Bright Insights

Understanding and Recognizing Fraternity and Sorority Hazing: A Guide for CLV Village Personnel

For readers who desire a comprehensive understanding of Greek organizations in US higher education, the full version of this article is located on SharePoint:

https://north.clvglobal.com/regions/us/reslife/Res%20Life%20Guides/Forms/AllItems.aspx

Introduction

In early February 2017, Timothy Piazza, a new member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity at Penn State was intoxicated when, during a fraternity party, he fell down the basement stairs of the fraternity house.  Fraternity members did not call for emergency aid until 12 hours after the fall.  Timothy passed way at the hospital several days later.

Unfortunately, Timothy’s death is not an unfamiliar circumstance.  Since there is no official designation in the Uniform Crime Reports for deaths associated with hazing or other fraternal activities, it is not possible to precisely determine the frequency.  One website that attempts to chronicle these deaths reports thirty-four fraternal-related deaths occurring between the years 2000 and 2014 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_hazing_deaths_in_the_United_States).

Fraternities and Sororities, otherwise known as Greek letter organizations, are formally structured social organizations found on many of the campuses where CLVus has villages.   Greek organizations have many positive attributes and have a shared purpose of developing young men and women into productive citizens.  Below are common activities that are offered by many chapters:

  • Academic Support: Once initiated into full membership of a chapter, students must maintain a minimum cumulative grade point average (varies by chapter).  In order to support this requirement, chapters will hold study halls and peer tutoring.  In addition, members exchange textbooks and many chapters have test banks where members save past exams for review.
  • Families: Greek organizations were originally established in part to assist students who live far from home.  Within chapters, new members are assigned to “families” with “big sisters or brothers” who serve as mentors.  The assignment to a “family” is often associated with a reveal ceremony where small gifts are exchanged and students wear clothing indicating the names of their “Bigs” or “Littles”.
  • Leadership Training: National organizations provide chapters with leadership development programs for members. In addition, chapters have a hierarchical governance structure with elected officers who experience leadership while executing their assigned duties.
  • Philanthropy: Chapters organize events in support of charitable causes.
  • Risk Management: Each national organization provides chapters with comprehensive risk management procedures that support safety during chapter activities.
  • Rituals: Each national organization has rituals that are passed down from the organization’s Founders.  Efforts are made to keep these rituals secret from non-members and many are not revealed to new members until the Chapter’s initiation ceremony.
  • Social Activities: Social engagement is an important part of the life of a chapter.  Often, the social activities are events that are passed down throughout the years and become traditions within a particular chapter. Typical events include victory parties, hayrides, formal dances, and inter-group mixers.

New Member Selection

The process of selecting new members for sororities and fraternities have similarities in that they involve what is known as mutual selection.   The process is known as “rush” or “recruitment”, although for many campuses “rush” is an outdated term with negative connotations.  The National Panhellenic Conference prohibits the use of the term “rush” for its member organizations.  There are varying timelines and requirements per campus.  Some campuses hold recruitment prior to the opening of the fall semester, some defer recruitment until the spring semester and there are options anywhere in between.

Once selected, new members are required to meet certain objectives before achieving full membership.  The new member is referred to as a new member, associate member or pledge depending on the organization.  During the period of time between recruitment and full membership, new members learn about the organization’s values, history and rituals.  Once the new members complete the requirements they participate in a formal initiation ceremony.

Preventing and Recognizing Hazing: Tips for Village Staff

According to Wikipedia, hazing is defined as “the practice of rituals and other activities involving harassment, abuse or humiliation as a way of initiating a person into a group”.  For the most part, membership in Greek organizations is a valuable and rewarding experience and most groups have eliminated hazing from their activities.  National Greek organizations prohibit hazing and have revised fraternal traditions in order to eradicate hazing from the Greek experience.  Still, hazing rituals can be found in athletic programs, performing arts organizations, student organizations and fraternal organizations.   For fraternities and sororities, it is during the new membership period that new members of Fraternities and Sororities are most at risk of personal harm as a result of hazing.

The perpetuation of hazing traditions is insidious and is passed down from generations of students as a valued part of the fraternal experience and the judgment of new members is clouded by a strong desire to be part of the group.   Many students are not sufficiently sophisticated to understand that what they are experiencing is hazing.  Verbal abuse, requiring students to wear humiliating outfits, excessive alcohol consumption, humiliation, sleep deprivation, kidnapping and sex acts are common forms of hazing practices.

Members of Sororities and Fraternities live in CLV villages.  Village staff are frontline in the securing student safety.  Below are some tips for preventing and recognizing hazing:

  1. Become familiar with the staff in the campus office of Greek Life. These dedicated staff members are eager to assist when there are suspicions that hazing is occurring.
  2. Be familiar with dates of the initiation periods for campus Greek organizations.
  3. Hazing may also occur at times other than the initiation period, particularly when chapters are assigning “big brothers and big sisters” to new members. This is an exciting time for chapter members and hazing may be a part of the traditions and events surrounding the “family reveals”.
  4. During the initiation and family reveal periods, be on the look-out for students who are new sorority and fraternity members who seem sleep-deprived, withdrawn or generally not in good health. Approach the student in question and let them know there are concerns.
  5. Listen to students who are sharing their experiences with you. They may be indirectly asking for help for something they may not understand is hazing or they may have a misguided understanding that they have to retain secrets, even if they feel uncomfortable or threatened.
  6. Report any concerning circumstances to the university’s Dean of Students, office of Greek Life or other student affairs personnel.

In summary, Greek organizations play a positive role in the lives of many young people, yet there may be remnants of dangerous practices.  CLV Village personnel can play a part in keeping residents who are members of Greek organizations safe by being aware of what constitutes hazing, recognizing the warning signs, paying attention to the rhythms of the activities associated with new membership and letting residents know they are available to be strong advocates for their well-being.