Before I start this post, Phired Up Productions would like to recognize our colleagues at Campuspeak for their leadership on the issue of hazing on college campuses. Their creation of National Hazing Prevention Week (Sept. 24-28, 2007) is a clear exemplification of fraternity/sorority values in action, and we are grateful for their hard work on this topic. Visit the NHPW website for some incredible resources to revolutionize your organization.
by Matt Mattson
You want recruitment results, right? What do you think is one of the major concerns/fears of potential new members? Yep, you guessed it… they don't want to get hazed. They assume that joining a fraternity or sorority requires at least a week, if not a full semester, of humiliation, hard work, embarrassment, alcohol abuse, illegalities, and other things that they're not interested in.
So, they don't join.
I'm not talking about a few people on your campus that aren't joining because of a fear of hazing. I'm suggesting that on most of your campuses there is about 80-90% of the campus that isn't Greek. I'm suggesting that most of them are smarter than to put themselves in a position where hazing MIGHT happen.
You're saying, “our chapter is different, we don't haze.” Great! It is important to understand however, that your potential members don't know that. And they aren't joining because other chapters on your campus, in your inter/national organization, around your state, and around the country DO HAZE. They haze and you pay the price — the vast majority of your campus is afraid of what you MIGHT do to them.
Are you angry yet? You should be. I know I am. I know that many of you don't haze, would never allow yourself to be hazed, and think that chapters that do haze are just stupid — never mind the “it's against our values” stuff. You know, just like I do that they're missing out on the best guys on campus (who avoid them altogether), and they lose many of their best members during their new member period (because they're smart enough to get out during pledging).
Anytime I think or talk about hazing a couple of memories come up for me…
The first is a new member education exercise I did when I pledged to Alpha Sigma Phi Fraternity at Grand Valley State University back in 1996. One day during our new member ed meeting, the pledge educator took the whole 12-man class outside onto the lawn of the house. He put us in a circle and did a version of the “crossing the line” exercise.
During that exercise members were asked to step forward if they could relate to a statement. The statements started with benign things like, “I am a college student,” or “I am a republican.” As the statements continued, they became more and more challenging and personal, like “I have been angry at someone in this circle,” or “I've cheated in school before.” By the time we got toward the end of the exercise, the statements were very personal and very revealing. They included statements like:
“I have lost a loved one recently” (several of my brothers stepped forward)
“I have done hard drugs” (a couple of my brothers stepped forward)
“I have been very depressed” (a couple of my brothers stepped forward)
“I have been abused” (several of my brothers stepped forward)
“I have considered or attempted suicide” (3 of my pledge brother stepped forward)
“I have been sexually abused” (2 of my pledge brothers stepped forward)
“I have been raped…” (one of my pledge brothers stepped forward)
Very few experiences in my life have given me as much insight into the reality that all of us — even the ones you least expect — have had experiences in our life that have hurt deeply. If I am to be their brothers, and if I am to educate my interfraternal brothers and sisters to be the best members they can be — then I can not stand for us hurting one another (even if it is based on a joke or some “bonding” experience). Because even a light-hearted, seemingly harmless prank can bring back the pain of those past experiences and losses.
I can't imagine how painful it would be for my pledge brothers (especially those that had been abused, sexually molested, suicidal, and/or recently grieving a lost loved one) to have been paddled, forced into dark rooms or blindfolds, forced to drink, to have had demeaning things shouted at them, etc.
New members join us often in one of the most vulnerable times in their lives. They have moved away from their friends and families, they are trying to establish their own personal identity, and they are vulnerable. We can't abuse that. We have to nurture our brothers and sisters especially during their first few months as a member. That is what true brotherhood and sisterhood is.
The other memory that arises for me comes from when I was the president of my chapter. After one of our Pledge Ceremonies (an initial ritual for new members) in which the candidates were blindfolded, I had one of the new members come to my room at about 2 a.m. in tears. Now, I wasn't used to having another guy come talk to me crying, so I was a little freaked out. He explained to me that he suffered from severe anxiety disorder, and the fact that we drove him around in a car for 30 minutes blindfolded (which we thought was harmless) was deathly terrifying for him.
Two thoughts come out of this scenario for me. First, it amazes me that he let us do that to him. But that just confirms how vulnerable we are when we're new members. Secondly, I now do some work in the field of mental health and better understand the level of terror that he must have been experiencing. I also know that somewhere around 1 in 5 of us (yes, your chapter too) live with a serious mental illness (and you hardly ever know who we are). A good brother/sister wouldn't kick their members while they're down, and they certainly wouldn't terrorize them on purpose.
Am I saying that “blindfolds are hazing.” No. I'm saying we need to be aware of the reality of what our brothers and sisters have gone through or are going through, and be sensitive to that. When they're new members, often they're afraid to tell you about these things, so we have to create environments that are extra safe for them — so that they feel safe and want to stick around.
My recommendation is to assume that somewhere in your new member class there is a person who has been abused, who has a mental illness, who has an eating disorder, who is an alcoholic, who can't read, who was molested, or… who is suicidal right now. Build a new member education program based on those assumptions — because they're probably TRUE.
Bottom line: If we're helping you revolutionize your chapter by using Dynamic Recruitment to recruit a higher quantity of higher quality members, don't haze them because if they really are higher quality members, they’ll quit, and all of our/your hard work will have been wasted.
Hazing hurts. It hurts recruitment results. It hurts people.
According to the NHPW website, since 1970 at least one person has died from a hazing related event each year. Let's stop that.
One person can make the difference. Your opportunity is now here.