Ending Hazing - The Definition

As our chapters head back to school, and in conjunction with the summer issue of our magazine, Phi Kappa Psi is committed to ending hazing throughout the Greek community. It has no value for Phi Psi members and only offers a path to destruction. In addition to participating in HazingPrevention.org and Sigma Nu's #40Answers campaign, we will be posting stories on our website to help with the education and understanding of hazing's contradictory and destructive relationship with our Fraternity. This is part 1 of that series....

Written by Wes Schaub Toledo '80 

Has there has been an upsurge in hazing? It certainly has become a topic of discussion again. Hazing is such a covert and subversive practice that it may be more pervasive than before. With all our concentration on alcohol use over the past few decades, hazing has quietly crept back into our chapters. Hazing is difficult to address; the secretive nature makes it hard to talk about, so deception and denial are standard unhealthy group practices, and everyone believes the definition is vague. Ask among your alumni group and you will get different answers from each person. 

Hazing is about power and control. Even things that are not required are actually required. Our new members are very susceptible to group pressure. They want to fit in so they will do things "voluntarily" just to prove themselves to the members. No matter how much you hear that it's voluntary, it really isn't in the eyes of a new member. Because of this we have to be vigilant above all else and make sure we don't have activities that haze. "It was voluntary" is not a defense. 

There's a lot going on in the new member's head. New members feel safe to some extent participating in any activity. If we are honestly building new friends, why would we hurt them? No new member participates in an activity thinking he is going to be injured or die, but we lose members every year. When we haze we seriously violate their trust in us. That's no way to build a fraternity. It's not leadership through respect, but through fear and intimidation. Hazing is a culture. It's not about the activities as much as it's about the feeling the members have while preforming those activities. If they respect themselves then they should respect others. We have to work with our members on how they interpret our purpose and values. Chapters that haze don't take into account the baggage a new member might bring with him. Students may have had a tough and painful past and hazing can reopen a psychological wound without the chapter knowing. 

Drunk Passed Out.jpg
Warning signs of alcohol abuse (both individually and as a chapter) can be easy to spot, but what about hazing?
(Photo copyright Sylvie Bouchard via 123rf.com)

Sometimes new members want to be hazed. They think it is the only way to prove themselves and earn their way into the chapter. They are insecure and eager to please. There are better ways for new members to prove their value to the chapter. 

There's no such thing as good hazing, harmless hazing, little 'h' hazing, developmental hazing - It's all wrong. There are too many problems even with the most innocuous of activity. It's easy for things to get out of control and for people to lose their judgment and common sense. There is also resentment toward the hazer which subconsciously affects the long term operation of the chapter. 

Things have changed since most of us have been active. The web site Stophazing.org adds clarification by dividing hazing in three different categories. Understanding the categories will help uncover activity that may not be appropriate. 
    • The first is subtle hazing and it consists of behaviors that emphasize the power imbalance between new members and actives. This usually involves the breach of common respect for each other and can lead to ridicule or embarrassment. These behaviors might seem harmless, but they cause mistrust and apathy within the chapter. 
    • The second is harassment hazing and this type causes emotional anguish or physical discomfort. It is designed to confuse, frustrate and stress the new members. This behavior can compartmentalize the chapter causing resentment and challenges our value of the great joy of serving others. 
    • The last is violent hazing and this type of behavior has the potential to cause physical and/or emotional harm. These activities are dangerous and lead to injury or death. 
The list of activities generated under these three categories could be exhaustive, so it is important to examine the purpose of the activity. What are we trying to teach through our program? Anyone can put up with a few weeks of pointless shenanigans, but how do those activities reinforce responsible membership? It doesn't. Once new members complete that kind of membership process, they are done. They don't have to give anything back to the chapter and a lot of them won't. Hazing doesn't build trust, character, responsibility, dedication, brotherhood, lifelong commitment, or any other positive value the Fraternity looks for. It does create compartmentalization, apathy, discomfort, mistrust, and reinforces gang mentality to name a few. In fact, it does a terrible job of building the chapter. It teaches our new members that if you can get through the pledge program you have completed your commitment to the chapter. So his involvement won't revolve around what he can do for the chapter, but what the chapter can do for him. If there's no perceived personal gain, don't expect him to participate. Look at the apathy problems your chapter has now. Is there a retention problem? Do brothers not want to help out, complete house duties, or participate in service? What about pay their bill? These attitudes may come from their new member program. We are very effective at teaching our message even if we aren't sure what that message is. 

Look at what's going on in the new member program. If you find a questionable activity, don't pass it off as harmless. Hazing is kind of like an iceberg. What you see could be only a small portion of what's really there. It's not practical to tell the chapter to just stop the activity. Cold turkey is hard for even our strongest. Create conversations through review and replacement of the activity, or what will take its place will be far worse. Get help. The chapter needs to rethink what they are doing and that change will be a huge challenge. It will involve education, patience and creativity. Call Headquarters, talk to the fraternity professional on campus, meet with other alumni. Ask questions to find out the purpose or goal of the activity. If it doesn't reinforce our values then it needs to be replaced. Don't tolerate excuses, so much hazing comes from laziness and lack of options. Sometimes tradition means we don't know any other way. 

hazing hotline.gifChapters can be more comfortable with activities that are counterproductive than face the unknown of making change. That is just plain old human nature. We don't like the unknown, so we will stay complacent even if we know it's not a good situation just because it's what they know. We use the term tradition to protect the familiar. 

Start by asking questions about the activity. Do members do the activity together? Does it have some legitimate educational value? How would you feel about seeing pictures of the activity in the local paper? Could you see the institution's president or the dean participating in the activity? Take the first step and evaluate all new member activities to assess the goal and outcome. Educate members on the definition of hazing and why it doesn't help the chapter. Find other like-minded people to help get buy-in that there's a better way. Get help by using your resources on campus and at headquarters. Hazing is a reoccurring cycle that can end only when someone steps in and works to eliminate it from the inside.

Brother Schaub is the Director of Greek Letter Organizations and Societies at Dartmouth College. Prior to that he served as the director of Greek life at Case Western Reserve, where he spent over 22 years working with students. A member of the Ancient Order of the S.C., he has served Phi Kappa Psi as the director of scholarship, and also serves on the advisory committee to his home chapter at Ohio Eta.