Directory on Fraternity Hazing.
When most people
hear the term "hazing" it conjures up images of
fraternities. In reality however, hazing occurs in many arenas
including fraternities and sororities,
and student organizations (like marching bands) at both the
high school and
collegiate levels. Many believe that hazing in fraternities
and in general is nothing more than silly antics and harmless
pranks like those remembered from the 1980s hit comedy Animal
House. The realities of hazing are dramatically different
than the humorous images many people associate with the term.
Hazing is an abuse of power that can have debilitating and
life-threatening consequences. According to the research presented
by Hank Nuwer (1990),
journalist and author of several books related to hazing,
hazing has been associated with more than 50 deaths in college
fraternities and countless more physical injuries including
paralysis, not to mention the devastating emotional effects
that can result for so many young men and women.
a mother (and now grandmother) from New York lost her eldest
son Chuck Stenzel in 1978 when he was a victim of hazing at
Klan Alpine, a fraternity at Alfred University. One evening,
the older fraternity brothers came to the dorms to pick up
pledges (including Chuck who was a strong athletic young man)
and bring them back to the fraternity house for a party. That
night, Chuck died and the coroner told Ms. Stevens that the
cause was alcohol poisoning. The fraternity and the university
refused to accept responsibility or provide a thorough investigation.
Incredulous, Eileen set out to investigate on her own. Over
the next few weeks and months, Stevens refused to give up
her quest to find out the truth. While she was stonewalled
at nearly every turn by the institution and the fraternity,
witnesses eventually came forward to share details of the
night's events. Eventually, Eileen had a much clearer picture
of what had happened to her son that fateful night. As it
turned out, Chuck and two other pledges were locked in the
trunk of a car and were allegedly given a pint of Jack Daniels,
a 6-pack of beer and a quart of wine and was told to consume
it all by the time the car stopped. Later, the pledges were
coerced to drink even more at the fraternity house until many
passed out. When Chuck passed out, he was carried upstairs
and left on a mattress where he ceased breathing soon afterward
(Adapted from Broken Pledges, Nuwer
story is not the only one of such tragic proportions. Far
too many parents have been awakened in the night to receive
the devastating news of the loss of their child to hazing.
For example, many are familiar with the devastating death
of Scott Krueger a promising young freshman who died of alcohol
poisoning while pledging a fraternity at MIT in the Fall of
1997. That same year, Binaya Oja died of alcohol poisoning
while pledging a fraternity at Clarkson University and in
McNamara was killed after falling from a cliff while participating
in a pledge outing. Tragically, these are not the only incidents
of this kind. The most up-to-date and comprehensive account
of such tragedies is summarized in Wrongs
of Passage (1999).
The story of Eileen
Stevens and her son Chuck is familiar to some as it was detailed
in the book and subsequent television movie Broken Pledges.
The story describes Eileen's courageous battle to uncover
the true cause of her son's death and to educate others about
the realities of hazing. Stevens' tenacity in the face of
such tragedy--her refusal to accept the notion that the fraternity
had no responsibility for her son's death--resulted in a host
of controversy and public attention to the issue. Her efforts
to educate and eliminate such dangerous traditions eventually
led to the passage of an anti-hazing law in the state of NY.
Eileen's anger and grief were channeled, at least in part,
to her amazing public awareness campaign that began in the
state of NY and eventually spanned the country. Eileen's compassion
influenced thousands of lives as she told her story to student
groups, university staff, faculty and administrators at hundreds
of campuses as well as national meetings of fraternities and
sororities over a 20-year period.
One of the most
commonly asked questions about hazing in fraternities is why
do young men and women participate in such horrific and life-threatening
activities just to belong to a group? This seems like a reasonable
question--but it reveals the lack of understanding about the
dynamics of the hazing process. For example, many states that
have passed legislation to prohibit
hazing have recognized that the intensity of the peer pressure
prevents hazing victims from providing true consent to participate
in the activities in question. Additionally, many prospective
members don't realize and are not informed of what the pledging
process and hazing will entail because this information is
shrouded in secrecy by the brotherhood. This, combined with
the increasing severity of the hazing over the weeks and months
of the pledging process places the pledge in a very vulnerable
position and hence, more susceptible to victimization. Compounding
these dynamics in fraternities and other male groups is the
desire for the pledge or prospective member to "be tough,"
"stick it out" etc. and prove his masculinity rather
than risk being identified as a wimp or sissy.
Directory on Fraternity Hazing.