The Ripple Effect
April 14, 1994
University of Texas, Austin
I am here tonight because I care.
I am here because I have seen lives change. I am here because the
story of Eileen Stevens influenced me. I am here because students
have given me strength and courage to persist with the struggle
to end the victimization--the abuse of power and control that underpins
hazing. I am here because I have learned that the abuse of power
and control that fuels hazing also contributes to the sexism and
racism that leads to harassment, violence and oppression in our
society. I am here tonight because I have witnessed students who
truly care about each other and the future of the Greek System strive
to "do the right thing" in the face of adversity. I stand
before you this evening because I have seen positive change take
place and I believe in you and your power to do the same.
I have seen students who believed
that things could be better. They had a vision for their chapter
and for the entire system. Some believed that they could make a
difference--others werenít sure...but knew they had the responsibility
to at least give it a TRY. I have seen that the courage and conviction
of one individual can serve as a catalyst for positive change in
the Greek System--and beyond. Each and every one of you has the
potential to contribute in meaningful ways...to be a positive influence
on the lives of others. I have seen "ordinary" people
do extraordinary things!
While organizing my thoughts and
comments for this event, I was thinking about my experience with
the issue of hazing and why I remain committed to this work. I was
thinking about my own experience and what has motivated me to take
risks and push for positive change. As I was searching for an image
I was reminded of "The Ripple Effect,"-- a metaphor
that was particularly powerful for me and the IFC President during
our most turbulent year of change. This time of change for the Greek
System was the beginning of a new era. Greek public image had declined
as the Animal House stereotype flourished. Throughout the country
Universities and Nationals responded; some implemented policies
and procedures designed to reduce high-risk behavior and liability;
some institutions in the Northeast even went so far as to ban Greeks
from their campuses. When I accepted the role of Greek Advisor at
UNH it was a tumultuous time of change. "Change"...its
something we talk about a lot---but usually struggle against. When
it comes right down to it, people resist change. People resist
change most often because they fear it. The UNH Greek System
was no exception. While Greek leaders saw the need for positive
change within the system, they were overwhelmed by the enormous
amount of resistance they encountered. They faced paranoia, hostility
and anger by some who wanted desperately to cling to Ďbusiness as
This is how the Ďripple effectí
metaphor originated. It was during this time of exciting, but often
exhausting change. The metaphor was important because it helped
us to sustain the energy and momentum needed to advance positive
change and I share it with you as a reminder to us all that our
actions can empower others--and can have far reaching consequences.
When I think about the ripple effect, it evokes an image
in my mindís eye. I first envision a lake, pond or pool of water
in a place that is removed from the hustle and bustle of daily life.
The air is cool, the water is clear, calm and mirror-like in reflecting
the serenity of the surrounding environment. I pause for a moment
to experience the peacefulness of this image and appreciate the
beauty nature brings. This part of the metaphor helps me to take
a step back from the pressure, stress and frustration that I might
be feeling. The next part of the image is a stone being cast into
the water and watching the energy from that one action flow into
the consecutive rings of water that stretch farther and wider in
a natural progression--a ripple effect. This metaphor is
meaningful to me because it serves as a reminder of the potential
impact of oneís actions. When I consider this metaphor in relation
to my own experience, I think about how the courage, energy, and
commitment of one person can serve as a catalyst and prompt a chain
reaction that continues to grow outward into the lives of others.
I have seen how the actions of one individual can inspire another
to take a risk and make the impact that initiates another ripple
effect, sustaining the necessary momentum needed to carry the energy
When I think about the Ďripple
effect,í I think about how change takes place as the ripples build
momentum they form waves that can erode the shore. While a single
event or the actions of an individual or group might serve as a
catalyst for change, the strength of the ripple effect is derived
from its reverberating effect as the shared energy and power builds
momentum toward transformation. In this way the ripple effect is
successful because it demonstrates how "the whole is greater
than the sum of its parts." The courage and drive of one person
is contagious...another person joins the cause because he/she is
inspired by the first...and the first person maintains the commitment
through the support and inspiration of the second--and ripple effect
begins to emanate outward encompassing more people, more energy,
more momentum. This is the power of the ripple effect!
Prior to my experience of Greek
Advising, Iím not certain I would have believed in this ripple
effect concept. I might have discounted it as some useless theory.
But now that I have had the opportunity to see it put into practice
on several occasions...Now, I know it can work and I am that
much more inspired to continue. My point is that initially you donít
always have the reassurance of experience. In order to gain that
experience at some point you just have to take the risk--and trust
that your actions will not be in vain. We canít all keep waiting
for someone else to make the first move. I ask you tonight; "which
of you are willing to take that risk?"
While working with the Greek System
I had the opportunity to experience the ripple effect on a number
of levels. I saw Presidents, Vice Presidents, New Member Educators
and other officers initiate the ripple of change in their own chapters...I
saw individuals who did not hold official titles of leadership serve
as catalysts for change...and I witnessed groups of leaders unite
to build momentum for change throughout the Greek System. And ...just
last year I had the privilege of participating with Greek leaders
in a ripple effect that resulted in change on an institutional and
statewide level with the proposal and passage of anti-hazing legislation
for the state of NH. Each individual involved in that ripple effect
has a unique story to tell about how they entered into the process
and what motivated them to sustain their commitment. This was an
amazing journey because the students who came together to get involved
in the legislative effort came from very different backgrounds and
experiences. Some had been experienced physical hazing, some only
psychological hazing, others had been through a non-hazing pledge
program and others had friends who had been abused through hazing.
These students came voluntarily from a number of different chapters
to offer their support. They were biochemistry majors, history majors,
nursing, pre-med; English, business and theatre. Some were leaders
in the Greek System, others did not hold any formal office, but
they all united together. They shared a mutually enhancing power--where
each inspired another and momentum grew...the ripples turned to
waves and began to erode the shore of a resistant legislature. Through
their determination and tenacity, these students let their voices
be heard before the house and senate and finally, the bill was enacted
into law last May Ď93, making it the 38th state to have anti-hazing
legislation. The success of the initiative in NH has been credited
to the student involvement and notably, the involvement of Greek
students who chose to take action toward positive change.
The student initiative in NH is
a story of how the ripple effect on one campus grew outward to encompass
other campuses and then eventually all educational institutions
in the state. But, itís also a story of an even larger ripple which
began with the work of Eileen Stevens in 1978 when her perseverance
resulted in the passage of an anti-hazing law in NY after her son
was killed in a hazing incident at Alfred University. At that time,
only 3 other states had laws and NY was not one of them. Due to
her sustained commitment to this issue, she has inspired others
to propose similar legislation as a hazing deterrent. Eileen provided
inspiration and guidance through our effort in NH as she has done
for others in different states. As a result, the ripples have echoed
outward from NY to encompass 34 additional states over the past
While I have experienced the process
of positive change in a Greek System, I have also witnessed the
devastation and damage that can occur as a result of neglect, fear,
ignorance and the abuse of power that underpins the practice of
hazing. I believe that everyone wants to feel powerful...and Iím
not against power. I am against the abuse of power--power
thatís derived at the expense of others. The ripple effect
could not work without power. However, it's a power that I would
describe as mutually enhancing. It is shared power directed
toward positive outcomes. I have seen that this kind of power fosters
dignity, respect and a release of human potential. But I have also
seen how constructing an imbalance of power -- and abuse of power
(like the kind of power involved in hazing), leads to an insidious
cycle of victimization...damage, destruction and sometimes death.
I would like to tell you about
two students who came into my life during my first semester of Greek
Advising. I have changed their names to protect their identities,
but the experiences are the same.
Her name is Sarah. She is a senior
now, but she was in her first year at the University when I met
her. She has long brown hair, blue eyes, and a bright white smile.
But she didnít smile when I first met her. I had trouble seeing
the color of her eyes in the darkened room. I had planned to go
out for breakfast that Saturday, but received the phone call while
I was still drowsing in bed early that morning.
When I arrived, she was lying on
her side, curled up under a sheet & shaking uncontrollably.
I was frightened by what I saw. As I drew nearer, I felt my stomach
tie up in a knot as I became conscious of the anguish permeating
the room. At first, she avoided eye contact while her body trembled
and she sobbed with her face in the pillow. I didnít know what to
do or say. She had agreed to see me, but what could I possibly do
to help in this situation? I was afraid to hear her speak, I was
afraid to feel her pain, I was afraid to come face to face with
the harsh reality of the situation. Itís not as difficult to hear
about these things when you donít see the face, or know the real
human being whose life has been forever altered.
I had been urgently called to the
University Health Services to talk with Sarah who had been raped
the evening before--in a fraternity chapter house following an afternoon
"pledge swap" activity where the sorority pledges trade
places with the fraternity pledges for a day.
While most of the students slept
in on Saturday morning after a long night of socializing, Sarah
lay in a hospital room, violated, humiliated, traumatized and in
a state of shock.
The second student is named Kevin.
He stands about 6 ft. tall with light blonde wavy hair. When I first
met him he was struggling through quantitative analysis for chemical
engineering. Although he was struggling, I knew he probably capable--as
he had scored 1500 on his SATs. He stopped by my office one day
just to say hello. Over the few months that I had known him he appeared
to be enjoying his first year as an initiated member of the fraternity.
Without a second thought, I asked him how things were going with
the fraternity. He grew quiet and seemed uncertain of how to respond.
He then began to tell me that he was thinking of going inactive.
I was both surprised and concerned because I saw him having leadership
potential for the Greek System. Rush had just concluded for the
Fall and pledging was underway, and this was troubling him deeply.
He had tried to put the experience behind him, forget about it and
move on...but, he couldnít especially when he realized that what
happened to him was probably going to happen to someone else this
I will never forget the anguish
on Kevinís face and the rage in his voice as he described some of
his hazing experiences. He proceeded to tell me about some of the
more "typical" hazing activities--derogatory name calling;
pledge clean-ups after parties; sleep deprivation; forced drinking
and the consumption of filthy substances that would induce vomiting
upon ingestion. While some of these required activities were just
simply annoying to him, others had a more severe impact. Although
a year had passed since these experiences, his trembling voice evidenced
the torment that still plagued him. He was still struggling to sort
out his thoughts and feelings about the experience. He thought that
once he became a brother he could forget about most of it and shrug
off the hazing as senseless and harmless pranks. He thought he could...
until one evening toward the end of the pledge program when the
actives had arranged for the pledges to drink--not unlike many other
previous evenings. Certain brothers were in charge of supplying
the pledges with alcohol and ensuring that each one consumed more
than he ever had before. Drinking to the point of unconsciousness
was the goal. However, having recovered from each previous hangover,
Kevin didnít expect anything different this time around. The next
day, Kevin had a Chemistry exam, at 8:00 am. He managed to make
it to the exam--a little late, but in time to finish it--except,
he never did get to complete it. While attempting to take the exam,
Kevin became violently ill. I could see his embarrassment, shame,
and anger as he recounted his horror at the sight of his own blood-filled
vomit. An 18-year-old freshman, he was frightened and bewildered
by what was happening. For the first time in his life, he was keenly
aware that he was in grave physical danger. However, this was not
what most upset Kevin as he related his experience to me. While
he was distraught about his physical well-being, he was transported
to the hospital and received the appropriate medical attention needed
to stabilize him physically. Some of the brothers came to visit
Kevin while he lay in the hospital bed, dazed and confused by what
was happening. Kevin recalled how good it was to see these guys
who were going to be "his brothers" soon and who he had
been taught to respect for their rank in the chapter. He was relieved
to see them there... Until suddenly Kevin realized what was happening.
His eyes began to water as he recalled; "They didnít even bother
to ask me how I was. All they wanted was to tell me to keep my mouth
shut about how it happened." While Kevin was alarmed by the
danger in which he had been placed through the coercive alcohol
abuse of hazing, he was most distressed by the behavior of the brothers
who paid him the visit. His physical wounds healed with relative
ease. But the emotional scars were becoming more and more prominent
to Kevin as the pain turned to rage, which could no longer be repressed.
It wasnít long after meeting Sarah
and Kevin that I began to fear for the very lives of the students
with whom I worked on a daily basis. I knew that the odds of a death
resulting from hazing were growing strong. Our campus had been lucky
so far, but, I had a very uneasy feeling that our luck would
surely run out if things didnít begin to change and change
quickly. And even though we hadnít had any deaths from hazing,
I was deeply distressed by the reports I had received. I was distressed
by my growing recognition of the destructive influence of hazing
on student lives.
For each Sarah and Kevin, there
are twenty other victims who came forward to share the accounts
of their hazing experiences with me. During my first three years
of Greek Advising, over 40 hazing incidents were formally reported
to me -- and this does not include MANY others that went unfiled
because I respected the studentsí desires to remain anonymous. Victims
often live in fear of those who have abused them.
Maybe some of you have had similar
experiences. I know that I had experienced hazing in high school
and college--but like many, I did not sustain any physical injuries
or emotional scars that of which I was aware. But, when I began
to see that my experience was not the experience of everyone else,
when I listened to the pain, suffering and fear in the voices of
students, I began to confront some of my own erroneous assumptions.
I realized that hazing is not something that just happens to "wimpy"
people who donít know how to say no or to people with low self-esteem
who will do anything to acquire friends. I realized that
like so many other people, I had also succumbed to the "blame
the victim" mentality that is not much different from a common
response to women who have been raped. (Expand--blame the victim
etc.) Having been trained as a volunteer rape crisis counselor,
I began to see the connections between the victimization of women
through sexual violence and the victimization of students in hazing.
While the actual hazing experiences
varied considerably from student to student, I came to recognize
a number of common themes among them: Each student expressed a feeling
of powerlessness over the hazing activities; self-blame, shame,
and humiliation were common reactions--(i.e. "Why did I put
up with it? Why didnít I just walk away?); some actually perpetrated
the very same acts toward others in the following pledge class;
and all of them feared the negative reaction from their peers if
they were to take a stand against hazing; This pattern helped me
to begin to unravel the powerful, mysterious and dangerous dynamics
that lead to the physical and emotional victimization of hazing.
I donít believe that most students
recognize that they are toying with injury and death through their
participation in hazing activities, but the statistics indicate
otherwise. Hazing begins in very subtle yet powerful forms when
pledges are expected to participate in organized subservience, are
called degrading names, and are required to abide by silly and often
demeaning rules that clearly place them in a subordinate role. This
is where the power imbalance begins...with the very subtle forms
of hazing that appear to be harmless at first, but set the stage
for continued abuse of power that is dangerous and life-threatening.
It is not my intent to preach to
you this evening, or point any fingers and cast blame. Rather, I
am here tonight because I see so much potential in all of your lives
and for your positive influence on the lives of others. For each
of you, and for each of your chapter members, I want the Greek experience
to be one that enhances your life -- an experience that fosters
a release of human potential and encourages you and others to strive
for excellence in all that you do. I truly believe you can do great
things -- there are so very many needs out there, and as a Greek
System, a collective of individuals working toward a similar goal,
you have the capacity to make significant contributions to your
University, the local community, and beyond. However, I also recognize
that these are your decisions to make...you canít be empowered
if someone else is directing your actions. You must make the decisions
yourselves. And...along with the power to make decisions comes the
burden of responsibility for the outcomes of those decisions or
indecision in some cases. I believe this responsibility for decision-making
is the foundation of integrity and strength in leadership.
- What are the important choices
& decisions for leadership in Greek Life
- What are the probable consequences
for those choices & decisions?
I am proposing that you take some
time to think about these issues this evening. I donít think that
this is as easy as it sounds. Thinking about some of the things
I will talk about may make you uneasy or uncomfortable. Iím not
expecting or proposing that you "buy into" what I have
to say. Rather, I am asking that you think about these issues critically--examine
your assumptions; consider the complexity; go beyond easy answers;
and be true to yourself. Thinking about these issues is critical
to making informed decisions about your life and the lives of others
here at UTA.
So, letís take a closer look at
the issue of leadership. Sororities and Fraternities are known for
contributing to the training of many famous leaders. Leadership
is a quality that many of us aspire to. But, what does it really
mean to be a leader? Is a leader more than just a spokesperson for
a group? If so, what are the characteristics of a leader? Is there
a difference between having leader behaviors and being an effective
leader? For example, does simply having followers qualify one as
a leader? Or does leadership require some sense of striving for
a common good--employing morals and values that foster tolerance,
dignity and justice? I believe that these questions are of vital
importance when considering your role as a leader in any setting...and
in particular right now for you in the Greek community.
I believe that you must grapple
with these questions if you want to move the Greek System forward
and ensure its long-term survival. Thinking about these questions
is critical to your undertaking a positive membership development
program and addressing the issue of hazing in a meaningful way.
Now, I know from experience that this issue of hazing is a difficult
one to address. Itís the kind of topic that makes people shift around
in their chairs, fidget, and try to think about something else--and
if all else fails...leave the room so you donít have to think about
it. Well, I would like to challenge you to consider; Why is that?
Why are we so uncomfortable talking or thinking about this issue?
Why do we silence discussion of this issue by avoiding it or denying
its existence? If hazing isnít a problem; then why canít we talk
about it openly? Why the secrecy and silence? If hazing is an important
and valuable part of fraternity and sorority life, why do we attempt
to hide it? Philanthropy activities and outstanding scholarship
are not kept hidden, so why do we hide the outstanding hazing activities?
If hazing is truly an effective means of establishing bonds of brother
and sisterhood, building trust and fostering respect, then why arenít
we promoting these techniques to other groups or systems? All right,
you may think Iím being a bit sarcastic...but, Iím really quite
serious. I was thinking about leadership, challenging my own assumptions,
and trying to look at things from different angles in order to see
them in new ways. As I thought about this for a minute I came back
to a question that often arises when I talk with others about the
issue of hazing. "What is it about hazing that causes so many
to be so committed to sustaining its so called tradition?"
I tried to challenge my usual way of thinking by envisioning myself
in a debate in which I was pro-hazing--trying to persuade others
that they should adopt hazing strategies for developing group cohesiveness,
unity and trust. I re-visited some of the arguments Iíve heard from
over the years like:
- hazing builds unity because
people bond through difficult experiences.
- hazing teaches respect for
- enduring hazing proves youíre
strong...itís an achievement to make it.
- hazing is a challenge--it
makes pledging fun & exciting.
- hazing motivates lazy people.
- hazing is one way for members
to show their dedication to the group and earn their membership.
While I call these the "myths"
of hazing, every myth probably starts with a kernel of truth---this
is what gives it the power to shape attitudes and beliefs. (Re-list
and provide "come-backs" for each of the above myths).
- hazing builds unity because
people bond through difficult experiences. Yes, I will
concede that people can bond through difficult experiences or
times of hardship...but, this is not the only way to bond
and build unity-- and certainly itís not the best way.
- hazing teaches respect for
the brothers/sisters. It may be true that you can teach
someone about respect. But I suggest that people canít be taught
to respect others...respect must be earned. Hazers and abusers
do not earn the respect of their victims.
- enduring hazing proves youíre
strong...itís an achievement to make it.
- hazing is a challenge--it
makes pledging fun & exciting.
- hazing motivates lazy people.
Well, hazing may motivate and challenge people. It may
seem like an achievement when itís over. But, hazing motivates
people through fear and for this reason, this kind of motivation
is only temporary. Thatís why we so frequently hear complaints
about the apathy of the members once they are initiated. Hazing
doesnít develop motivation and commitment to the ideals of the
fraternity/sorority. There are other more productive and enduring
methods of inspiring and challenging new members. There are methods
of motivating that arenít based on fear and are more likely to
maintain oneís commitment to the chapter throughout their undergraduate
- itís a tradition--first
of all, itís probably not. None of your fraternities and sororities
were founded upon ideals that support hazing. You may have heard
that a certain activity is a tradition...but, sometimes that only
means itís been around for more than a semester. BUT MORE IMPORTANTLY;
So what if something is a so-called tradition. If it is humiliating,
degrading and dangerous...if it breaks people down rather than
building people up...why continue it???
- it works in the military--this
may be true....but people join the military to defend the country
and prepare for war....what does this have to do with why people
join your organization?
- hazing is one way for members
to show their dedication to the group and earn their membership--Again,
all of these myths work together to construct an illusion...the
guise of hazing that makes hazing a tempting tool for those who
do not understand it.
You see, some people perpetuate
hazing because they want to abuse others so that they can feel powerful.
But those people form only a small percentage of the chapter. However,
hazing continues because most people are ignorant. They truly believe
that hazing can be positive. They believe the myths of hazing.
But if you really think about it, hazing can never do these
things, because hazing does not empower people, it does not support,
encourage and infuse people with the motivation and inspiration.
The aftermath of hazing is always negative...because hazing is abusive,
it strips power away from others, it diminishes and belittles. Donít
be fooled by the illusion of hazing.
Is hazing really just some foolish
pranks that sometimes get carried away--on occasion? When I talk
with students about hazing--or when we implement rules, policies
and laws against hazing; inevitably people want a laundry list of
things that constitute hazing. "A list of what we can do and
what we canít do--the quick fix solution. But you see, this is futile
really. Because hazing is not a matter of scavenger hunts, or drinking,
or name calling, or calisthenics...or eating onions, or tattoos...None
of these things is hazing in itself. These things are often
listed in rules and policies around hazing because they often become
hazing because of the manner in which they are implemented. So
itís not the activity per se, but the manner in which it is used.
How do we judge whether or not something constitutes hazing? I believe
that you must look beyond the mere activity and examine the POWER
that operates for those involved or potentially involved in the
situation. There could never be an exhaustive list of hazing activities...because
itís not the activity in itself that is problematic.
I have found the following analogy
helpful in understanding this distinction. (Do frying pan analogy
and compare specifically to calisthenics). In the same way that
rape is not an act of SEX, hazing is not an act of calisthenics,
drinking, or an act of eating vile substances, or an act of road
trips and pledge dumps. Rather, hazing, like sexual violence, is
an act of TAKING power & control away from others. Hazing is
abusive. Like child abuse, hazing is most likely perpetrated by
people who have been abused themselves. It creates a cycle of abuse.
Hazing is about people feeling powerful--not from a sense of inner
strength, but power at the expense of others. Hazing
is a cheap form of man/womanhood because it entails taking someone
elseís power away so that you can feel strong. Hazing is about inequality
and injustice--itís about diminishing the dignity of others.
In this way, the power dynamics of hazing can be compared to abuse
of power operating in sexual harassment and sexual assault. When
you begin to see the reality of hazing--and the power differential
operating--when you see the abuse of power and control that underpins
hazing behavior these connections begin to make sense. This is why
even the more subtle activities that seem harmless are problematic--because
they establish this negative power dynamic that easily escalates
into more dangerous forms of hazing abuse.
And for all the women out there
tonight, I would like you to stop for a moment and think about the
power you have and how your actions may be perpetuating hazing practices,
not only in your own chapters, but in the fraternities as well.
Have you "bought into" the myth that hazing builds "stronger
men?" When it comes right down to it, what kind of men are
you more inclined to associate with? Are you more interested in
the brothers who are affiliated with the hazing chapters on campus?
If this is true for you, I would like you to consider for a moment...
"Why is that?" Do you really believe that hazing
builds character? Do you honestly believe that hazing makes
someone stronger? If you do, then I would like to hear more about
why that makes sense...maybe you have a reason that I havenít heard
yet. You see, I believe that when you choose to associate with the
hazing fraternities then you are sending a strong message of support
for hazing. Your influence is powerful and you must take this seriously.
Even if your chapter doesnít haze, your failure to take a moral
stand on hazing by continuing to affiliate with the men who haze
sends a message of support for hazing. All of you, men and women
alike must recognize that when you passively support hazing by ignoring
it in other chapters, then you perpetuate the abuse of power and
control that is not only linked to hazing, but to harassment and
sexual violence as well.
When you understand hazing as an
act of power and control over others, then you also understand how
hazing is a form of abuse...and as such, a form of victimization.
If you understand hazing in this way, you can see why it can be
so dangerous and so difficult to eradicate. Those who have been
hazed have been victimized. The consequences of this vary depending
on a personís history and the intensity of the emotional and physical
abuse of the hazing activities. What might seem like relatively
harmless pranks or jokes for one can be emotionally devastating
and cause long-term damage to another. I have heard so many young
men and women say that they want to "stick it out" because
then they will be able to change it once theyíre on the "inside."
But sadly, this rarely happens. Once on "the inside" people
go on to perpetuate the hazing themselves. Sometimes actively --
but more often passively. Hazing is perpetuated through the silence....those
who choose to "avoid it" or ignore it are complicit. How
many times I have heard students acknowledge their discomfort with
the hazing....some say; "I know itís wrong" or "I
know itís negative and dangerous, but itís never going to change."
If you are one who thinks this way, you are not alone in feeling
overwhelmed by the situation, but you must understand how inaction
makes you a very real part of the problem. Your unwillingness and
fear to confront this behavior allows it to continue. Those brothers
and sisters who actually organize and implement the hazing activities
are not the only ones to blame for the hazing tragedies and deaths
that occur each year on college campuses. If you are not part of
the solution, then you remain part of the problem--ísilence is the
voice of complicity.í Weíve probably heard these sayings before,
but do we recognize when they might apply to ourselves?
I have met students who did recognize
when they were part of the problem, I have had the honor of working
with undergraduates and alumns who recognized their own personal
responsibility to become part of the solution. Itís often easier
to avoid "making waves" and initiating a ripple effect
because we risk rejection. We all want to be popular and liked by
our peers--but sometimes we must ask; "at what expense?"
I have met a number of courageous students who have asked themselves
that very question. Last year I worked with a fraternity member
whose courage, strength and conviction had a profound impact on
his chapter, the Greek System and the entire campus.
His name is Phil. He was a sophomore
when I first met him. He pledged as a freshman; he was a wrestler,
surfer and held a 3.8 average as a biochemistry/microbiology major.
Not surprisingly, he had been elected scholarship chair of his fraternity.
It was at this time that his chapter was undergoing a review process
conducted by the National as a result of risk-management concerns
including hazing, drug use/distribution and violence. He had attended
the fraternityís national convention that previous summer and had
heard speakers talk about eliminating hazing and he later told me
that he was surprised when he had met students from other chapters
who didnít haze their members like he had experienced during pledging.
Phil enrolled in a leadership course
I was teaching that year. From time to time I would inquire about
his efforts with chapter scholarship. At first he was all "fired
up" about things--he had arranged for the Biochem Dept to donate
a couple of used computers so that he could create a study area
in the chapter house. But over time, his enthusiasm waned. When
I asked how things were going he would say he hadnít had much time
lately to work on things with the fraternity....While I accepted
his responses, I grew concerned about what might really be at the
root of his apathetic attitude.
The year drew to a close, the leadership
course ended, summer passed and a new academic year began. I bumped
into Phil one day and we caught up on each otherís summer adventures
etc. When I asked if he was living in the chapter house etc., he
was more definitive this time. He told me that he was planning to
go "inactive." I remember that I was very upset about
this. Here was a student with so much potential to give to the fraternity
and the Greek System and he was just going to "drop out."
Something about this just didnít make sense to me...I had seen this
happen a number of times before, but this time it was even more
troublesome. He made excuses about his reasons for making this decision,
but I knew he wasnít giving me the whole story.
Another member of his chapter had
come to see me a few months before. He had come to tell me about
some of the hazing practices that were continuing despite the intervention
from the National. This student told me the gory details of the
hazing that included an event called ĎKC Nightí--(short for Kangaroo
Court I guess). This night was a special occasion when all the actives
would gather to celebrate pledging by having a keg packed with ice
in the basement of the chapter house. The pledges were kept locked
in an upstairs bathroom in their underwear. One at a time, a pledge
would be led down to the basement to face his punishment by the
court of actives. Each pledge was forced to sit, unclothed on the
ice cold keg--while the actives took turns screaming in his face,
shouting derogatory comments, calling him humiliating names repeatedly
(I was told that this lasted up to 20 minutes sometimes). Next the
actives would ask the pledge to perform some act of subservience.
For some it involved crawling on the basement floor stained with
urine and beer, others were egged, paddled and sometimes punched.
Two pledges have permanent scars from where they were sprayed with
This was just one event in a semester
filled with hazing activities that spanned the continuum and grew
more reprehensible as they approached hell week. While the student
who came to see me was disgusted and ashamed by what was happening,
he was too frightened to file a formal complaint. He wanted me to
be able to put an end to it--but, my hands were tied. Without an
anti-hazing law I had little support for an investigation and without
a witness, I couldnít even take formal action based on the Universityís
code of conduct. We talked about other less threatening options,
like placing an anonymous call to National or working within the
chapter for change. But, he said he had tried, and that National
had tried and that nothing was working. The problem was too big
and too overwhelming and he was discouraged, tired and resigned
I was frightened for other students,
and I was committed to trying my hardest to intervene and end the
abuse of hazing in that chapter. I began a series of educational
programs on hazing and I worked with the chapter leadership. They
said they were committed to changing things and for a time, I thought
that they might. They came and listened to Eileen speak and one
of the chapter leaders drove her to and from the airport. But, even
this awareness and education was not enough to break through the
cycle of abuse that had become the norm in that chapter. Throughout
it all I questioned myself and the student who had come to me. I
couldnít understand why he would have any reason to make up this
story---what could he possibly have to gain....yet, I had developed
relationships with other members in the fraternity and I had trouble
accepting that they would actually participate in things like this.
I tried to picture them at KC night...I thought of Phil and couldnít
understand how he could have possibly been a part of that. Like
many others, from time to time, I fell prey to the denial that surrounds
abuses like hazing. Itís so difficult to make sense out of senseless
things--sometimes itís just easier to deny it, ignore it, or make
excuses for it.
It was during this time of doubt
that Phil made an appointment to see me in the office. I could tell
that this wasnít his usual "friendly" visit to chat. He
said that he had been having trouble sleeping...that he had finally
decided to come and tell me because he couldnít deal with his conscience
anymore. After the Nationalís Review Process and the on-going educational
programs from the University, after Eileenís speech, the chapter
had invited him over for KC night. He told me that the same activities
were taking place. His account matched the account of the other
student from a year before. Nothing had changed. It was all a big
lie and he was not willing to participate in it anymore...but going
inactive wasnít enough. Even though he wasnít participating in the
hazing...he knew it was continuing and his silence and everyone
elseís silence allowed the behavior to continue.
Again, he wanted me to do something.
He thought that providing me with this information would allow me
to make some kind of intervention. But, what could we do? I asked
him why he had come to tell me about the hazing, and he said; "I
want it to stop. I donít want anyone else to have to go through
what I did." Again we reviewed the options. He too was frightened
of coming forward, but he also understood my limitations. We could
continue educating and warning...but, without a witness, any attempt
at intervention would be weak. Phil knew he had some hard decisions
to make. I struggled too because I didnít want him to endure the
alienation and hostility that would inevitably arise if he were
to serve as a witness. However, the situation was urgent. Hell week
was drawing near in a matter of days, and once again, student lives
would be placed in jeopardy.
Phil began by confronting the chapter
officers. He went to them and urged them to call off hell week activities.
He even offered to serve as a new Pledge Educator and develop a
non-hazing program. But they laughed at him, they told him; "no
one will go for it." They were not even willing to try or lend
their support. Hearing this made things that much worse, but Phil
was also growing stronger in knowing that he had to do something....he
held the key and the power to make a change--the others did too,
but they werenít willing to try. Phil felt overwhelmed by the situation,
but he refused to be paralyzed by it. He decided to take the next
step. He decided to call National and identify himself and ask for
their help. He went directly to the officers to tell them of his
plans and he informed them that they couldnít lie anymore....
Yes, Phil chose to break the code
of silence that surrounded hazing in his chapter. He knew that he
would likely be ostracized and mistreated by his very own brothers
even though he had tried to work from within the chapter to make
change. But, he also knew that this was what HAD to be done in order
to break through the cycle of abuse. This was not about "snitching"
or "squealing" as they say, this was about living up to
the ideals of fraternity---this was about "Being your brotherís
As anticipated, Phil was harassed
by his very own brothers. They did the usual cowardly things. Yell
derogatory names at him out their car windows as they passed him
on the street; some threw a rock through his car windshield; spread
rumors about him; and others hung a banner outside the fraternity
house expressing their anger at him. None of them asked to speak
with him directly to share their thoughts or feelings. None of them
had the courage to talk with him face to face. While Phil never
questioned his own actions, the constant harassment began to wear
on him, he felt alone, confused sometimes and angry. As word began
to spread about Philís actions, the rumors and misinformation began
to take on a life of its own. Feeling the need to "set the
record straight," Phil wrote a letter to the campus newspaper.
(Read excerpt from his newspaper article--where he describes abuses
Not surprisingly, the publication
of this letter caused an uproar on campus and in the Greek System.
Phil had broken the code of silence and this is how things finally
began to change. Remarkably, many Greeks came forward to support
Phil. People called to tell him they were inspired by his strength
and courage. Others gained the courage to join Phil in making a
difference and taking a stand against hazing in their own chapters.
Further, the leaders of other chapters decided that they needed
to take the issue seriously, or perhaps one of their members might
just go ahead and do what Phil had done. Consequently, a ripple
effect began throughout the Greek System.
It was a long ordeal for Phil--it
changed his life and the lives of many others. But he didnít end
his efforts there. He became an influential participant in the effort
to enact hazing legislation. This past year he coordinated a student
peer education program on hazing. Through his efforts the IFC passed
a bill making these educational programs mandatory for all chapters.
And, I just learned that last Friday night Phil was chosen as the
recipient of the Greek System Service Award. An honor reserved for
that man and woman who have most contributed to the enhancement
of Greek Life at the University.
In choosing to become a member
of a fraternity or sorority you have become a member of a brotherhood
or sisterhood that stands for much more than a group of individuals
living together and socializing through your college experience.
Becoming a brother or sister means you have become part of a community
that offers many opportunities, a community that goes beyond "friend"
and calls its members brother and sister. But what do we really
mean by that? Do our actions match our rhetoric? I would like to
understand how we can justify or rationalize tolerance of hazing
and other abusive practices in any organization, but especially
in an organization where we say we care about each other, where
we actually choose to affiliate with each other. Failing to confront
abusive behavior--hazing, sexual assault & harassment, or abuse
of oneself through alcohol and/or other drugs, or eating disorders
is really another way of saying "I donít care about you."
And I donít think thatís what most of you want to stand for.
Leadership, sisterhood, brotherhood,
character, scholarship, and community service; these are the ideals
that come to mind when I think of the true meaning of fraternities
and sororities. These are the ideals that have contributed
to the strength and promise of Greek life on our college campuses.
These are the ideals espoused by the creeds and rituals that
form the foundation upon which each of your organizations was built.
But some are questioning the strength of that foundation...some
believe that the entire framework of Greek life may be in jeopardy
due to decay. Decay of that foundation. The decay caused by neglect
and failure to take seriously the very ideals upon which Greek life
was founded. Hazing contributes to the decay by destroying the spirit
and diminishing the dignity of your membership. The ideals that
are espoused to the public; the words memorized and recited. Have
they become hollow and meaningless?
The answers to these questions
will determine the survival or demise of the Greek System over the
next decade. You hold that future in your hands today. As
leaders and members of the Greek System, you have an opportunity
to make a difference and to show you care. You have the opportunity
to reconstruct a new framework for Greek life at UTA and beyond.
You have the opportunity and influence to empower others and transform
a system. Or...you can just accept things the way they are...settle
for the status quo, and strive for nothing more than what you see
today. It is a decision you need to make and it is urgent!
You hold the future of the Greek System in your hands. You can choose
to be part of a transformation, a move toward positive change...OR
NOT. But remember, indecision is a decision and holds consequences
for you, your chapter and the entire system. As leaders in your
chapters you carry a burden of responsibility that can not be ignored
or taken lightly. Your actions (or inaction) have an impact on
peopleís lives. In what ways do you want your leadership to
impact others? How would you like to be remembered for your leadership
in five, ten, 20 years?
Yes, itís difficult to take that
risk, to take a stand for something you believe in. Confronting
your peers takes great courage. What does it mean to care about
your brother or sister? These words; leadership, integrity, compassion...these
are words that describe the true meaning of Greek Life. Do these
words describe your behavior? We all must ask ourselves these questions.
As leaders and/or members of your chapters, can you go to sleep
each night knowing that you have done everything you could...that
you have taken each opportunity that day to ensure that your brothers
and sisters are safe, to let them know you care? How hard are you
willing to try? Itís the little things each day that can make a
difference over time. Voicing your concern for someoneís behavior
and speaking out against traditions of hazing could possibly save
a life and isnít that worth the effort?
Each of you can affect positive
change in another personís life and in many lives through the ripple
effect I have described tonight. Sometimes all it takes is the courage
of one person to begin this process of change. I know this, because
I have seen it happen. I have had the honor of standing alongside
young women and men who have taken the risk to confront their peers,
endure criticism, harassment and ridicule for disrupting the status
quo and initiating a Ďripple effectí of positive change. I have
witnessed sorority women and fraternity men evidence persistence,
courage, compassion and drive. Each individual in this room has
the power to make transformative change in this Greek community
and beyond. I urge you tonight; make that commitment to be part
of the solution. Hazing, alcohol abuse, sexual violence....they
are all connected and they all threaten the framework of Greek life.
I urge you tonight to make that commitment; to recognize the urgency
and your responsibility to end the abuse; to become part of the
ripple effect; and to create a new tradition of caring (this
was the theme of Greek Week).