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When most people hear the term ?hazing? it conjures up images of fraternities. In
reality however, hazing occurs in many arenas including fraternities, sororities, the military,
athletic teams, and student organizations at both high school and college levels. In fact,
hazing incidents are dramatically different from the humorous images many people associate
with the term. Hazing, by definition is any action or situation which does not contribute to
the positive development of a person by causing mental or physical discomfort, or
embarrassment of any kind. It may also be defined as an action or situation that
intentionally or unintentionally endangers a person?s life for any reason. Author of several
books on hazing, Hank Nuwer, said that ?hazing has been associated with more than fifty
deaths in college fraternities and countless more physical injuries including paralysis, not to
mention the devastating emotional effects that can result for so many young men and
women.?(4) Responsibility is a major issue concerning hazing, and when danger is not
present, it should not be considered hazing.
Fitting in at college is a big deal, especially for freshman. The most popular way to
fit in, meet a lot of new people, and to become involved with new surroundings is to join a
sorority or fraternity. A person thinking of joining one of these organizations should ask
themselves one important question; how far should they go? Should this person be forced
to put up with paddling or striking, marking or branding, restricting class attendance, or
being deprived of proper amounts of sleep needed to maintain daily life? When a student
accepts a bid, he or she begins pledging to that particular fraternity or sorority. The pledge
period could last anywhere from a few weeks to several months. Fraternity pledge periods
are usually more physically demanding than that of a sorority. Once pledging is completed,
the person becomes a member of that particular fraternity or sorority.
The fall semester is pledge period on almost every American college campus.
Students are striving to fit in by doing things such as drinking unreasonable amounts of
alcohol, and attending secret meetings which interfere with their classes and other aspects of
their social life. Hazing days occur mostly during hell week. Hazing happens everywhere,
and somewhere something is bound to go wrong whether it be serious mental or physical
injury or even death in some cases. Some pledges quit during hell week mainly because
they either come to their senses and start to understand that being a member of a Greek
organization is not the only way to fit in especially if it could harm their lives. Others just
realize that they do not have to buy their friends. The ones who do stay usually live their
lives believing in the mystic bond of brotherhood or sisterhood. ?Hazing is very educational
about human nature,? one rush chairman stated. ?The nicest, politest, most churchgoing
people turn out to be so mean and angry. And cruel if you give them a little power.?
In the mind of most people, the term cult refers to something like the images of the
burning of David Koresh?s Branch Dividian settlement and the mass suicide of Jim Jones?s
Peoples Temple devotees. The fact is that most people do not realize that many students,
faculty members, and administrators regularly confront, and even participate in cult-like
behavior. The numerous fraternity and sorority chapters that engage in abusive hazing
practices on college campuses around the United States are the most prevalent cults among
American society. Upon examination of the cult-like aspects of hazing in Greek
organizations, a person may be able to understand why the practice is so difficult to stamp
out. It also reinforces the urgent need to find new strategies to prevent the pledging-related
injuries and deaths that have occurred for decades, despite strong efforts to eradicate them.
One of the latest attempts to discourage hazing is the Massachusetts Institute of
Technology?s decision to revoke the diploma of a graduate who was accused of serving
alcohol to a freshman pledge at an event. The pledge later died of alcohol poisoning. If one
can recognize that the abnormal behaviors found in many Greek organizations are very
similar to, and as deeply rooted as the behaviors found in cults, they will take the first step
towards developing a broader, more systematic approach to the problem of hazing.
The word hazing seems so harmless. The root of the word is often used to describe
a scene that is somewhat obscured by a mist or fog, or perhaps an unsure frame of mind.
Victimization is the abuse of power and control that underpins hazing and it needs to come
to an end. The victimization that fuels hazing also contributes to the sexism and racism that
leads to harassment, violence, and oppression in society today. The devastation and
damage that can occur as a result of neglect, fear, ignorance and abuse of power that is
derived at the expense of others is unimaginable. One member of the Greek system told of
the more typical hazing activities such as derogatory name calling, pledge clean-ups after
parties, sleep deprivation, forced drinking, and the consumption of filthy substances that
would induce vomiting upon ingestion. He was an eighteen year old freshman, and he was
frightened and bewildered by what was happening around him. He was forced to drink until
unconsciousness, and as he lay in a hospital room, he became keenly aware that he was in
grave physical danger. A few of his fraternity brothers came to visit him, and while he was
alarmed by the danger in which he had been placed through alcohol hazing, he was even
more distressed by the behavior of his brothers that paid him the visit. All they wanted to
tell him was to keep his mouth shut about the entire situation. His physical wounds healed
with relative ease, but his emotional scars became apparent when the pain turned into rage
which could no longer be held back.
Hazing is not something that just happens to ?wimpy? people who don?t know how
to say no or to people with low self-esteem who will do anything to acquire friends. Many
people fall victim to the ?blame the victim? mentality that is not much different from a
common response to women who have been raped. Students may sometimes express a
feeling of powerlessness over the hazing activities such as self-blame, shame, and
humiliation. Most students do not recognize that they are toying with injury and death
through their participation in hazing activities. Hazing begins in very subtle yet powerful
forms when pledges are expected to participate in organized subservience, are called
degrading names, and are required to abide by silly and often demeaning rules that clearly
place them in a subordinate role. The power imbalance begins here with the very subtle
forms of hazing that appear to be harmless at first, but set the stage for continued abuse of
power that is dangerous and life-threatening. If hazing is truly an effective means of
establishing bonds of brother and sisterhood, building trust and fostering respect, then why
are these techniques not being promoted to other groups or systems?
Some people claim that hazing strategies are adopted for developing group
cohesiveness, unity and trust. Over the years, pro-hazing arguments have included claims
such as: hazing builds unity because people bond through difficult experiences; hazing
teaches respect for the active members of the organization; enduring hazing proves that a
person is strong and it is an achievement to make it; hazing is a challenge that makes
pledging fun and exciting; hazing motivates lazy people; it is tradition; it works in the
military and hazing is one way for members to show their dedication to the group and earn
their membership. In reality, hazing never was, and never will be the best way to bond in
times of hardship. It may be true that someone can be taught about respect, but people
cannot be taught to respect others. Respect must be earned, and hazers do not earn the
respect of their victims. Hazing may motivate and challenge people, and it may seem like an
achievement when it is over, but hazing motivates people through fear and for this reason,
this kind of motivation is only temporary. Hazing does not develop motivation and
commitment to the ideals of the fraternity or sorority. Fraternities and sororities were not
founded upon ideals that support hazing and therefore it is not a tradition. All of these
myths work together to construct and illusion and that is why hazing is a tempting tool for
those who do not understand it.
Hazing does not empower people, and it does not support, encourage or infuse
people with the motivation and inspiration to conform to the standards of the organization.
Hazing is abusive, it strips power away from others, and it diminishes and belittles therefore,
the aftermath of hazing is always negative. One should not be fooled by the illusion of
hazing. One must look beyond the power that operates for those involved or potentially
involved in a hazing situation. Hazing creates a cycle of abuse. It is about people feeling
powerful at the expense of others. It is a cheap form of manhood or womanhood because it
entails taking the power of someone else away to make oneself feel stronger. A student
from Louisiana State University stated, ?I know it?s wrong, and I know it?s negative and
dangerous, but it?s never going to change.? Hazing diminishes the dignity of others through
inequality and injustice.
Leadership, sisterhood, brotherhood, character, scholarship, and community service
are a few of the ideals that may come to mind when thinking of the true meaning of a
fraternity or sorority. These are the ideals that have contributed to the strength of Greek
life on college campuses. The ideals upon which the organizations were built. It is not
understandable how someone can justify or rationalize tolerance of hazing and other abusive
practices in any organization, especially and organization that is based upon caring for each
other and affiliation is a choice. Greek advisor Elizabeth Allan stated that ?failing to
confront abusive behavior such as hazing is another way of saying ?I don?t care about
you?.? In choosing to become a member of a fraternity or sorority one has become a
member of a brotherhood or sisterhood that stands for much more than a group of
individuals living together and socializing through their college experiences. Becoming a
brother or sister means that one has become a member of a community that goes beyond
friendship and calls their members brother and sister.
Along with the power to make decisions comes the burden of responsibility for the
outcomes of those decisions or indecision in some cases. The responsibility for
decision-making is the foundation of integrity and strength in leadership. Someone needs to
take a stand against violent hazing and make a good name for the future of Greek
Allan, Elizabeth. ?The Ripple Effect.? University of Texas, Austin. April 14, 1994.
Fraternity Insurance Purchasing Group (FIPG). ?Hazing Defined.?
Keim, Will, Ph.D. ?The Power of Caring.?
Leemon, Thomas A. The Rites of Passage in a Student Culture. Teachers College,
Columbia University, 1972.
McNamara, Robert. ?Hazing.?
Nuwer, Hank. ?Greek Letters Don?t Justify Cult-Like Hazing of Pledges.?
Nuwer, Hank. ?Hazing, Separating Rites from Wrongs.? July Issue, Vol. 147, No. 1.
Scott, William A. Values and Organizations, A Study of Fraternities and Sororities. Rand
McNally & Company, 1965.
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