate chief executives on the philanthropy circuit, leaders raise more than $20 million a year, often through dances and parties that can be the pinnacle of the social calendar. A 2014 survey of 30,000 undergraduates by Gallup and Purdue University found that members of Greek-letter groups reported higher levels of “well-being,” such as having a sense of purpose and community and strong relationships with friends and family. More than other students, they believed their institutions prepared them for life after college, and in an emotional response significant to college presidents hungry for donations, they expressed a closer attachment to their alma maters. The Indiana University Foundation, which raises money for the public college, reported that Greeks, which compose 19 percent of its database of alumni, made 60 percent of all donations.

To a degree not widely understood, fraternities pioneered the American conception of college, a place where extracurricular life can eclipse scholarship. This is a book about what it means for students, parents, universities—and America—that fraternities play such an outsize role in higher education. The historical legacy of fraternities in part shapes our very idea of coming of age, and the matter of how we reform—or abolish—them cuts to the core of higher education’s mission. To quote one noted SAE brother, the past is never dead. It’s not even past.

Much has been written about fraternities’ misbehavior, which seems as inevitable as fall leaves and tuition increases. Insurance companies have rated fraternities just above toxic-waste dumps because of claims related to drinking, hazing, and sexual assault. There have been journalistic exposés, as well as shocking memoirs of fraternity life. Historians, sociologists, and other academics have offered illuminating accounts of the roots and culture of Greek life. But the contradictions of fraternities remain rich territory for exploration. I offer the perspective of an outsider who never belonged to a fraternity; a concerned father of a daughter still in college; a reporter who has examined thousands of pages of court and disciplinary records; and a chapter-house guest who listened to the opinions of scores of members themselves. They often complained that they are stereotyped, blamed for the behavior of the worst among them. In the end, though, it seemed more than fair to measure fraternities against their own standards, their own words, and the highest values they seek to promote.

The current moment represents a turning point for fraternities. Several forces have conspired to challenge Greek-letter organizations: social media and cell-phone videos have pierced their secrecy; litigation has led national offices either to distance themselves to avoid liability or to consider enforcing codes of behavior on disparate chapters that have traditionally operated with little centralized authority; and an increasingly diverse campus has led to more intense questioning of fraternities’ exclusivity. Still, the rise of Trump has revealed a deep well of white, male resentment that could provoke a backlash against any change.

The roughly seventy historically white, male, Greek-letter organizations have 4 million living alumni and represent the most venerable and dominant force in the movement. Their chapters, most of which belong to the North-American Interfraternity Conference, have more than 380,000 undergraduate members, a 50 percent increase over the last decade and just short of a 1990 record. One in six men who attend a four-year college full-time belongs to a fraternity. With their campus partners, the traditionally white sororities, fraternities form a bloc that can command more power and resources than any other student group. African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, and other minority groups, excluded from fraternities at the movement’s inception, have created their own Greek organizations. Although they lack the population, money, and influence of the historically white chapters, these fraternities and sororities further magnify the presence of Greek life. At the University of Alabama, for example, fraternities and sororities make up 36 percent of students. Some of the country’s most elite colleges, such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Dartmouth, are Greek strongholds, where one-half or more of male students belong to a fraternity.

This book focuses largely on a single fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, in the hope that the narrative’s specificity will yield a richer portrait—that the part will shed greater truths about the whole. As David Stollman, a member of rival Sigma Phi Epsilon, told the men on the SAE leadership cruise, fraternities are more alike than different. Stollman, who has visited hundreds of campuses to hold boot camps on recruitment, mentioned the handshakes, Greek letters, and secret rituals featuring candles and robes. More important, he said, Greeks tend to espouse a similar set of ideals. Sigma Chi’s creed begins, “I believe in fairness, decency and good manners.” Tau Kappa Epsilon calls for a “life based upon integrity, justice, sincerity, patience, moderation, culture and challenge.” The Kappa Alpha Order (KA) tells its initiates that “the manner in which an individual enjoys certain advantages over others is a test of a true gentleman.” The creed becomes an organizing principle for a life well lived. When members of SAE die, the fraternity holds a service, replete with religious symbolism, to honor the recently departed, those who now reside in “the chapter eternal.”

Using the measure of members initiated over time, SAE claims to be the largest fraternity. Since its founding, SAE counts 336,000 brothers, with two-thirds alive today. At its peak in 2014, almost 15,000 undergraduates belonged to SAE chapters on more than 230 campuses. Like every fraternity, SAE has its own character. At its most populous chapters, it has a regional flavor. SAE claims the distinction of being the only continuously operating general fraternity founded in the antebellum South to survive the Civil War. Its members have included the writers William Faulkner at the University of Mississippi and Walker Percy at the University of North Carolina (UNC). Its chapters have especially strong ties to Wall Street. T. Boone Pickens, the Texas oilman-turned-investor, and Henry Paulson, the former Goldman Sachs CEO and secretary of the US Treasury, are both SAEs. LinkedIn, a networking website for professionals, recently listed almost 3,000 alumni in finance, more than any other industry. SAE holds a prominent place in popular culture. Stephen Colbert’s conservative blowhard character on The Colbert Report comedy show proclaimed his Dartmouth SAE membership. SAE plays a supporting role in Animal House, the sine qua non of frat films. In that 1978 movie, SAE inspired the rich, snobby fraternity that was the nemesis of comedian John Belushi’s out-of-control chapter.

Today, SAE is perhaps America’s most notorious fraternity. The Oklahoma video and other racial episodes continue to alienate African Americans and trouble some of its own black members. “I couldn’t believe it,” Devontae Dennis, a black member from the University of Wisconsin, told me on the leadership cruise. “SAEs are like my brothers.” Dennis stood by the fraternity, but it hadn’t been easy. A month after the video hit the Internet, Dennis, wearing an SAE T-shirt, was on spring break in Panama City, Florida. An African American woman ran up and chided him: “You’re a traitor.” The same year that the video surfaced, The Hunting Ground, a documentary about campus rape, singled out SAE. One section left a lasting impression on viewers. In the movie, a narrator asks women on various campuses what SAE stands for. “Sexual Assault Expected,” they say again and again.

For almost a decade, SAE was the deadliest fraternity. From 2005 through 2013, at least ten people died in incidents related to SAE, mostly from drinking and hazing, and more than any other fraternity. (During the same time span, more than sixty died at all fraternities.) As a result, SAE paid the highest costs for liability insurance of any fraternity. Universities have disciplined more than 130 SAE chapters over the past five years, some repeatedly. More than thirty chapters have been shut down since 2013.

The leaders of SAE know they are a legal judgment away from oblivion. “We’ve faced the greatest challenge since the Civil War,” Steven Churchill, its national president, told undergraduates at the start of the leadership cruise. As the members came aboard, he could see the wide-eyed stares of other passengers, especially the parents fearing for the safety of their teenage daughters in a sea of men wearing Greek letters. “When people who are on this ship find out we are a fraternity, they will be alarmed,” Churchill, a former state legislator from Iowa, said. “When they hear it’s SAE, they will be even more concerned. Be a true gentleman. Be mindful of what you say and do. If you’re not careful, it can spread like a cancer.”

In other words, no matter its power, influence, and storied history, the American college fraternity faces an existential choice. It can perpetuate the ugliest chapters of American history. Or it can turn the page and once again reflect the country’s highest aspirations.





“Whose Self-Control Is Equal to All Emergencies”

Relaxing after a couple of tough exams on a cold and rainy February night in 2011, George Desdunes and his fraternity buddy drank straight Jameson Irish Whiskey out of plastic cups. Before they knew it, Desdunes and Kyle Morton had polished off the better part of a bottle in half an hour. For most, downing nine ounces of the eighty-proof liquor that fast would be quite a feat. By Morton’s accounting, it amounted to the equivalent of six or seven mixed drinks apiece, enough to bring their blood-alcohol level to twice the legal limit for driving. Desdunes and Morton were just warming up. In Morton’s bedroom, the brothers from Cornell University were “pre-gaming,” a routine practice on an ordinary Thursday night at the Sigma Alpha Epsilon house. At 10:30 p.m., Morton, a junior from Scarsdale, New York, headed downstairs for the night’s main event, a beer-pong tournament, a test of alcohol tolerance and hand-eye coordination that would last until the early hours of the next morning. Desdunes skipped beer pong that evening because he had better plans. The nineteen-year-old sophomore, who had a fake ID, was getting ready to hit a bar or two in Collegetown, the nighttime haven for Cornell students in Ithaca, New York. He hoped to meet up with his girlfriend, an outdoorsy young woman who had just graduated in January 2011 and was preparing for a career on Wall Street.

“What are you up to tonight?” Desdunes texted her at 11:00 p.m.

“Dunbar’s,” she replied, naming a dive bar featuring a $6 “Group Therapy” drink special—a pitcher of beer and a carafe of shots of vodka, triple sec, and lime.

Desdunes said he’d probably hit Dino’s, another local hangout. Or maybe Level B, a basement dance club and bar known for its $18 “fishbowl,” a half bottle of vodka, or sixteen shots. They’d meet up later. Now, before he headed out, all Desdunes needed was a few more drinks—a second round of pre-gaming. About 11:30 p.m., Desdunes hauled a jug of Captain Morgan into another bedroom, where he and three other SAE brothers mixed rum-and-Pepsis strong enough to knock out a sailor on shore leave. Each plastic cup had two or three shots of liquor. Within half an hour, the brothers knocked back three apiece. They averaged seven drinks per guy, one of them figured.

Desdunes and his Cornell fraternity brothers worked hard and played hard, as college students liked to say—and, by play, they meant drink. On the first floor, the bar and the library sat side by side in their ivy-covered mansion of a frat house. Built in 1915, the SAE chapter house at Cornell had been dubbed “Hillcrest,” evoking the grandeur of an English country home with its Tudor-style architecture and view of nearby Cayuga Lake. It was a sprawling residence, able to house ninety men. Among its illustrious members had been Eamon McEneaney, Cornell class of 1977, considered the greatest lacrosse player of his generation, later becoming a senior vice president at Wall Street’s Cantor Fitzgerald. He died at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, while saving the lives of sixty-three people. More recently, two members had been elected to the Ithaca City Council while undergraduates, and still others belonged to the prestigious Quill and Dagger secret honor society. Nominating the chapter for an award the year before, Travis Apgar, the associate dean overseeing Greek life at Cornell, had called Sigma Alpha Epsilon “an example of what a fraternity and its members can and should be.”

The current crop of SAE members, including future financiers at Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, liked to think they were cut from the same cloth. They vied for top grades and summer internships with the same gusto they had for beer pong. Regardless of the damage to their livers and brain cells, many were fine physical specimens and world-class varsity athletes, demonstrating the competitive drive that would also be prized on Wall Street. Eric Barnum, the chapter’s “Eminent Archon,” or president, played varsity golf; Connor Pardell rode on the polo team; Max Haskin played varsity tennis; and E. J. Williams was a wide receiver on the football team.

Lean and muscular, with a wide, open smile, Desdunes was a natural fit in the chapter. A graduate of Berkeley Carroll, a private school in Brooklyn, he had been on the varsity soccer and swim teams. In one way, though, he was unusual among the brothers and their country-club sports. An African American in a historically white fraternity, he was the child of a single mother, a Haitian immigrant who worked as a hospital aide. Now, he hoped SAE’s prestige, along with an Ivy League degree, would ensure his success. With dreams of being a doctor, he was taking the notoriously demanding science and math courses of the pre-med track.

For all his ambition, Desdunes slept with a jug of Jose Cuervo tequila on his dresser. Even at a hard-partying chapter, he stood out. His roommate, Matthew Picket, noticed that Desdunes would drink heavily three or four times a week. By heavily, he didn’t mean five drinks in a sitting—as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines binge drinking. Picket meant the kind of bender that ended with the loss of consciousness and, in some cases, dignity. Desdunes had been known to tip over while seated at a bar. “He probably drinks more than he should, but he’s usually OK to get home on his own,” Picket remembered later. “He would be someone that you would check on in a bar, for example. If he was keeled over, you wanted to make sure he was OK.” One time, Desdunes urinated by accident on the door of another brother’s room; another time, on a Sony PlayStation 3 system. “I almost expected to hear that George would be in the ER from drinking too much,” Picket said. “If you continue habits like that, your luck has to run out.”

If his fraternity brothers were alarmed, they didn’t do much about it. Maybe it was a matter of glass houses. Who didn’t have trouble remembering the previous night? “I mean, I did almost the same thing,” said Picket, who later listed single-malt scotch as an interest on his LinkedIn profile. As much as vodka made a screwdriver, drinking defined the Cornell SAE house. That night and into the next morning, pledges—provisional members seeking full acceptance—were on call as “sober drivers.” Like chauffeurs tending high-rollers at a casino, they served at the pleasure of older members who could call on newbies for rides at any hour. In 2006, Cornell disciplined the chapter after discovering a written pledge guide that suggested the role alcohol played in a freshman’s SAE initiation. Among other things, new members were expected to clean vomit out of cars. Along with their driving duties, they could also be called on as janitors for those who couldn’t hold their liquor. Pledges were full-service alcohol enablers, pressed into service by the fraternity.


  • "A blistering inside look at the traditional Greek system through the lens of a single brotherhood... Hechinger, a senior editor at Bloomberg News, has delivered a deeply researched account that traces SAE from its roots to today - and offers a kind of book of revelation."—Washington Post
  • "Riveting, exposé that, given the influence of fraternity alumni, requires tremendous courage to pursue."—Kirkus Reviews, Starred Review
  • "An exemplary work of investigative reporting. Recommended for all academic libraries."—~b~>Library Journal, Starred Review
  • "True Gentlemen is a timely and deeply unsettling book about the arrogance and abuses of too much of the Greek letter fraternity system. John Hechinger goes deep in reporting the shameful behavior of this so-called elite society."—Tom Brokaw, NBC News
  • "Why should we care about the world of fraternities? This book will show you: because of the culture of alcohol, hazing, misogyny, racism, and brutality that John Hechinger brilliantly describes. With gripping and powerful storytelling, Hechinger portrays a part of American collegiate life that everyone should be aware of, one that feeds the darkest instincts of our future leaders."—Diane Ravitch, research professor of education, New York University, and author of Reign of Error
  • "Here, at last, is the full story of fraternity culture in America. Although True Gentleman tells the story of one social fraternity, its lessons apply to many others. Fair, deeply reported, and often riveting, the book explores both the infamous crimes and tragedies that have plagued SAE, and also the under-explored benefits of belonging to the organization. There are testaments here to friendship and loyalty, and also to danger and financial risk. Any reader interested in knowing why these clubs have endured so long, in the face of so much bad behavior, should read this book. For parents of potential pledges, it ought to be required."—Caitlin Flanagan, contributing editor to the Atlantic and author of Girl Land
  • "John Hechinger draws a complex, layered, but comprehensible portrait of the infamously elusive and exclusive college-bred base of Donald Trump. It is hard to imagine a better moment for this investigation of one of the foundations of White male privilege-the college fraternity. True Gentleman is indispensable if Americans are going to figure out why women's lives, why poor lives, why queer lives, why non-White lives are still so disposable in the United States of America."—Ibram X. Kendi, National Book Award-winning author of Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America
  • "What happens behind the bolted oaken doors of American fraternities? John Hechinger's relentless reporting and fine critical intelligence reveal all too much about the worst of frat life in America. A necessary and significant book."—Mark Edmundson, university professor, University of Virginia
  • "A deeply reported (and disturbing) expose of the fatal hazing, misogyny, and racism plaguing America's broken fraternity system - and its lobbying arm, FratPAC."—Esquire
  • "By further exposing these profound problems, Hechinger has made a far more valuable to contribution to American college life than any fraternity ever could."—Christian ScienceMonitor
  • "A blistering inside look at the traditional Greek system through the lens of a single brotherhood... Hechinger, a senior editor at Bloomberg News, has delivered a deeply researched account that traces SAE from its roots to today - and offers a kind of book of revelation."—Washington Post

On Sale
Sep 26, 2017
Page Count
320 pages

John Hechinger

About the Author

John Hechinger, a senior editor at Bloomberg News, was a 2011 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Public Service and a two-time winner of the George Polk Award for his reporting on education. Before joining Bloomberg in 2010, he was a senior special writer at the Wall Street Journal, where he focused on education and finance. A graduate of Yale University, he lives near Boston with his wife and daughter.

Learn more about this author