School policy around Greek Life has not stopped hazing. Instead, it has lead to a dangerous blind-eye approach from administrators.
In 2013, Justin Stuart reported on the hazing activities of Sigma Alpha Epsilon brothers in Salisbury University. He was beaten with a paddle and deprived of food and water for nine hours while locked in a basement. The situation “reminded me of Guantanamo Bay,” Stuart told Bloomberg.
Stories like these shape Greek Life’s reputation on college campuses. Since fraternities keep their pledging process secret, they cannot explain hazing’s more common — and far more mild — reality. Only the most egregious examples of hazing make headlines.
A brother at a San Diego State fraternity told the College Contemporary his experience: “We were responsible for making art before every party — they didn’t really make us do anything we didn’t want to do.” His pledge class was forced to create songs, clean the house, and wake-up early for runs. Yes, they still engaged in drinking games and ate strange foods; but, by-in-large, their pledge process was aimed at cultivating strong bonds among their pledges.
Going through discomfort as a part of an initiation exists in groups throughout society. New members of a company take on heavier workloads. New athletes must adjust to intense training regimens. Military recruits must go through boot camp — a “pledging” process far more intense than your local ZBT.
When a natural practice is prohibited, it becomes unregulated and more dangerous. This is why abstinence-based sex education fails to prevent STDs, and why abstinence-based drug education fails to prevent overdoses.
Universities are moving toward a harm-reduction to deal with sex and drug use. Many are making condoms and drug testing kits more accessible to make those activities safer. Can we imagine a similar approach to address hazing?
Instead of making fraternities to hide their pledging activities, the pledging process should be regulated and supervised. As a result of current policy, national chapters and college administrators don’t stop hazing, they just turn a blind-eye to it. This allows its extremes — whipping, branding, food deprivation — to fester.
Until we invite the pledging process into the light, fraternities will continue to abuse their pledges in the dark.