Reflections Upon Hazing Prevention Week

Written by Tyler Boisvert, Nu Sigma ’10

Hazing is a pandemic in the fraternity system. In fact, there has been at least one hazing death in North America every year since 1958.

Why is this necessary?

The truth is, many of us were exposed to hazing long before ever getting to the collegiate and university systems. Personally, I remember seeing it as far back as middle school and Pop Warner football. New guys always had to carry all of the equipment and were forced to do any task that the older, more experienced guys didn’t want to do.

Hazing further progressed in high school. Sports teams were rife with hazing both on and off the field. The Captains and seniors would often force freshmen to do activities in order to be invited to the party or to be considered a part of the group.

Similarly, one may remember stories in the media that covered hazing. One example from ESPN highlights Dez Bryant having to pick up a $55,000 dollar dinner bill because he was a rookie. The fact that this wasn’t widely denounced set a horrible impression for our students by normalizing this reprehensible behavior.

The answer to my question is that hazing isn’t necessary, but to understand it we have to first answer two questions:

  1. What is the point of new member period or pledging?
  2. What is the definition of hazing?

Dr. Gentry McCreary spoke on The Today Show on September 18th, and gave an interesting sociological insight into the psychology of hazing. Dr. McCreary stated that we, as social creatures, are looking to keep newcomers from joining our organizations and exploit the status of the group. Additionally, nobody wants to just give that ‘status’ away.

In the fraternity dynamic, this would refer to the new member period as a way for a fraternity to educate on membership, and help give that status to the members they’ve recruited. No matter your definition on status, it is important to state that the recruited individuals want that status or else they wouldn’t join.

However, I would argue that the objective of a new member period is to pass on the legacy and history of the fraternity while making the new members feel comfortable in the collegiate community. It is also to help instil in these individuals the importance of joining a values based organization.

My own experiences running this process didn’t fit my own previous definition. We justified the hazing means with the initiation ends, stating we had to break them down to build them back up. We justified calling the events “team-building activities”, forcing calisthenics to reinforce knowledge and using forced labor as a way to show the hierarchical structure of the organization.

Dr. McCreary admits that hazing can be done for these altruistic purposes – to better the chapter and build strong bonds. Personally, every instance of hazing I’ve seen begin with good intentions has quickly devolved into a power struggle that demeans and degrades the new members as individuals.

The second question is answered in that hazing definitions are continuously changing because people are finding new ways to keep this power struggle alive. Hazing is often defined as any action taken or situation created, intentionally or unintentionally, to produce mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment, or ridicule. Keeping a hierarchal structure that implies an individual is of any lesser value because they are a recruit/pledge, is mentally discomforting in itself.

I didn’t have anyone to discuss the definition of hazing with me in detail, and I certainly didn’t question every single event that my chapter did. Looking back, I wish I had. I wish someone had asked me the simple question: how can we use a new member period to build up our newest members?

I now am in a position to do something about it. As Associate Executive Director of Zeta Psi, my personal asks are simple:

During the Fall Semester, please continue to open dialogue with actives and elders at your chapter, the chapter leadership, and the International Headquarters to discuss the chapter’s New Member Education program. Most importantly, the conversation should discuss how each event and aspect of the process fits into the definition of New Member Education – positively building up our most important members the future.

We are obligated to care about our membership, their mental wellbeing, their academic careers, family lives, and their relationships.

The people we surround ourselves with either raise or lower our standards. They either help us to become the-best-version-of-ourselves or encourage us to become lesser versions of ourselves. We become like our friends. No man becomes great on his own. No woman becomes great on her own. The people around them help to make them great.
We all need people in our lives who raise our standards, remind us of our essential purpose, and challenge us to become the-best-version-of-ourselves.

-Matthew Kelly, The Rhythm of Life

This quote reminds me of my mother constantly reminding me of the importance of surrounding myself with positive people. Upon reflection, I’m proud of the men I have surrounded myself with. Not all of my friends are Zetes, but most of them really are. I hang out with Zetes, I travel and experience life with Zetes, and I continue to try to help those younger men receive the same opportunities that I had.

My second ask is to challenge the status quo. Challenge the purpose behind why you’re in the fraternity, the purpose of the new member period, and your mission as a chapter. Help make each member the best version of himself. Help each chapter become the best chapter it can be. There are so many ways to build someone up, so lets focus on how to best be able to do that.

Honor Campaign materials will be resent out this week for continued dialogue. I hope you’ll all join me in taking the Hazing Prevention Pledge during the (Inter) National Hazing Prevention Week.

Yours in Tau Kappa Phi,

Tyler Boisvert

 

Sources:

  1. hanknuwer.com
  2. ESPN Article on Dez Bryant: https://www.espn.com/dallas/nfl/news/story?id=5626300
  3. Hazingprevention.org
  4. Matthew Kelly; The Rythym of Life
  5. Zeta Psi Risk Management Policy

 

%d bloggers like this: