Hazing, Suicide, Zero-Tolerance, Afghanistan & Bankruptcy – How Governing Organizations Fall Apart

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More than half of the chapters closed during my time working at my fraternity headquarters did so due to some combination of low membership and excessive debt. Many of the rest closed due to risk concerns. The same issues will take down fraternities on a national level, and our opponents are well aware.

This isn’t a secret. Fraternities know of the risk they take on in purchasing insurance on behalf of all of their chapters. That is why any chapter which fails to follow our intricate web of policies suddenly becomes uninsured if they mess up – it’s a strange contract which makes one wonder why insurance is purchased at the national level at all. [The FM take on that]

An analogy:

The United States of America has been fighting a war in Afghanistan, the “War on Terror,” for 17 years. It is the single longest running conflict our military has engaged in its history. Every college student today will have only known a life of U.S. fighting in Afghanistan. The war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan alone cost us between $4 trillion and $6 trillion of debt according to a 2013 Harvard working paper. We spent about 20% of our total U.S. debt fighting in two countries on the other side of the world.

One of the final nails in the coffin of the Soviet Union was a protracted war in Afghanistan, one in which the U.S. armed organizations (ironically, ones we are now fighting) to deplete the Soviet’s resources. The Cold War was one of attrition, where the U.S. and Soviet economies were put to the test to fight proxy wars across the world. In that case, capitalism outlasted communism and the U.S. emerged victorious.

Some believe that terrorist organizations (which some suggest are being funded by countries like Iran, Russia & Saudi Arabia, among others) are using our position as the country most likely to fund peacekeeping missions and the country with a great expectation for world leadership against us by inciting fear into our public and forcing expensive war efforts in the same quagmire which brought down the Soviet Union.

How is this relevant?

Terrorist attacks bring about the same sense of confusion and the same demands for immediate reactions and protections as hazing incidents, albeit on a much, much larger scale. After any attack, depending on the ethnicity and religious orientation of the terrorist, competing sides will attempt to attach that individual’s attributes to everyone of their kind while their opponents work to suggest that the individual was an outlier.

In the same way, we know that dangerous forms of hazing resulting in 1-3 deaths per year are not representative of the hundreds of thousands of fraternity students’ daily actions and ambitions. We know that with each incident there are calls from those outside of our organizations  to do something. Why us? Who even are we?

We are organizations much smaller than the U.S. military, the NCAA, and the MLB (among other categories) with known, chronic and overlooked issues with hazing. We represent the elite and the privileged, which may be part of why Cal Poly’s “Greek-Wide ban” is only a ban on historically white organizations, any fraternity catering to a non-white demographic is not a fraternity in the eyes of the news and college administrators. Beyond that, we have attempted to make a name for ourselves as the 3% who disproportionately represent  our nations business, political and artistic leaders.

In some ways, we have accepted the narrative and role in which we must “do something” regarding hazing incidents in ways that the aforementioned organizations would not be expected to. The MLB openly advertises team hazing incidents via its twitter feeds or on ESPN and news anchors laugh about it.

If you are turned off by the language and examples I used to this point then you are missing the point. We are spending excessive and increasing amounts of money on something our opponents know operates like terrorism. With every incident comes a reaction from a hopelessly disconnected news media, which places pressure on fraternity advocates to react with increased policies and expenditures, which force students to take their dangerous activities further from watchful eyes and therefore make them even more dangerous. 

More than 1,000 college students commit suicide each year. Men are four times as likely to commit suicide and white men in particular are the most likely of any group to “successfully” commit suicide. Where is the outrage in the news? The issue there is that there isn’t a mysterious set of organizations we can pin suicide on. Who would the news media celebrities huff and puff at just prior to their commercial break? Parents?  Demagogues find us easy targets due to our secrecy, our bloated list of accomplishments, our smallness and our historic privilege.

This is a dark reality, and more people should openly address the tactics of opponents to fraternity life. As the amount we collect in insurance grows, so too will the appeal of such money to lawyers building careers by suing fraternities. Perhaps another fraternity executive will re-brand himself or herself as an “expert hazing witness,” pretending to care for the fraternity world while doing nothing productive and leading no thoughtful conversations all while getting paid to bankrupt those very organizations.

Hazing deaths and suicide have similarities, too. They are widespread, societal issues, the deadly results of which are magnified on college campuses filled with increasingly stressed and micro-managed college students. So why isn’t there a zero-tolerance suicide policy among fraternities, sororities, and within higher education? Because it’s a ridiculous suggestion? (Yes) Because we all agree that the way to tackle suicide is not through lectures, scolding and empty threats but through compassionate leadership and care? (Yes)

  • The time has come for fraternities to address the extreme risk that their insurance methods place on our organizations – even if it means a significant drop in membership. (I think we’d all prefer 50% fewer members due to their inability to affordably insure themselves than 100% fewer chapters do to our creating a giant pot of gold at the end of the lawsuit rainbow)
  • The time has come for us to stop pressuring college students beyond their capacity and to start caring for them as brothers and sisters with to help them graduate and lead a successful life (success being entirely personal and not based on checklists of “excellence.”
  • The time has come for us to approach those issues with compassionate leadership, rather than finger wagging and by joining our opponents in blaming and shaming our students as a collective whole.