To become a brother of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity, Pennsylvania State University student Timothy Piazza was coerced into drinking at least 18 drinks in 82 minutes. Over the course of 12 hours, his future brothers watched idly as Piazza fell headfirst numerous times after. He died from a ruptured spleen and severe head injuries after the fraternity’s refusal to seek medical help.
To become a member of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, Southeast Missouri State University student Michael Davis submitted to nightly rounds of beating by his fraternity brothers. One day he collapsed. If his brothers hadn’t chosen to drive his unconscious body to a Taco Bell, he may have survived. The fraternity’s subsequent attempts to conceal their involvement were futile after a coroner’s discovery of a notebook in Davis’ underwear that read, “hazing is the physical conditioning of the mind.”
Bullying and intimidation, pain and humiliation — that is the indefensible price to pay to become a brother.
With pledge season coming to a close this spring at the University, recruitment — a punishing process of indoctrination — has induced a new cohort of pledges across fraternities within the National Pan-Hellenic Council, Multicultural Greek Council and Inter-Fraternity Council. Despite statements against hazing by these organizations, one would be daft to actually believe them. The threat posed by zero-tolerance policies, anti-hazing laws and social media — all meant to prevent and punish perpetrators — has done an inadequate job of deterrence. Hazing persists, albeit discreetly. It will continue to do so because of its unrivaled effectiveness in fostering the bonds of “brotherhood” — or so proponents say.
In defense of hazing are claims that appear coherent. A 2015 study conducted by RAND Corporation synthesized the most convincing motives for hazing, which include increased perception of the group’s value, display of commitment through intense effort, prevention of infiltration by free riders and greater group cohesion. Without context, these goals would seem useful for any well-meaning social organization. Many fraternity members who have either administered or experienced hazing will vehemently assert that its practice is imperative. But there’s a catch — this study was coordinated by request of the Department of Defense to improve hazing prevention policy in the U.S. Armed Forces.
The tactics in military and fraternity hazing are disturbingly similar. From physical and verbal abuse to coercive threats to secrecy, the likeness amongst cases warrants the question — why would any organization of scholarly men need to do this?
It is worth acknowledging that hazing within most fraternities may never amount to anything near as distressing as military hazing. With 95 percent of hazing going unreported, perhaps the comparison is superfluous. Given the accounts of some of the most revolting hazing stories that have made it to light, I am inclined to think not. If anything, comparison to the armed forces emphasizes that fraternity hazing is senseless. The extremity of challenges that military personnel expect to encounter during deployment may — in the minds of some — warrant the extremity that is hazing. As such, members of the U.S. Armed Forces may subject themselves to hazing in the name of service to our country. What are pledges subjecting themselves to humiliation for? The right to wear an organization’s letters?
Equally concerning as the physical implications of hazing are its psychological effects. Defenders of hazing attempt to claim that the extremity of known cases are just that — extremities. Therefore the actions of deviant members are a supposed perversion beyond the acceptable limits of hazing. If their case is to be believed, it would indicate that non-injurious physical hazing or mental hazing is a justifiable cost to the benefits of joining a fraternity. This logic is defective.
All hazing, irrespective of its severity, encourages moral disengagement to reconcile this fact — hazing facilitates a victim and victimizer paradigm. There is no in between.The mindset that a hazer must assume to engage in weeks of othering, victimization and dehumanization is outrageous considering that it is directed toward someone who, at the conclusion of it all, will be called a brother. Why would any collegiate organization want brotherhood to be rooted in trauma bonding?
The case for hazing in moderation further falls apart when taking into account the stated goals of fraternity. For instance, Alpha Phi Alpha — the oldest historically African-American fraternity — officially proclaims that one of its objectives is to “aid downtrodden humanity in its efforts to achieve higher social, economic and intellectual status.” This grandiose aim is quite noble. Most fraternities express similar variations. But the question remains — how does hazing support this? Potential brothers looking to join do not need firsthand experience of what it means to be downtrodden to advance these aims. If fraternities truly believe in building men capable of reaching their highest potential, they would not beat members into submission.
It may seem as though I hate fraternities. I don’t. It may appear as though I’d advocate for their abolishment. I won’t. I’ve seen firsthand the good that they can do and understand the lifelong benefits of such organizations. But as long as hazing persists, the price that pledges may have to pay to call themselves a brother will overwhelmingly obscure the advantages of fraternity. If fraternities are truly recruiting the most competent of men, then it should be of no issue to come up with viable alternatives to hazing for the sake of truly robust brotherhood.
Correction: The visual for this article was updated to a more general photo of fraternity houses.
Klarke Mitchell is a Viewpoint Writer for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at email@example.com.
The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.