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Hazing: Rite of Passage or Just Plain Wrong?

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Hazing is typically associated with fraternities and sororities, but the practice is common in organizations that have nothing to do with college: high school sports teams, street gangs, even military units or workplaces. It’s the initiation ritual that one must endure before being granted membership to a particular group. Hazing can take on many different forms, but it usually consists of some type of embarrassing or endangering activity that is supposed to prove one’s loyalty to the group. It might be violent and it might even include sexually oriented activities. It’s done to demonstrate the “power” and “control” that the older members supposedly have.

Hazing is nothing new. In 1657, Harvard student Joseph Webb was expelled from school for hazing younger students and in the 1700s, Harvard sophomores published hazing customs and made first-year students dress in specific clothing and run errands for second-year students.

Dangerous Hazing Activities

The University of Michigan defines hazing as any action or situation, with or without the consent of the participants, which recklessly, intentionally, or unintentionally endangers the mental, physical, or academic health or safety of a student.

It can include physical injury, assault or battery, kidnapping or imprisonment, intentionally placing at risk of mental or emotional harm (putting “over the edge”), degradation, humiliation, the compromising of moral or religious values, forced consumption of any liquid or solid, placing an individual in physical danger (at risk) which includes abandonment, and impairment of physical liberties which include curfews or other interference with academic endeavors.

Hazing is considered to be an innocent, fun rite of passage or routine that “everyone goes through” but it’s easy for things get out of hand. Sometimes those with the power go too far.

Fraternity Hazing Gone Deadly

In February 2005, 21-year old Matthew Carringon was a pledge of the Chi Tau fraternity at Chico State University in California. He never made it to his 22nd birthday because he died during Chi Tau’s hazing “Hell Week.”

In the fraternity house, Carrington and another pledge were forced downstairs to do calisthenics in raw sewage that had leaked onto the floor. As they were forced to exercise and answer trivia questions, they were also ordered to drink from a huge jug of water that was constantly refilled. They wound up urinating and vomiting on themselves while fans blew cold air all over their wet bodies. Carrington eventually collapsed and had a seizure. By the time the fraternity brothers called an ambulance, it was too late. Carrington’s heart stopped and he was pronounced dead from water intoxication. The water intoxication caused swelling of his brain and caused his lungs to stop.

Four of the Chi Tau fraternity brothers involved in his hazing were charged with his death and sentenced to time in jail. At the time, the Chi Tau fraternity was shut down and Chico State University suspended all Greek recruitment.

Sorority Hazing Dangers

Young men aren’t the only ones who can get brutal when holding hazing activities. Sorority experiences can be just as horrid.

A January 27, 2010 article in the New Jersey Star-Ledger discusses the dangerous experiences of Sigma Gamma Rho sorority pledges at Rutgers University.

The pledge interviewed for the article was eager to join Sigma Gamma Rho, an African-American sorority founded in 1922, because of its history of community service. On Jan. 18, eight pledges gathered in an apartment in Rockoff Hall. The pledge described the beatings that went on for seven nights. She was struck 201 times. On the eighth day she was unable to sit due to the blood clots and welts she’d accumulated, and she went to the hospital.

“They told us there was no hazing, that they didn’t believe in it,” she said. Then the paddles came out. The pledges, clad in sweat pants, were instructed to wrap blue and gold tape around the wooden paddles, each a foot long and 6 inches wide, she said. Four sorority members delivered the blows, the pledge said, while two others supervised. She said the group was told the beatings would “humble” them and would get them to rely upon one another.

Ironically, Sigma Gamma Rho “does not condone hazing.” Rutgers University immediately suspended the chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho, and so did the sorority’s national organization.

An ABC News piece dated February 17, 2010 interviewed dozens of sorority pledges that complained of beatings and verbal abuse. One was forced to clean the kitchen floor without gloves, using her fingernails to scrub the ground. The bucket of water she was using turned black, and she was told to drink it. She eventually switched college campuses after her car was keyed and she received continuous threatening text messages and emails. She is still receiving hateful Facebook messages from her former “sisters.”

Other research and interviews mentioned a hazing practice in which the pledges were forced to strip off their shirts and bras in order to be lined up based on their breast size. They were made fun on and harassed.

Hazing Statistics and Information

A research project done by Elizabeth Allan and Mary Madden of the University of Maine-Orono found that this behavior is not uncommon.“We found that 68 percent of women in Greek life have experienced hazing in order to become a member of these groups,” Allan said, based on the 2007 findings in their National Study of Student Hazing, which tabulated e-mail questionnaire responses from more than 11,000 students at 53 different institutions.

More than half of college students involved in clubs, teams, and organizations experience hazing, and surveys show that more than 250,000 students experience some sort of hazing to join a college athletic team.

The experiences vary but the results are the same: power and control used to force degrading embarrassment and violation. People opt to be put through these hazing activities, which most people wouldn’t wish on their worst enemy, in order to join a supposed “brotherhood” or “sisterhood.” People pledge a Greek organization out of their own free will, but many are too afraid to leave once things get more violent than they’d imagined.

Many states have anti-hazing laws, and many colleges have anti-hazing policies. Several colleges even have mandatory anti-hazing workshops for all organizations to attend. Why, then, is hazing still such a common occurrence to this day?

Does your college allow hazing? Have you been on the giving or receiving end of hazing? We’d love to hear your feedback.


Melissa Rhone+

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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