Hazing: Fraternity or Autocracy?

October 27, 2014

Against Hazing

 Fratlord Bro Chill

I’m not a pissed off mother, a disgruntled school dean under fire from pissed off mothers, or a member of the media.

Whether I gain credibility or lose it with the penname I’ve assumed, I’ve been through the ringer. I’m in a fraternity, I endured pledging and I emerged relatively unscathed.

On the surface, I’m more qualified to be writing the other side of this argument. But doing so would be to condone the current system through which hundreds of thousands of wide-eyed college freshmen endure each semester.

And I most certainly do not.

Let’s get on the same page with an ever-cliché web definition of ‘hazing.’

Via Wikipedia, hazing is: “Any activity expected of someone joining or participating in a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses or endangers them, regardless of a person’s willingness to participate.”

Hold up. There’s a lot going on there – let’s break it down.

Any activity expected of someone joining or participating in a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses or endangers them, regardless of a person’s willingness to participate.”

The hazing that we’re referring to is only endured after the acceptance of a bid. A bid, which itself is an implicit declaration that someday the signer wants to be a part of this group.

Every fraternity on campus has a reputation, and the extremes to which their respective hazing practices reach are incredibly accessible. Anybody who’s made it far enough to reach college should have the mental capacity to find out that Pike does some sick ritual that involves a goldfish and puke. Even if the specifics are unknown, a potential pledge makes the conscious decision to sign up for humiliation, degradation, abuse and endangerment that are publicly attributed to different organizations – and let me reiterate – that’s a choice (hopefully, an informed one).

Honestly, I have no issue with the fundamental concept of hazing – it’s a necessary evil for acceptance into anything. Hell – the entire college experience could be thought of as hazing. Graduation is initiation into the real world after four years of 20 page papers and dumb decisions. But those all-nighters and regrettable hook-ups – however unhealthy and unpleasant – must happen if anything is to be learned. And what happens next is even better. Those who make it through to see the light at the other end of the tunnel share a bond.

Why do Michigan grads go out of their way to hire fellow Michigan alumni? Because at some point in their pasts, they’ve probably fought through the exact same hangover, trudged through a foot and a half of snow and made it to their 8:30 lecture at 1800 Chem only to be hit with a surprise pop quiz. That’s a hell of a bond.

Sometimes though, as is the case currently, the bond is simply too extreme for the world we live in.

The ‘Pussification of America’ is very much a real thing – people are more sensitive than ever because they’re exposed to more than ever. I’m not a fan of the phenomenon, but when the defending Heisman Trophy winner yells a profanity in the middle of a crowded room, and Twitter finds out, he’s going to catch flack for it. Welcome to 2014, Jameis.

Similarly, hospitalizations in hazing-related incidents blow up social media and shut down fraternities. And damn well they should. Any organization that is stupid enough to endanger lives may as well be a gang. Do intentions differ? Sure. But if alcohol leads to sloppiness leads to death? They deserve the exact same punishment.

That’s my opinion anyways, and the law agrees with me.

Alas, here are two other under-scrutinized by-products of hazing, that a fresh crop of freshmen may have unknowingly just signed up for:

  1.      Power trips – people who have never been in a position of power before control a group of helpless individuals. I could have been doing more productive things with my time than listening to somebody who’s playing around with power he doesn’t deserve.

  2.      Reduced exposure to diversity – Hazing, in theory, molds a group of men under the same handful of values. In practice, they often mold malleable brains into one ignorant view of the world.

I have no issue with hazing. Inherently, it’s not a bad thing. The degree of hazing to which many subject themselves is. When bullying trumps common sense, stupid things happen. For me? I had no intention of ever doing an elephant walk. Maybe others do. That’s their choice. And a dumb one at that.

The Pros of Hazing

Anonymous

Let me begin by saying that inflicting physical harm upon another person is something that I would never condone.  Every year, disgusting, dangerous stories emerge from campuses across the country.  People get hurt, or in extreme cases, even die.  These events are tragic and highly avoidable, and they should not be part of any hazing or as I prefer to call it “Education”

Hazing, as it is often called, is an essential part of team building.  In order to create a cohesive unit out of disparate individuals, it is necessary to rally them around a cause.  In a fraternity’s case, this cause could be learning the history of the organization, planning an event or fundraising.  Completing these tasks forces collaboration and builds bonds between people from different backgrounds.  

Activities that require individuals to act as a team, such as scavenger hunts or races can bring people together. In the case of scavenger hunts, the less savvy individuals can be led by those who have a better understanding of the clues, encouraging the  slower individuals. In completing such activities, students can learn their strengths and weaknesses. In addition, students can become better people by internalizing the importance of helping others within the context of the fraternity, but also in life more broadly. This gives one an opportunity to fail, (something that will inevitably happen many times in real life) but to be picked up and supported by those around you. This teaches the significance of the people around you to your success.

The reality is, hazing is part of life. It appears in many forms, whether it be the responsibility of the intern to get the coffee or a new military cadet dropping down and giving 50. When the football player misses a tackle, the coach makes him do sprints. In every activity in life, there is a natural hierarchy, and often times an individual might have to perform an undesirable task to fulfill their duty as a member of a team. However, it is in completing these obligations or difficult tasks that an individual can build character. It is often said that in the face of true adversity one learns the most about themselves and what they value.

In the moment, of course, many hazing events sound unenjoyable. But it is often the hard times that makes you appreciate the good times. One study showed that “harsh and enjoyable initiation rites made subjects value the group they belonged to[E1] .”

In organizations where membership is large, cliques will inevitably form, but having members work together towards common goals can mitigate this.

However, some organizations take things to the extreme and use the situation to their advantage.  With total power over these younger members of the organization comes complete responsibility for them. When fraternities force pledges to drink in excess or complete dangerous tasks, it betrays this responsibility.  While completion of these tasks is said to build unity, it only endangers the fraternity.

During a pledge education term, it is important that the leaders and the new members are open and honest with each other. If one’s personal preferences, issues, and disabilities are clearly communicated in open discourse with responsible leaders, hazing can be difficult, fun, but most importantly a great learning experience applicable to everyday life. The ultimate goal should be to educate and to bring a group together and certainly not to put anyone in danger or harms way.

I personally have spent time on both sides as the “hazer” and “haze-ee”. From the former I now have a friendship and life long bond with the others that I went through the process with, and from the latter I have a group of kids that look up to me, and years later do not hesitate to reach out to me for advice.

Even many fraternity pledges think of the times that they were “hazed” in a positive manner. A quote from a former pledge, explains the process very nicely. “Pledging truly is the best thing you never want to do again. I experienced some of the best and worst moments of my life during that 3 month period of time. Yet, I would never take it back. I grew immensely as an individual, learned the true importance of a team effort, and formed bonds with my brothers unlike any prior friendships. I will forever remember our motto: For the strength of the pack is the wolf, and the strength of the wolf is the pack” - anonymous pledge.