BERGER: Pledging not to haze

The fraternity pledging process is valuable, but hazing needs to go

The Managing Board wrote a piece titled “A pledge by any other name” last week about Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s decision to eliminate pledging. In the column, they quote IFC President Tommy Reid, saying he believes pledging can be a positive experience, but that it can become a negative experience if it is taken too far.

I agree that pledging can be a valuable experience. I myself have not experienced it but have talked to enough fraternity members, here and at other universities, to make a case for it.

The Managing Board argues eliminating pledging, while an admirable move, will not necessarily prevent hazing. I agree hazing is an abominable process, but pledging is not; the two are separate. The process of cultivating member loyalty should remain, while the more irresponsible process of hazing should be eliminated.

Pledging, by definition, is a way for men to pledge their loyalty to their fraternity. Pledging can bring future fraternity brothers together. It can be beneficial to have a period where men prove themselves loyal to their brothers and worthy of the fraternity. However, there are better ways to do this than hazing.

I have heard of fraternities working out with their pledges, taking their pledges on camping trips and having their pledges clean the fraternity house and do chores for older fraternity brothers. These are all safe ways to observe and improve a pledge’s physical abilities, bond with him and make him aware of his subordinate, while progressing his position in the fraternity without ridiculing him or hurting him.

A line is crossed when pledging incorporates hazing; when instead of testing pledges’ physical abilities, brothers test their tolerance of alcohol and other drugs; when instead of bonding with them, brothers torture pledges by pushing them past reasonable limits: forcing them to eat, smoke and drink countless substances, not to mention allowing them barely any time to sleep. These are by no means actions of all University fraternities or limited to fraternities at the University, but the fact that they happen anywhere is troubling.

Not many studies exist on hazing in fraternities due to the secretive nature of the process, but those studying military exercises have observed that activities similar to hazing can in fact destroy relationships rather than build them. In the military, activities like hazing can be used to test recruits during situations of stress and hostility. The problem is that the psychological and physical torment comes from inside the group, which has been shown to create suspicion and distrust towards superiors and other group members, and leads to weaker, less cohesive units. Similar experiences can occur at the University. According to the Office of Student Judicial Affairs at the University of Alberta, “Hazing is abusive, and fosters resentment and fear. People simply cannot form close bonds with abusers, no matter how much they want to convince themselves that they can.”

Pledging is an important part of Greek life, and I don’t think SAE should have banned it. If anything, older boys will resent the younger members who do not have to go through a period of assessment and inferiority and may haze them even more severely out of spite and jealousy. As the Managing Board notes, “Pledging has become so deeply ingrained in the culture of fraternities…All brothers thus far have gone through a pledging experience, and will likely be resistant to a change in the tradition.” It’s not pledging SAE should ban; it’s the excessive hazing that needs to go. SAE should look to other fraternities that statistically have safer pledging, in terms of accessible information like number of casualties and insurance costs, to get more ideas on successful ways to pledge.

After speaking with a fraternity brother who was once a pledge, I saw the concept of hazing much more clearly. He said it is a weak and insecure fraternity that has to haze; hazing is not about making the pledges want to stay, as pledging should be, but rather hazing is seeing how much pledges will tolerate to remain part of the fraternity, often causing pledges to drop out.

While the army hazes to prepare soldiers to confront the enemy (itself a questionable practice), fraternities haze with no opposing external motivation, so the fraternity that hazes and causes meaningless suffering therefore makes itself the enemy. If an institution founded on the principles of brotherhood makes itself appear as an enemy, those pledging will not feel comfortable, some may drop, and others will remain but have lingering distrust for those who hazed them.

There are ways throughout the pledging process, like the ones aforementioned, to observe the loyalty and commitment a pledge has to his fraternity, ways that do not include hazing and pushing pledges to their limits. Statistics show that 82% of deaths from hazing involve alcohol, and the deaths SAE has tragically and unfortunately encountered are no exception from that statistic.

So, if SAE wants to prevent further tragedy, it should stop hazing with alcohol and other substances and redefine its pledging process by making it safer, and more about bonding and brotherhood than idiotic hazing.

Meredith Berger is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. Her columns run Mondays.

Published March 24, 2014 in Opinion

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