By Ashley Willis · October 26, 2010
Campus Safety has reported on quite a few fraternity and sorority hazing incidents this year, and sadly, it doesn’t seem like the trend will die down soon. For years, there have been stories about pledges dying or being seriously injured all in the name of [place Greek organization here], whether it be from alcohol poisoning, drowning or being beaten.
In July, Campus Safety ran a story about four members of the California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) receiving jail time for their involvement in the death of an 18-year-old Carson Starkey, who died from alcohol poisoning during the pledging process.
More recently, a former sorority pledge of the Sigma Gamma Rho sorority chapter at San Jose State University claims she was repeatedly beaten and paddled during an initiation process. This story broke several months after a pledge of the Rutgers University chapter of the aforementioned sorority said she was struck 200 times, leaving blood clots and welts on her buttocks.
Hazing is illegal in 44 states. Despite this, Greek organizations are constantly getting suspended or banned on campuses throughout the nation for hazing incidents.
To be fair, EVERYONE involved in the pledging process is aware that hazing is wrong. Most, if not all, fraternity/sorority orientations state this. However, it’s not stressed enough to really get into the heads of the pledges or the members of the organizations.
Having looked at several sororities during my college years, I remember going to those orientations and seeing the nonchalant attitude towards hazing. As a naïve 19-year-old who really hadn’t experienced much of the world, I took everything that each person said to me about hazing at face value. “Hazing is WRONG! We definitely don’t do that,” I was told. “How could I not believe such strong convictions?” I thought. After all, Greek organizations are all about sisterhood and brotherhood, right?
I did join an organization, and I did participate in a process that involved hazing, which put my health and welfare in jeopardy. I won’t go into the details because even as I write this, a small part of me fears that someone from my organization/process will read this, and the bullying and harassment will start all over again.
Looking back, I can see how students start to believe that they HAVE to travel this route to “earn” letters, which is why they continue to put themselves in dangerous positions. Some pledges, myself included, are told not to tell authorities of the obvious illegal hazing process because you aren’t being a true “sister” or “brother” to the organization. Even worse, people are bullied into keeping quiet about their process because they don’t want to experience harassment by organization members. This is what happened to me.
This is why I appreciate the bravery of 20-year-old Courtney Howard, who allegedly endured many of those aforementioned obstacles when she was pledging Sigma Gamma Rho at San Jose State University. During her pledging process, she was told that “snitches get stitches,” meaning that if she told an authority about her experience, members of the chapter were going to beat her up. Fortunately, she listened to her gut instinct and did report her hazing experience. Unfortunately, Howard says she was threatened and bullied because of it.
Sadly, this girl will not be the last to go through this; however, she is one of the brave ones. She stood up for herself and filed a negligence lawsuit against her attackers, the national sorority and the university.
You’re probably wondering how the university can be held accountable for the incident. After all, the institution was not a part of the pledging process, and chances are, campus officials didn’t even know these things were taking place on campus. However, Howard isn’t the only victim who doesn’t believe that is an excuse anymore.
Let’s take a look at Nicolas Brown, a former pledge of the University of Arkansas chapter of Phi Delta Theta Fraternity. As a freshman pledge in November 2009, Brown claims he was forced to drink large amounts of alcohol as apart of his pledging experience. With a blood alcohol level eight times the legal limit at .68, he suffered from grand mal seizures and acute respiratory failure because of severe intoxication. Brown fell into a coma, and doctors feared he would either die or suffer permanent brain damage.
Now, Brown is not only suing six members of the fraternity, he is also suing the university, claiming that school officials knew the organization was already on probation for hazing and alcohol violations, and yet they did nothing to stop the abuse.
Still think your institution can’t be held accountable for the foolish (and/or violent) actions of Greek organizations?
What bothers me most is that there are so many students out there who are going through the exact predicaments as Starkey, Howard, Brown and I did. Wanting to be accepted by their peers, they allow themselves to be hazed. For those who are wise enough to walk away before they end up severely hurt, they feel as if they have no one to contact or report to because of the fear that they will face the wrath of fraternity/sorority members.
Thus, I believe it is imperative that fraternities and sororities understand at a much deeper level that abusing pledges is wrong. How about the university hosting a mandatory meeting for all organizations to discuss the repercussions of hazing? Then, make it a point to have some sort of authority at orientations to inform prospective members on the truth about hazing and reassure them that if something does happen, campus officials are available to handle the situation.
True, hazing is not going to stop in a day, but at least this will be a step in the right direction.