As portrayed in the 1978 hit movie Animal House, college fraternities/sororities are a hotbed of excessive drinking, casual sex, vandalism, and generally licentious behavior. But, in real life, unlike the movie, the results of such conduct are hardly laughable. Even though the nationwide membership in both fraternities and sororities are at an all time high of 350,000 members, fraternities and sororities are still receiving harsh criticism from university leaders and civic authorities. In the face of several recent incidents, fraternity and sorority behaviors can no longer be viewed as harmless school boy or school girl high jinks, but must be seen for what it truly is, a dangerous threat to the lives of innocent students.
At the center of the controversy is the problem of hazing, an initiation ritual that has been around for as long as the fraternities and sororities themselves. Hazing occurs when brothers and sisters (mostly brothers) physically or mentally abuse the pledges that are candidates for membership. When girls usually pledge, they are sometimes often commanded to drink excessively, appear in skimpy outfits and model for the big brothers as they were told that a part of their body needed work.
They were also woken up to run to the grocery store on absurd late-night errands for sisters. Most people become so disillusioned with the whole sorority and fraternity system that they may feel the need to withdraw their pledges.
Luckily, most people are not physically harmed by the hazing process, but other pledges have not been so fortunate.
For Example, at Long Island University, a pledge was hospitalized with broken ribs after being beaten by brothers who acted in the name of an initiation tradition. (American Journal of Emergency Medicine, Volume 20, Issue 3, 228-233) Also, a pledge at Oklahoma State University claimed that brothers tried to build “unity through terror” by forcing him to endure hours of humiliating criticism, including sarcastic attacks on his intelligence, looks and personality. Furthermore, the Phi Gamma Deltas or Fijis at Arizona State, frequently forced pledges to vomit and regularly interrupted their sleep by shaking them during the night.
At North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, an Omega Psi Phi member was convicted on seven counts of assaults with a deadly weapon after participating in his fraternity’s “Turn Back Night.” During this infamous Omega tradition, pledges were treated to a meal of dog food and cheap wine, several paddling, and midnight trip to a densely wooded area, far from the campus, where they were abandon and told to find their way home. At Chopin State University in Baltimore, a pledge took a fraternity to court after his flesh was branded with a Greek insignia. (www.stophazing.org)
As despicable as these incidents may seem, there have been others with much more serious incidents and consequences that have occurred. For instance, in February of 2002, a Rutgers University freshman died after an induction ceremony at the Lambda Chi house. At the order and command of his soon -to -be brothers, James Callahan, aged 18, drank so much liquor that he collapsed, according to Eileen Stevens, President of C.H.U.C.K. (Committee to Halt Useless College Killings) and the mother of eldest son Chuck Stenzel whom the committee is named; Chuck died horrifically at an Alfred University hazing, while pledging Klan Alpine.
His death occurred on Tapping Night, the first day of pledging. Wrongs of Passage, (1-140). Alfred University later experienced the death of a Zeta Beta Tau member who committed suicide after his brothers beat him for revealing hazing secrets to another Zeta Beta Tau chapter at Syracuse University. Forty-Three deaths of this nature have occurred since 2003. Broken Pledges (1-140) this is a terrifyingly high price to pay for the maintenance of useless macho traditions.
According to the research presented by Hank Nuwer (1999-2002), journalist and author of several books related to hazing such as Wrongs of Passage, (1-140) and Broken Pledges (1-40), hazing have been associated with more than 50 deaths in college fraternities and sororities and countless more physical injuries including paralysis, not to mention the devastating emotional effects that can result for so many young men and women.
Although not as dangerous as hazing, the problem of racism among fraternities and sororities are also a growing problem. At the University of Southern California, in 2003, members of a rival fraternity spray painted anti-Semitic slogans on the sidewalk in front of a Jewish fraternity house. In another disgraceful episode, at Oklahoma State University, Sigma Alpha Epsilon brothers were reprimanded after holding a “plantation party,” during which several members masqueraded as black slaves.(Inside Greek U: Fraternities, Sororities and the Pursuit of Pleasure, Power and Prestige 1-125). Kappa Alpha chapters, traditionally strong in the Southeast, hold “Old South” parties annually.
At these parties, females dress as southern belles while the K. A.s don Confederate Army uniforms in a satirical reenactment of the days when slavery prevailed. A Fiji Island party at the University of Wisconsin was halted after college officials deemed the tropical garb and black makeup worn by the brothers as racially offensive. Similarly, the Delta Kappa Epsilon at Louisiana’s Tulane University blackened their faces during the 30 annual “Debut Tramp” Parade. Then, at a party following this event, brothers carrying torches allegedly attack several black women and tore apart their clothing while yelling racist epithets.
In 2002, at the University of Alabama, I witnessed a campus wide furor over a racist incident that involved the fraternities. When a black sorority was allowed to occupy a house on the previously all white sorority row, some students reacted by burning crosses on the lawn of that house. The identity of the culprits has never been disclosed, but their behavior is indicative of the racist attitudes of the majority of brothers in Tuscaloosa. This point is underscored by the disparity in the size of the houses of white and black fraternities and sororities. Whereas white fraternity brothers and sisters dwell in centrally located columned houses with manicured lawns, blacks are relegated to tiny, decrepit buildings out in the woods.
Although subtle racist attitudes within fraternities and sororities may be hard to control, blatantly criminal activities should be eradicated. All civilized Americans must rally to close any fraternity and sororities exhibiting the slightest tendency toward cruelty, racism, or any other barbaric behavior. We must insist on a strict code of decency in fraternity and sorority activities. In 2002, fortunately the Alpha Tau Omega at the University of Georgia was expelled from the campus, after a young woman was sexually abused in their fraternity house. This young woman woke up naked, in the basement of the fraternity house after an all night party with fraternity supplied booze.
Her family sued the university for damages and won. Also, at the University of Illinois, home of the nation’s most active fraternity system-with 52 houses and 3,500 members-two brothers were accused of sexually assaulting a 15 year old girl who happened to be at a pre-football game party at the Lambda Chi Alpha house. Furthermore, the university health center has reported that over half of the 25 raped victims they counsel each semester are raped by fraternity members.( Center for the Study of College Fraternity, 2005). The fact that these cases are being taken to court is a good sign, indicating that some people are so outraged that they are no longer willing to cover up for the arrogant criminality of certain fraternities. Concern citizens do not want fraternities to become the breeding ground for individual, racist, or sexual violence.
Lest the Greek letters on fraternity T-shirts be replaced by prison numbers, fraternities simply must clean up their act. To their credit, some are currently doing so by replacing fraternity pranks with charity benefits, such as dance contests and marathon sporting events. Other are visiting nursing homes and renovating dilapidated houses for the poor. The national leadership of eight black fraternities, which had particular serious problems with hazing and resultant lawsuits, recently went a step further by banning the entire pledge system.
How fraternities will select new members is not known, but Georgia State’s Omega Psi Phi chapter offers a possible model. This chapter chooses prospective brothers based on the criteria of high academic achievement and altruistic community service. (National Study of Student Hazing by Professor Elizabeth Allan and Mary Madden from the University of Maine’s College of Education and Human Development, 2008). Pressure for fraternity reform is coming from state legislatures, as well. Twenty-Eight states including Georgia have enacted anti-hazing legislation. In order to keep control of the fraternities, authorities now must strictly enforce these laws.
The greatest responsibility lies with the universities themselves. Some are responding to it; others are fleeing from it. Nevertheless, statistics form a hopeful picture. Whereas in 1985, according to the Center for the Study of College Fraternity, only 15 percent of the college and universities claimed responsibility for their fraternities, in 1986 that figure climbed to 32 percent and in 2004 that figure has climbed to 42 percent. In 2006, almost 45 percent of the schools had a laissez-faire policy toward their “Greeks.” Today more and more universities are imposing strict standards on their fraternities.
I am not arguing for the dismantling of fraternities/sororities, because these organizations can provide an important function-that of bringing together college freshman and giving them a support group and some lifelong friendships. The fraternities and sororities as a positive and productive organization is one thing; but, being a social organization that sponsors violent and lurid acts is quite another. At this time more strictly enforced regulations by all involved parties is needed to ensure that no more innocent people are hurt by the careless “Greek” lifestyle.
Wrongs of Passage by Hank Nuwer (1-140)1999
Broken Pledges by Hank Nuwer (1-40)2001
Inside Greek U: Fraternities, Sororities and the Pursuit of Pleasure, and Prestige by Alan D. Desantis 2007
National Study of Student Hazing by Professor Elizabeth Allan and Mary Madden from the University of Maine’s College of Education and Human Development, 2008
Center for the Study of College Fraternity, 2005