This MLA essay identifies variations in and discusses the practice of hazing in Greek organizations. This essay was written at the undergraduate level to serve as a sample for the Ultius blog.
Greek organizations and hazing
Hazing, though not uncommon in military organizations or sports, is most closely associated with Greek organizations; fraternities and sororities. In a survey of over eleven-thousand students at more than fifty institutions, sixty-eight percent of women who participated in Greek life reported to having experienced hazing in order to become a member of their sorority (Crowder). News and media outlets have reported harsh treatment, serious injuries, and even death as a result of hazing and the Greek community consistently comes under fire for its unending association with these dangerous rituals. Still, while we continue to hear stories of Greek organizations and hazing incidences, many participants in the Greek system report no such incidences and express nothing but satisfaction with their experiences.
Common hazing rituals
There are a number of hazing methods that are often associated with sororities and fraternities. Perhaps the most common is paddling. Paddling is one of the oldest traditions in Greek organizations. Even the sororities and fraternities that do not abuse their pledges often present their pledges with paddles at some point during their initiation process. When used insidiously, the paddles are used to hit the pledges. While a whack on the backside may not seem particularly hazardous, it is actually one of the most dangerous hazing methods because it is so seemingly harmless and therefore more often used. Paddling can have a number of negative health impacts, such as blood in the victim’s urine, blood-clots, kidney damage, Rhabdomyolysis, and, if symptoms go unnoticed, even death (NewsOne).
Another popular hazing ritual is more obviously dangerous; pouring boiling water onto pledges. In 2008, ten fraternity members of Pi Kappa Alpha faced criminal charges when two pledges were treated for severe burns as a result of hazing (Lenz). The pledges were forced to participate in what is known as a ‘crab boil’, in which boiling hot pepper water is poured onto their bare backs. One of the pledges received third-degree burns on his back, chest, buttocks, and genitals (Lenz). The fraternity is no longer recognized at Tulane University and the chapter’s charter was revoked by the national Pi Kappa Alpha organization.
Unfortunately, there are several other common and dangerous hazing rituals that are used by some fraternities and sororities. Pledges are often put into physically harmful. One girl, Joanne (not her real name), who pledged a sorority at Penn State Altoona experienced several similar incidences. She recalls having to stand with her nose touching a concrete wall and those who moved had their faces slammed into the walls. She was made to clean the kitchen floor with her fingernails and drink a dark, dirty, disgusting concoction made by her sorority sisters (Crowder). They would call the pledges at two o’clock in the morning and told to gather at the sorority president’s apartment where they were quizzed on the sorority’s songs and prayers and emotionally and physically abused if they answered incorrectly.
After leaving the school to escape the hazing, Joanne continued to receive threats and abuse over social media and text messages and even has her car keyed on several occasions (Crowder). Six sorority sisters of Sigma Gamma Rho at Rutgers were arrested after several pledges wound up in the hospital as a result of a violent paddling incident. A senior member of the Rutgers Greek program was unfazed by the event. “Hazing is something that everyone knows is going on here on campus. All the fraternities and sororities use paddles here. It is really nothing new at all. People are just more upset that this girl ratted. Some people actually found out who the girl that ratted is and she will probably be shunned now.” (Crowder). One woman revealed a detailed schedule of the hazing she was forced to be subjected to and the work and hours involved were more than a full-time job (Crowder). Many of the rituals were violent.
Another girl said that pledges were made to answer trivia questions and were told that if they answered incorrectly, they would be violated with a sharpie, a knife, a hammer, or a sex toy. The girl walked out but ended up returning when her family, who has a history of involvement in Greek organizations, told her that that is just the way it works (Crowder). Another student in California suffered irreparable consequences after another seemingly harmless ritual. He was made to drink several pitchers of water until he vomited many times. The student ended up drinking so much water that his brain swelled and he died (Kory). Fraternity members reported that he suddenly began having seizures and no one called the ambulance until it was too late. None of them accompanied him to the hospital and he died alone. The fraternity member who was deemed the most responsible for the incident was sentenced to one year in jail. Still, though, these kinds of dangerous rituals have yet to be totally abolished.
Other hazing rituals are not necessarily dangerous but are undoubtedly humiliating. One sorority pledge was told that she had to choose between doing cocaine and participating in sexual acts in front of other pledges (NewsOne). She was told to choose or leave. These kinds of humiliating hazing methods are not only restricted to sororities, though. Some fraternities insist that their pledges do ‘the elephant walk’, in which pledges line up in a straight line and are made to grab genitals of the person in front of them and all walk in a line (NewsOne). Some pledges report being made to eat dog food at the command of their organization’s leadership and being forced to drink disgusting mixtures of unknown substances that usually make them sick. Another incident in 2006 led to the arrest of several fraternity members at Hartwick College after a particularly unpleasant hazing incident. Pledges were made to carry large rocks covered in feces through the woods and do sit-ups and push-ups in piles of broken glass and garbage soaked with urine (Marshall). These rituals are humiliating, demoralizing, and incredibly demeaning, yet seem to be very popular with several Greek organizations.
Much of the abuse is emotional as well as physical. One girl stated that she was made to stand on a bench in front of a fraternity as they shouted out parts of her body that ‘needed work’, while another girl reports pledges being made to sit on a washing machine naked with senior members of the sorority circled the parts of her body that jiggled with a sharpie (Crowder). One sorority made their pledges stand before the other members naked while they ranked the girls according to their body-type. These women reported that the emotional abuse continues to have a negative effect on their self-image even years later.
What can be done?
Though there is much more awareness of the issue of hazing by Greek organizations than in the past, it continues to be a major problem that needs to be addressed. Alexandra Robbins, author of the book “Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities”, believes that the most effective step in eradicating hazing would be to simply eliminated pledging. “Sororities are just social groups and it is ludicrous and pointless to have pledges ‘earn’ their letters. These girls are fresh to college and vulnerable. It is hard to stand up when you have a sorority [saying] you have to do something or get kicked out.” (Crowder). Though many colleges with Greek organizations have rules and stipulations regarding hazing, the punishments are light and the rules are often not enforced.
Sally Spencer-Thomas, author of “Violence Goes to College” and an expert on suicide, believes that hazing can only truly stop when students hold a no-tolerance stance as well in order to really accomplish anything. “It can’t be only policy because that just drives hazing underground. It has to be students saying it’s time for no more death and no more loss. There are other proven ways to forge bonds than to hurt people.” (Crowder). While it would be an excellent start for universities to tighten the reins on these kinds of hazing incidences, in order for anything to really chance, the participants in these rituals, the students, need to support safer practices and commit to living by them.
A different experience
Though it cannot be denied that hazing is often associated with Greek organizations, not all students who participate in fraternities or sororities have the same bad experiences. Elizabeth Beranek, an alumna of Mizzou, spent three years in a coed service fraternity during her time in school. They participated in service activities on campus and around their community and she states that it was one of the best choices she ever made (Beranek). She goes on to say that if it were not for her participation in Alpha Phi Omega, she would never have made the choice to go into non-profits, which she now thoroughly enjoys. Elizabeth’s experiences were shared by other students, as well. Marge Joyce, who was in the Alpha Sigma Tau sorority at Eastern Illinois University had nothing but positive experiences.
The sorority immediately made it clear that there was to be no hazing of any kind whatsoever. In fact, older members were discouraged from going to parties with pledges just in case anything could be misinterpreted as hazing or peer pressure (Joyce). While other students did experience hazing to some extent, it was not anywhere near as extreme as man of the hazing horror stories reported on the news. Jane Smith (not her real name) attended Western Illinois University and said they would have to do things like write bawdy songs and sing them to boys from a fraternity. “We felt it bonds a group better when they all ended to go through the same experiences with each other.” (Smith). After Jane’s class pledged, the school instituted new policies on hazing and they were forbidden from continuing their rituals.
She says that she and her sisters were disappointed and felt that the younger girls were robbed of a chance to bond (Smith). John Doe (not his real name) recently pledged a fraternity at the University of Illinois. He admitted that there were things they had to do, but none of them were embarrassing or dangerous. “We were all in a group text message together and when one of the older members needed something, like their laundry needed to be done or they forgot their textbook back in their room, they would send it in the group message and whoever was available would have to go do it. Sometimes we would have to go over to the house at midnight because someone was hungry and wanted someone to make them food. But that’s really the worst of it.” (Doe). He said that while the ritual became annoying after a while, it was not anything that was damaging or unbearable and they are all now treated like members of the group. While there have clearly been several notable negative experiences with hazing, that it obviously not the case every time.
Greek organizations have been scorned for decades because of their reputation for dangerous and damaging hazing rituals. Many students report being subject to physical, verbal, emotional, and even sexual abuse, all in the name of being accepted into one of these clubs. In some cases, students have even sustained serious injuries or even death. While these occurrences certainly cannot be ignored, it cannot be said that these hazardous rituals are experienced by everyone who decides to ‘go Greek’. Several participants report that they were never forced into any harmful situations and that their experiences were generally positive. Still, it cannot be denied that hazing can lead to serious consequences and should not be taken lightly by students or universities.
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Beranek, Lizzie. Personal Interview. 15 June 2016.
Crowder, Courtney. “Sorority Hazing Increasingly Violent, Disturbing.” ABC News. ABC News Network, 17 Feb. 2010. Web. 15 Jun, 2016. http://abcnews.go.com/US/child-dragged-gator-lake-disney-resort-florida-search/story?id=39863870
Joyce, Marge. Personal Interview. 15 June 2016.
Lenz, Cristy. “Boiling water, pepper used in hazing, police say”. CNN. Cable News Network, 7 May 2008. Web. 15 Jun. 2016. http://www.cnn.com/2008/CRIME/05/07/tulane.hazing/index.html?_s=PM:CRIME
Korry, Elaine. “A Fraternity Hazing Gone Wrong”. NPR. National Public Radio, LLC., 24 Nov. 2005. Web. 15 Jun. 2016. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5012154
Marshall, Jack. “The Hazing Abuse of Michael Warren”. Ethics Alarm. WordPress.com, 23 Apr. 2011. Web. 15 Jun. 2016. https://ethicsalarms.com/2011/04/23/the-hazing-abuse-of-michael-warren/
NewsOne . “The 10 Most Gruesome College Hazing Rituals”. NewsOne. Interactive One LLC., 2011. Web. 15 Jun. 2016. http://newsone.com/1677445/hazing-deaths-rituals-colleges-famu/
Smith, Jane. Personal Interview. 15 June 2016.