Although it’s illegal in most states and nearly always against the rules of colleges and universities, the practice of hazing continues.
Verbally harassing people, making them perform embarrassing and often dangerous rituals in front of others, and even physically abusing them as a way to prove their loyalty to a group has been going on for centuries.
The death of Florida A&M University drum major Robert Champion has recently raised public scrutiny of hazing. The 26-year-old was beaten to death by fellow band members on a chartered bus in November 2011. Eleven people involved in his death are facing third-degree felony charges under Florida law. “Hazing with death” is a crime punishable by up to six years in prison. Two others face misdemeanor charges for their involvement. The last of the 13 people charged in his death surrendered to authorities this weekend, reports The Chicago Tribune.
The Washington Post reminds the public that FAMU’s hazing tragedy is one of the most sensational in recent history. Pam Champion, the victim’s mother, told the media that although she was glad charges were brought, she was disappointed they weren’t more severe. “I thought it should send a harsher message,” she said of her son’s tragic death.
Although hazing is most often associated with fraternities and sororities, it also happens among sports teams, military units, clubs, and—as the FAMU case sadly demonstrates—marching bands. The Post reports that hazing is fairly common in marching bands, particularly at Southern historically black colleges like FAMU.
According to Psychology Today, Champion wanted to ride on the band bus reserved for percussion students, who are considered to have the highest “status” among band members. To be “accepted,” a student had to run from the front to the back of the bus while being beaten along the way. Although his tragic death is by no means acceptable, it cannot be denied that Champion had voluntarily decided to perform the hazing ritual.
Many people share that sentiment—that young people undergo hazing by choice. Hazing is simply accepted as a rite of passage by many Greek members and alums. When Andrew Lohse, a former Dartmouth College frat member, revealed just what goes on behind closed doors in the Ivy League college’s Greek system, he instantly became an outsider.
According to a Rolling Stone article, the general consensus among Dartmouth alumni was “If you don’t want to be initiated, don’t pledge.” Lohse has been publicly chastised by other students and his former fraternity’s lawyer claims that most of his allegations were false. Lohse’s allegations included pledges being required to swim in a kiddie pool of vomit, urine, fecal matter, semen and rotten food products; eat foods mixed with vomit; and other disgusting and harmful “rituals.”
Despite the backlash he received, his expose caused another Darthmouth graduate to come forward. Ravital Segal confessed in the Huffington Post that when she was a sorority pledge, she had been commanded to drink intense amounts of alcohol in the backseat of a car before she woke up in the Intensive Care Unit along with three other sorority pledges. She had lost consciousness and could not remember the events leading up to her hospitalization, but had cuts and bruises all over her body along with two broken teeth. She nearly died of alcohol poisoning but her sorority went unpunished because no one would come out and say the incident was hazing.
The view that non-violent hazing—such as making someone wear mismatched clothes or do something embarrassing in front of others, for example—is harmless should be reconsidered. Hazing doesn’t have to be deadly to cause harm. The psychological damages can be just as severe.
ABC News reports that hazing has become increasingly more violent among young women. One former sorority sister told the press that she was not only violently abused but emotionally humiliated by rituals such as being ranked in order of breast size and being told what to wear to various Greek functions. “No muffin tops” was among one of the rules mentioned in a lengthy sorority email.
The group StopHazing.org was founded in 1998 and now helps educate tens of thousands of visitors each month. The group and its website’s main purpose is to serve as a resource for accurate, up-to-date hazing information for students, parents and educators. For more information about college hazing, visit StopHazing.org’s Resouces on Fraternity Hazing.
Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.
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