I read Chad Ellsworth's (ΘΧ) book, "Building Up Without Tearing Down," and reflected on my experiences with hazing as a student, fraternity professional, and now as an alumnus. I find myself less compelled or moved by Hazing Prevention Week with each passing year. It just seems to promote slacktivism (another anti-hazing banner. . . neat) or to promote anti-hazing speakers (another anti-hazing lecture. . . neat).
Besides, it is not like our approach to hazing has changed. With each hazing tragedy, fraternity leaders:
Condemn the behavior
Draft a "stricter" zero-tolerance policy
Review or close the offending chapter
Require anti-hazing lecture education for student members
More states pass laws, more fraternities invest in anti-hazing education, but the number of deaths due to hazing continues to climb. What gives?
Part of the problem may be that most deaths due to hazing are accidental. The definition of hazing is broad enough to include cheerful scavenger hunts, violent paddle beatings, and everything in between. The scariest element of dangerous hazing activities, in my opinion, is that many accelerate from innocuous to dangerous over a period of a few years. What is worse is that fraternity leaders are determined to eliminate hazing, even though the alternative may result in a more functional (and meaningful) solution.
No one wants to hurt or kill their fraternity brothers. So, here are some practical suggestions for chapter officers, chapter advisers, and general members to nudge their chapters away from dangerous hazing activities. (I admit that they may not well serve a chapter with a well-established hierarchy and hazing ritual to prevent an accidental death this fall term.)
Chapter Officers: Institutionalize & De-Escalate
Your job as a chapter officer is to create simple, well-rehearsed, and well-recorded processes for new member education. Here's what I mean:
Determine what defines the way your chapter makes decisions. If someone suggests something outside of this vision then use that as a means to discredit the suggestion.
Demonstrate by example: While I was chapter president and a senior member of our chapter I'd often sit with our new members, offer them important positions, and would emphasize that they needed to consider what they wanted the chapter to be and that my job was to help get them there.
Identify some brothers who understand what it means to educate new members and ask that they be present during new member meetings, that they help new members complete objectives, and that they serve as big brothers. Your education plan should prepare new members to be members of the chapter - nothing more and nothing less. Expect the same thing of all members (new and initiated) and let that determine whether a man/woman is ready to initiate.
Don't waste effort getting hazers to recruit. Some members suck. Sometimes, a senior member will not show up to anything other than an opportunity to belittle younger members. Let those people stay home during recruitment. . . and ritual . . . and don't tell them when parties are happening.
Chapter Advisers: Offer Alternatives & Explanations
Too often a chapter adviser will say "No" to something, suggest that it is or can be construed as hazing, and end the conversation. That is a wonderful way to make students feel discredited, unappreciated, and as if they are a nuisance. The key to advising is building trusting relationships, so consider the following when working to eradicate hazing:
Reason with chapter officers that expectations of new members should prepare them for expectations of brothers. Why is it a good thing for new members to run every morning but suddenly unimportant for initiated members to understand the benefit of regimented exercise? Focus on persuasion rather than coercion or lecturing. Ask them to better explain what they are trying to do.
Provide alternatives to what exists within Greek Life. Look toward orientation practices of companies and nonprofits and share that information with your chapter officers. Do this throughout the year to prepare for the following years and so that you are not over-communicating.
Be present (if you can) at new member meetings, chapter meetings, recruitment meetings, and ritual ceremonies. Pay attention to how members talk about new members, how they talk about potential members, what they look for in potential members, and whether or not they take ritual seriously. Identify which brothers raise red flags.
Be the example for your executive board. Sit with the new members, invite them to lunch or dinner, and show brothers what it means to care about and respect their future friends for life. If you want to get rid of the hierarchy then do it yourself. You will inspire members to follow suit.
Ask new members if they understand what is expected of them when they are initiated. If they can't come up with a clear vision of what it means to be a member of the chapter, you know the education is ineffective and can use that to push reform.
You can get a great idea of what I'll say here based on what is listed above. You may not have the power to change the rules of the chapter, how it conducts new member education or whether or not hazing occurs, but you can make it wildly uncomfortable for your chapter to continue to haze.
Set the example and disrupt tradition - As mentioned above, do what you can to disrupt needless hierarchies. Sit with new members, talk them up, help them study, learn about who they are, and share the great things you've learned with other initiates. You can encourage other members to care more deeply for the well-being of each new member.
Use the legislative process - In my Junior year, I requested changes to a test we made all new members participate in after witnessing several members demonstrate some worrisome behavior (yelling, throwing chairs, fake slapping people, etc.). By a vote of the chapter, we limited the event only to senior members in good standing and the executive board and we changed the questions to be factual and relevant to our experience. It was a small step aimed at preventing a slippery slope.
Tell on your chapter early. In Chad's book, he details a hollowing experience of reading a letter he wrote to the university vice president detailing the chapter's hazing practices aloud in front of his brothers. You may join a chapter where the situation is already terrible, and I can't speak to your experience (I'm sorry), but if you are noticing that things are veering in the wrong direction then share this post with members, officers, and advisers who agree with you and explain the specific situation as to why you are sharing it.
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