Outgrow Hazing By Getting Creative With New Member Education – Not Banning Stuff

posted in: Nik Koulogeoge | 0

The 8 week maximum placed on pledging a fraternity was put in place to curb hazing. In practice, however, chapters adjusted by continuing to haze “JI’s” (Just Initiated) through their first year. 

I can’t help but feel like the same type of adjustment will occur if fraternities (and sororities) seek to curb hazing by eliminating the “pledge process” altogether and without any complimentary reforms.

A few organizations have taken to adjusting their member orientation process in order to address issues such as hazing. Sigma Phi Epsilon runs the “Balanced Man Program,” which is a multi-phased approach to membership. In some ways, almost no undergraduate member is a “full” member of Sig Ep until they’ve completed all phases, but some have still completed more than others; hierarchy is hard to avoid.

Recently, Sigma Alpha Epsilon announced an end to the pledge period. An article was published in the New York Times calling for an end to pledging across all fraternities and sororities.

The NYT writer’s call to focus on community service and personal development; however, are no different than existing fraternity/sorority standards – and community service is, I repeat, not a self-help technique.

Delta Sigma Phi Presidents’ Academy 2018

I recently had the pleasure of serving as lead facilitator at my own fraternity’s Presidents’ Academy in January.

At night, many of the students and some of the facilitators would gather in the dining hall to play board games, talk or finish work. On one night, a few of us stayed up until about 1:00 am discussing hazing within chapters and how to avoid it.

I spent approximately one hour trying to sway one chapter president away from hazing activities by asking him a series of questions ultimately amounting to:

“Is this something that your initiated brothers are expected to do as members of the fraternity?”

“If not, what’s the value in subjecting new members to it?”

“If it’s valuable for new members to have that experience, why would it not be valuable for all brothers to partake every year?”

He may have just been pulling my leg, but his refusal to accept the terms of what I was saying – that new member orientation should specifically prepare new members for membership, and that no one should be jogging at 5am on Saturday mornings unless it’s expected of everyone – enabled several other presidents to grasp the bigger picture.

It’s very easy to suggest that we eliminate something we know to contributes to problems, but destructive behavior can manifest in any environment, and so it’s best to tackle the deeper issue. . . beyond the policies.

For example – crafting an “alcohol free policy” is great to reduce the cost of fraternity insurance, but has not affected the perception or reality that underage drinking and binge drinking are still prominent in the fraternity experience.

What may be some ways beyond banning pledging to transition fraternities and sororities to better new member processes? Here are a few ideas that utilize existing qualities of our organizations (see: less controversial) and which get below surface level outrage affecting many in our field of work.

*None Of These Require The Act Of A National Fraternity/Sorority. Your Chapter Can Implement These Right Now*

1. Adjust Expectations of Chapters & Recruitment

I’ve spent a majority of my career working in recruitment. I have many thoughts on the topic. Eliminating hazing starts with focusing on selectivity and high quality memberships.

To do that, we need to reduce the vast quantity of peripheral “standards” and expectations of fraternity men and women. Things beyond building high quality friendships and utilizing those friendships to grow need not be a part of who we are. Those excessive expectations encourage students to recruit for manpower, rather than character or talent.

There are 5 expectations all PNM’s should meet before any fraternity or sorority considers offering membership. Read them here.

2. Value What Students Value: Big Brothers & Big Sisters (Or Moms & Dads – Whatever Works)

Big Brothers & Big Sisters are not going away, so it may be wise to encourage chapters to expect more of big brothers and big sisters than a paddle or a basket of gifts.

These roles, as well as the “family trees” many organizations take great care to keep track of, can be an educational opportunity to help new members develop their niche within their organization and to gradually gain exposure to the fraternity/sorority experience.

A big brother should be held to the same standard as a New Member Educator/Pledge Educator/Pledge Master (Whatever you call it). We want high quality men mentoring our incoming students and teaching them how to get the most out of the fraternity experience.

Here are some tips to better integrate Big Brothers/Big Sisters into the orientation process. 

3. Regular, Basic Orientation For All Members

What I appreciate about Sig Ep’s “Balanced Man Program” is that part of its intent is to encourage continuous learning. Many fraternities require that members be updated on alcohol and risk management policies annually – why not build that same expectation around being a member?

Any successful company provides orientation to its staff on a regular basis. Many professions require that professionals get re-certified as a quality control measure. All members should take part in the new member process every year. It is an opportunity for all to reflect on their membership and refresh their understanding of how their fraternity works. At least half of the brothers in my chapter graduated without a clue as to why a pyramid is one of our fraternity symbols.

As mentioned in the Big Brother post (linked above), the Montessori-style of education (where students of a higher grade educate students of the lower grade while learning new material) could be a great template for a revitalized fraternity orientation process. Group seniors together with a couple alumni (A 1-1 ratio is overhyped and not necessary) for job preparation.

4. De-Emphasize Trivia

All Delta Sigs learn the preamble prior to initiation (or parts of it at least). Few remember it after that point.

If many of them did, including those elected to positions in the Fraternity or who work for the national staff, they’d see the 5 expectations of Fraternity membership laid out. Many can’t get past the pre-2018 language; however, and so things like, “The belief in God is essential to our welfare,” are invalidated because they are too Christian or heteronormative, etc.

Still, some basic, widely applicable understandings can come from each of the 5 paragraphs:

  • A belief in a common ancestry/God for all human life (The brotherhood of man)
  • Support & Defend our democratic governments and school systems for the opportunity they provide
  • Believe in the value of a family. Nurture and respect those you bring into your life as family.
  • A brotherhood of college students with shared values and pursuits will benefit those college men and all college men.
  • That we all be ready to support, in any way possible, the Fraternity if it is in need.

That and the daily expectations of chapter membership are what should be taught in new member education. Each fraternity or sorority has its own creed, it’s own preamble, it’s own unique story – as does each chapter.

Utilize these stories and these basic, foundational expectations to rebuild your organization around something simple – something of unique value.

Prohibition has not and will not be the cure to what hurts our organizations or our members. Compassionate leadership and a fraternal bond; however, have proven to be essential to improving the human condition throughout history.