When I was in high school, it was tradition for the seniors to “initiate” the freshmen. This hazing included forcing us to drop to the floor in the halls when a senior passed us. We had to carry books for any seniors who could pile them into our arms. We wore whatever humiliating masks, wigs, or clothing a senior handed us.
In the high school yearbook, there is a photo of me and other freshmen lined up in the courtyard between the academic building and the gym. The boys had bras on and the girls wore ugly noses and skullcaps. I think the seniors made us sing or chant an ode to them as traffic passed and other students watched out the windows.
Who advocates for us?
If someone complained to the principal during the weeklong hazing, she would warn the seniors to tone it down. But they rebutted that it was their right. They had earned it. And their parents had made sizable donations to the institution. So the games continued. In the end, those of us who endured earned the respect and admiration of the senior class.
No, that’s not true at all. Our shame followed us the rest of the year. So we seethed until the time would come when we would be allowed to inflict such humiliation on lowly freshmen. Thankfully, I transferred to another school before that time came.
A rite of passage?
Obviously, my experience of hazing was not as severe as some of the most recent incidents the media have highlighted:
- February 4, 2017, an intoxicated Penn State fraternity pledge fell down a flight of stairs where his frat brothers left him to bleed to death.
- September 14, 2017, a Louisiana State University pledge died of alcohol poisoning after members forced him to drink copious shots of vodka.
- November 3, 2017, a Florida State University transfer student died of acute alcohol poisoning at a fraternity event.
- June 2, 2018, a University of California fraternity pledge forced to drink shot after shot of vodka died after tumbling from a second floor window.
- November 12, 2018, an Ohio University student died of asphyxiation after fraternity brothers forced him to drink a gallon of alcohol and ingest nitrous oxide from whippet canisters.
Alcohol poisoning and injuries due to falls are among the most common causes of deaths in initiation incidents. However, a surprising number of students commit suicide because of the trauma of hazing. And it is not limited to fraternities and sororities. Athletic teams, bands, acapella groups and even honor societies practice dangerous hazing rituals that place the health and well-being of newcomers in grave jeopardy.
Hazing is bullying
More states are tightening their laws regarding hazing. Fraternity members and event organizers have faced prosecution. Greek organizations across the country have lost their charters. Still, a high school in Michigan recently withdrew its football team from the season playoffs after learning of horrifying incidents of hazing in the locker room.
What makes someone so eager to join an organization that dehumanizes new members for its own entertainment? What place or rank does a pledge hope to earn by placing his or her life on the line for membership? How desperately must someone want to belong to an organization to grant permission for its members to beat, rape and poison him, then close ranks when things go wrong?
The good news is that the memberships in Greek societies are dwindling, and college administrators are no longer turning a blind eye. They can’t, really, because too many grieving parents are demanding answers. However, any organization might use hazing as an initiation practice, and students who want in badly enough will comply. Somehow we must do a better job of convincing our children that no organization is worth belonging to if it means sacrificing the dignity with which God created us.