In defense of pledging
Moderation, not elimination
My friend sat down across from me in a corner of Newcomb, hair unbrushed, belt forgotten. It was late March and tendrils of spring had began to sneak into our routine walks from Watson-Webb to the Chem building.
“You look awful,” I said.
“I know,” he replied.
His face was sallow, and we barely spoke over lukewarm potatoes as *NSYNC blasted over empty lunch tables.
This particular event happened more than a year ago, but I still see the repercussions of fraternity hazing on my friends. The way my friends experience the world, talk about girls, and even carry themselves across the pathways of Grounds changed in the course of that spring semester.
With the recent dismissal of Phi Kappa Alpha and Sigma Nu from fraternity life, two polar opinions have emerged. One is that pledging, in any form, cannot be tolerated by the University because of the harm it inflicts on the pledges. Another is that the Greek system is bound together through tradition, legacy and brotherhood — and hazing is sometimes a part of that tradition.
I don’t claim to know the particulars of what goes on in every chapter. But in my opinion, too often, all fraternities are blamed for the actions of a few. Rather than look at each misconduct case by case, the administration seems to condemn all.
Most students agree any sort of action that endangers the life of a pledge is wrong and should not be tolerated by the University or the fraternity. Tasks that involve excessive drinking, physical abuse and psychological abuse are unacceptable. Yet, I argue that morning workout sessions with your pledge class are not inherently wrong. The line between what may be uncomfortable, but ultimately beneficial, seems blurry. Does that mean we should avoid the topic altogether?
From talking to my male and female friends from in and out of the fraternity system, it seems like the distinction between what differentiates “good” and “bad” hazing comes down to purpose. Are the actions pledges are made to perform designed just to hurt them? Are they designed to be painful for the sake of pain itself? Justification for these actions largely rests on the notion that “If I had to do it, they need to do it as well.” This only creates resentment between brothers and does little to further the purpose of fraternities.
Today’s military and sports teams undergo regimented and severe physical training to cultivate a camaraderie that can be tested in pressured situations. We look to these groups as paradigms of excellence and success, yet we fault fraternities for similar actions.
It seems to me, then, the concept of pledging itself is not wrong. A system where new members need to prove their worth is not necessarily bad, though it may lead to a situation where younger members feel they have little room to say “no”. The onus of responsibility lies with the older brothers to foster a system directed around purpose, rather than retribution.
I believe most members of fraternities will attest that pledging bonds pledge classes in a way that could not be achieved without this system in place. The discussion, then, is how do we prevent the worst parts of pledging without abolishing the concept entirely.
Ultimately, I think brotherhood is worth fighting, and pledging, for. Though I stand apart from the fraternity system, I am a member of the Greek community and I believe a stronger Greek community comes from pledging.
Grace’s column runs biweekly Fridays. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.