Hazing in universities across the nation has become an increasingly dangerous ritual that is seemingly becoming more difficult to put an end to due to its development into an "underground" activity. Though a regular activity in the seventies, hazing, a possible dangerous act of initiation to a group, has now become an activity that is banned in thirty-nine states (Wagner 16). However, this ritual has not been stopped or become less severe. In fact it is becoming more dangerous.
Since it has been banned, with many colleges imposing their own penalties against those participating in it, many fraternities and sororities have pursued this activity in an underground fashion. Since these groups have gone underground, some victims of these rituals have been injured and subsequently died. This is due to the "hazers" not seeking medical treatment for the victims, for fear that they may be fined or charged by police or campus authorities. One estimate states that at least sixty-five students have died between the years of 1978 and 1996 from beatings and stress inflicted during fraternity initiation rites ("Greek" 26).
Hazing has been defined in the Pennsylvania Hazing Law as "any action or situation which recklessly or intentionally endangers the mental or physical safety of a student or which destroys or removes public or private property for the purpose of initiation or admission into or affiliation with, or as a condition for continued membership in, any organization operating under the sanction of or recognized as an organization by an institution of higher education.
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The term shall include, but not be limited to, any brutality of a physical nature, such as whipping, beating, branding, forced calisthenics, exposure to the elements, forced consumption of any food, liquor, drug, or other substance, or any forced physical activity which could adversely affect the physical health and safety of the individual, and shall include any activity which would subject the individual to extreme mental stress, such as sleep deprivation, forced exclusion from social contact, forced conduct which could result in extreme embarrassment, or any other forced activity which could adversely affect the mental health or dignity of the individual"("Pennsylvania Hazing Law" 1). The importance of this hazing situation is the fact that people are being injured, both physically and mentally, causing death or lifelong trauma.
Though it may seem like an easy to control situation, the truth is that it is not easy at all. The only times that these groups, who subject individuals to hazing activities, are caught or penalized is after the damage done to an individual is so horrible as to result in death or hospitalization. The act of hazing may consist of something as subtle as a "pledge", one who is trying to become a part of the group, having to answer phones at a fraternity house to extreme hazing such as being severely beat with paddles or even bricks. Since hazing takes many forms, it is hard for the public to realize that these "pledges" are actually being harmed.
It is especially hard to see the mental abuse aspect of this situation. At times, "pledges" may be forced to wear humiliating items such as dog collars or diapers. It may look like an innocent prank, and may actually seem humorous, but stunts like this can deeply affect a person emotionally (Scleifer 42). Hazer"s in Greek societies have also been known to play the "buzz-saw" game in which a chainsaw is held inches away from a pledge until he/she screams in terror. This practice is used to instill respect, in the form of extreme fear, into the pledges ("The Persistent Madness of Greek Hazing" 14). Physical hazing, however, is where the most life threatening problems are occurring.
With groups such as Omega Psi Phi of the University of Florida, who whacked its inductees in the heads with boards, beat them with fists, and hit them with bricks, one can only expect catastrophic results. For example, in 1993, the members of Omega Psi Phi beat Joseph J. Snell, a junior at the University of Maryland with such objects as a hammer, a horsehair whip, a broken chair leg, and a brush. Later, Snell was forced to place a space heater next to his face because the group said that his skin was not black enough. Snell was hospitalized due to the incident. He remained scared and despondent after his release. He had even called a suicide hotline because of the mental anguish that was caused ("Former Student Wins $375,000" 23).
The hurt and confusion of a victim of mental and physical hazing can remain for years after the abuse. Yet, even after all the abuse, members of these organizations continue to feel that because they had to suffer through this act of initiation to get into the group, their successors must also be fall subject to these activities. Naturally, people want and need to be accepted. This is why an individual will go along with the hazing activities. Valerie Eastman, a behavioral science professor at Drury College in Springfield, MO, states "You know you"re a reasonable person and you just went through this nasty, unpleasant ritual, so you think the group must have been worth it. You try to justify it" (Wagner 16).
Though some members in a fraternity or sorority may be against what is happening to these individuals, the codes of secrecy and brotherhood/sisterhood are so strong that they fear to break them and come forward to report these acts (Ruffins 18). Lydia Bradley, a strong advocate of anti-hazing laws and national speaker for placement of these laws, has interviewed students about the act of hazing in college. She reports, "I"m told that hazing unifies a group, that it is a rite-of-passage, that it builds brotherhood, that it is a tradition, or, the worst reason of all, that 'I went through it"(Bradley 1). " It is this type of attitude that hinders the expulsion of the hazing activities. We, as the public, are limited, both in our knowledge of what truly happens in these groups and the ability to stop it, by not personally becoming a member of them.
Though some of the fraternities that have been suspended for acting against these anti-hazing laws, they continue to operate underground and make no effort to change their behavior according to Stockton"s Director of Student Development, Tom O"Donnell (Kempert 12). As of yet, there are virtually no associations that actively monitor the actions of fraternities and sororities. They are trusted to act in a responsible manner. As stated in Hank Nuwer"s Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, "What possibly could be expected from a group of adolescents when you leave them alone to govern their own activities (Nuwer 34). " One may parallel these activities to those expressed in William Golding"s Lord of the Flies to what may happen when such adolescents are left unsupervised to run a "members-only" organization.
National Fraternities and sororities have neglected their parental responsibilities and have left pledging up to these adolescents. It is important that these actions are stopped by any reasonable means necessary. Since hazing has been a process that virtually all these members had been subject to, they will be reluctant to change. The idea of hazing has been placed in their heads as a test to foster unity, to instill a sense of membership, to promote scholarship, and to build awareness of the specific chapter"s history (Chenowith 20). Therefor, an alternative must be able to instill these exact qualities. Believers in the supposed benefits of hazing may be more likely to change their opinion if they can envision some alternatives.
In many cases, those who are most vocal against eliminating hazing are those who are bitter and angry about the hazing that they themselves endured, but don"t want to eliminate this publicly. They expect others should be abused in order to gain "true" membership in the group. In this case, specific programs should be established to teach the devastating effects of hazing. A new sanction reduction policy has been established at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey to tackle some of the problems. The fraternities at this college that have been sanctioned for committing violations are now able to participate in a program that will possibly reduce their sanctions.
This options program offers students to take one of two four-credit elective courses: "The Psychology of Well Being," which explores principles of physical and mental health, or "Alcohol 101," which teachers the dangerous effects of alcohol, especially those involved in college situations. Along with this, they had established a Greek self-study committee, through which a Greek Council was formed (Kempert 12).
This will educate students about the dangers they are placing on the pledges and change their ways while offering them the incentive of lowered sanctions at the same time. Incentives seem to be the best way to reach these organizations and hopefully it will subject them to the knowledge of what their actions may cause others. An alternative replacement to hazing activities would be another way to eliminate this problem. They could foster their unity in ways such as involving the whole group in a community charity.
By asking the pledges to involve themselves in charities, or present the group with specific ideas for charitable work, would show the pledge"s sense of commitment to the group, along with helping to show the public the goodness that can become of these groups (Crothers 50). Instead of making the pledges do chores or excessive exercise, why not promote scholarship by designating study hours.
What better way to prove an organization"s worthiness but by setting an example scholastically. These fraternities or sororities could invite leaders of the national groups or advisors to speak at a meeting instead of forcing these pledges to incessantly recite names or worthless facts about the group they are pledging to. Many alternatives are out there; one just has to have the strength to bring it to mention. Of course other solutions such as the undercover spies have been thought of.
But, this would only seem to tear the organization apart and make them more careful in whom the choose as pledges, make them more dangerous and secretive in their activities, and less likely to help someone once they have been injured for fear of getting caught. A combination of incentives, alternatives, and a council to create a forum to discuss these alternatives to the hazing process is the most reasonable solution to this problem. Using otherwise "sneaky" tactics could only increase the problem and drive it further underground. As stated before, it can be hard to talk members into changes this tradition of the organization, but through time and education they will see its benefits. By performing such alternatives as previously mentioned, the dangerous hazing process will be eliminated and the "good-side" of these groups will become evident.
Working together on a project, such as one that will help the local community, will bring a sense of accomplishments to the members and a sense of pride to both the community and the institution (Kempert 12). Of course the only way these solutions could come into effect is if the organizations and the institution work together. The school has to realize that, even if there has been no public incidences regarding hazing in their school, hazing probably does exist. It is this thought that should cause them to form some sort of incentive program of their own to counteract it. However, the members also have to take responsibility and go to the school for help in organizing the possible incentives and alternatives.
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