Administrators on college campuses across the nation are charged with the task of facing the reality of hazing. Cornell University is unfortunately all too familiar with the detrimental affects of fraternity and sorority hazing after the February death of a 19-year old sophomore found non-responsive in a fraternity house. In his Op-ed piece for the New York Times, Cornell president David J. Skorton emphasized his commitment to ending the violent and illegal practices of hazing. In “A Pledge to End Fraternity Hazing,” Skorton suggests ending pledging all together is the best solution.
There is a pressing need for better ways to bring students together in socially productive, enjoyable and memorable ways. At Cornell, acceptable alternatives to the pledge process must be completely free of personal degradation, disrespect or harassment in any form. One example is Sigma Phi Epsilon’s “Balanced Man Program,” which replaces the traditional pledging period with a continuing emphasis on community service and personal development.
We need to face the facts about the role of fraternities and sororities in hazing and high-risk drinking. Pledging — and the humiliation and bullying that go with it — can no longer be the price of entry.”
Although hazing occurs in most Greek organizations, Black Greek Letter Organizations have received a great deal of mainstream news coverage in the past decade due to isolated events of violence and death. BGLOs have a convoluted history with the incorporation hazing in its pledge processes. Ironically the first BGLO, Alpha Phi Alpha, was founded in 1906 at Cornell University. Last year the same organization’s national president halted all membership intake due to claims of hazing. Between 1906 and 1963 eight other sororities and fraternities were founded to form The Divine Nine. Some would argue along the way the true meaning of the pledge process was traded for questionable actions. Others counter that argument claiming hazing is a necessary component to ensure one is worthy of joining the organization. Those same people argue it’s only a foolish few who take hazing too far and give the rest of the org a bad rep.
The aforementioned sentiments are exactly why a “no pledging” policy will never work. There was no uproar in 2002 when two young California State University students drowned from hazing while pledging Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. As recent as this year members of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority were charged with assault and hazing; and the cry to end hazing remained silent. In fact, the victim was bashed for “snitching” by Greeks and non-Greeks alike. Pledging is a tradition that will forever be a part of the BGLO experience no matter how many people die. But hazing doesn’t have to be a part of the equation.
Skorton is brave in his no-nonsense attitude toward hazing. But suggesting sororities and fraternities eliminate pledging is not the answer. Hazing and pledging are not synonymous. The focus should should be on the former in opposed to the latter. If every university and college in the country banned the pledging processes, and magically every Greek organization did the same for an alternate intake of new members, hazing would not stop. More pledgees would be brought into the organization through underground processes, and members would go the extra mile to ensure hazing remained a secret. There is no 1-2-3 easy fix for orgs or college administrators dedicated to end hazing. But honest conversations are a start. Senseless deaths are not to be taken lightly. And human life will always trump letters.