Student Opinion: The Dark Side of Hazing

UCSB’s Beta Theta Pi fraternity (Santa Barbara Independent)

By Liam Benedict 

Growing up, many of us are exposed to the idea of hazing either through college movies or the tales told to us by our parents about their “glory days” at university. I was no exception. 

Personally, the concept of hazing bothered me back when I first learned about it. But, that was several years ago. 

Now that I am mere days away from starting my own college experience, it begs the question: Has my opinion on the long withstanding tradition of hazing changed? In a sense, it has. However, it was a change for the worse. 

It has come to my attention that most people only know about the popularized form of hazing and thus think that it’s all innocent fun. 

But that is not the whole story.  

These rituals can take place in any tiered institution, but the most blatant form of hazing has mostly occurred in a number of college fraternities and sororities.

The dark reality of hazing is that it is a cruel, hierarchical tradition, which exists to bring older students sick pleasure from tormenting the younger, often naive students that are desperately seeking their approval. This peer pressure leads students to take on a number of dangerous and cruel rituals that they otherwise would’ve thought insane.

Not only is this a wicked betrayal of the brother/sisterhood that fraternities and sororities are supposed to represent, but it also actively undermines the welcoming image these groups actively promote. 

StopHazing.Org defines hazing as “any activity expected of someone joining or participating in a group that humiliates, degrades, abuses, or endangers them, regardless of a person’s willingness to participate.” Aside from that definition, the activity of hazing can fall anywhere on a great spectrum of brutality. 

On the softer side of hazing, new students looking to join the group would sometimes be told to drink a large amount of alcohol while they are asked extensive lore about the chapter’s history. However, hazing rituals can take much more depraved forms. 

Sliding down the spectrum, there have been reports of vicious verbal abuse and straight-up sexual assault disguised as “initiation rituals.” A famous example includes the Sayreville High school football team, where seniors would pin freshman players to the floor and shove their finger inside of them, reports the CNN article. 

Parents of other team members rallied hard against the victims, arguing that “No one was hurt; no one died.”

I find this attitude to be despicable. 

The idea that sexual assault can be labeled as a prank, allowing people to turn a blind eye to the crime, exposes a clear problem in our culture. These gross events are nothing compared to the surprisingly long and current record of college students dying from hazing. 

Yes, dying. 

Dozens of young college men have died doing these inane fraternity initiation rituals since the civil war days. The earliest documented death was Johnathan Dorrance in 1847, who died at Amherst College of pneumonia, after being “kept in a bed with soaked sheets for an extended period of time.” 

The deaths did not stop there. 

There has been a fairly steady trickle of deaths every few years from all kinds of cruel and bizarre rituals. Perhaps the worst of these instances occurred at Chico State University on Feb. 2, 2005. 

Matthew Carrington was a pledge of the now-defunct Chi Tau house. In order to gain entrance to the fraternity house brotherhood, Matthew and another pledge were forced “to do calisthenics in raw sewage that had leaked on the floor,” reports CNN

As they did this, they were yelled at and berated verbally for hours. Written on the walls of the basement was the phrase, “No one can hear you scream.” 

All the while, they were forced to drain 5-gallon jugs of water over and over again. They “urinated and vomited on themselves” multiple times and were still told to keep going. 

Carrington eventually collapsed from a seizure and was later diagnosed with water intoxication. The ambulance was not called immediately, and he was pronounced dead at the hospitable. 

Three of the older fraternity perpetrators were charged with Carrington’s death. They admitted their guilt in court, expressed their remorse, and were only sentenced to 6-12 months in prison. 

Shortly after, California passed an anti-hazing law one year later. 

I don’t need to spell out just how terrible and pointless this young man’s death was. This event sounds like something from a grungy horror movie, not something that could happen at an accredited university right here in California. One might look at this tragedy and hope that it is something that we are evolving past. Unfortunately, that does not seem to be the case. 

The most recent college hazing death was merely two years at Ohio University.  While already severely beaten and sleep-deprived, Collin Wiant died from the rapid inhalation of whippets while attempting to join Sigma Pi. 

These numerous hazing deaths, tracing back to the 1800s, have helped shape the legislation of our country. Out of 50 states, 44 states have made laws against hazing. However, only 13 of those 44 states have hazing that leads to death considered a felony. 

It is worth noting that although the vast majority of hazing deaths are men, college women are also forced to deal with disturbing hazing rituals. 

These practices tend to involve more emotional abuse and sexual harassment. 

One sorority pledge said she and her other pledges had their faces pressed against a cold wall and were told to be completely still as older members screamed and insulted them. If she moved at all, “one of the four Penn State Altoona sorority members would shove their head into the concrete bricks until they had lumps or bruises,” reports ABC News. 

Maxwell of Hazing Prevention spoke to ABC News about a report she received of a pledge who was tasked with either taking a hit of cocaine or using a dildo in front of them.” 

No one should be asked to make this kind of decision, especially when it is just to join a student organization. There have also been reports of pledges being forced to take their tops off and having their breasts compared and laughed at. 

However, the rituals are leaning more towards violence as of late. 

While trying to join the Sigma Gamma Rho house, a pledge at Rutgers University was paddled 201 times over eight days. “On the eighth day — unable to sit, her buttocks covered with blood clots and welts — she went to the hospital,” reports NJ.Com

Young students are often desperate to fit in, especially in the new, foreign, adult world of college. This causes impressionable youths to agree to these horrific torture challenges without hesitation and is sadly leading many of them to their deaths. 

I feel we need to form a united front, both legally and culturally. 

We need anti-hazing laws in every state in order to give off a clear message against this practice. Yet, we also need to change the old culture of accepting this cruelty as just “part of the experience” of growing up in college. 

Ultimately, I know what some people reading this are thinking: “My hazing experience wasn’t that bad. These rituals are history, used for bonding.” This very well may be true for some people, but people have suffered enough to make this subject worthy of note. 

When you think about whether or not anti-hazing laws need to exist, think about that young woman in the hospital after being beat on for eight days. Or better yet, think about Matthew Carrington, seizing out in a sewage covered basement after hours of torture, dying before he even reached the hospital. 

I hope for a day when no young person has to throw their life away for something as foolish as this. 

Enough is enough. 


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3 Comments

  1. Tia Will

    I want to thank Liam Benedict for this article written in the spirit of preventing these tragedies which we reliably hear about every year and which are entirely preventable.

  2. Alan Miller

    They admitted their guilt in court, expressed their remorse, and were only sentenced to 6-12 months in prison.

    Young minds do not fully mature with adult decision-making skills  until age 25, so anything they do before then should be forgiven.  This sentence is far too harsh for a murder.  #sarcasm#

  3. Alan Miller

    But seriously, folks . . .

    Collin Wiant died from the rapid inhalation of whippets while attempting to join Sigma Pi.

    OK, that’s really weird, that was the fraternity I was in at UC Davis.  The one that self-destructed from cocaine inhalation (for the record, I never did cocaine).  This was probably the worst chapter of my college experience.  this frat was a hedonistic cesspool of drugs and deranged behavior.  I believe one person died and one was permanently paralyzed while I was there, and there were some other major near-death accidents, and deaths in other frats in joint activities.

    I checked the Sigmi Pi website, and guess what folks?  They have a zero-tolerance policy for hazing.  Yeah, whatever.

    But the real issue was alcohol.  Mass consumption of alcohol, and all sorts of deranged behaviors and activities related to that, many of which were really destructive and cruel and stupid, and led to my leaving after a year — and I wasn’t the only one.  As an example, I remember going out to the Causeway to do “the rocks”.  This was a tradition of spelling out the name of the Frat (different each night) on the west levee of the Causeway, so you could see it on eastbound I-80.  They were passing around a bottle of hard liquor as we drove out there in the back of a pickup truck, and I doubt the drivers were sober.  I had ended up the hospital a year earlier from damaging my stomach with hard liquor, so I’d quit the hard stuff – but you can’t say that to ‘the brothers’— so I inverted it and held it up with my lips closed, pretending to take a huge swig with liquor dripping off my chin while everyone cheered on.

    The worst story I heard was some of our guys were out with some Sigma Nu’s in the country after a toga party, and they were traveling on a country road and a pledge was on the back of a motorcycle and his toga got caught in the gears and pulled him backward off the bike and another guy, following, ran over him with his car, though he was already dead.  Alcohol may have been involved.

    Many of us left when we found out the house on A Street that was promised as our new location wasn’t real – that all the money they were trying to get out of people for the house was actually going up the officers noses.  The frat self destructed in a few years after it was established.  I looked it up on that national site:

    University of California-Davis, Epsilon-Upsilon Chapter, Inactive
    11/18/1982 to 1986

    That’s really terrifying, because I was there on 11/18/1982 when the chapter was established.  Our hazing experience that day wasn’t much.  We crawled around in a circle in a dark room covered with rocks on our knees.  And the older national chapter folks told a story about a little sister they named “Skippy” because she was about to engage in sex with one of the brothers and got a bottle of lube mixed up with a jar of peanut butter.  They probably still tell that story.  I was thus considered a ‘founding father’ — of something I came to despise.  That 1986 date is very generous, probably the day the paperwork was turned in when someone at Vincennes realized the chapter had imploded years earlier.  It was mostly gone by 1984, maybe limped into 1985 like a dying elk, on cocaine.

    My point is the only problem isn’t just hazing.  It’s alcohol abuse (a cocaine, and mushrooms . . . ) combined with group stupidity, cruelty, and a dose of idiocy.  This article is great and I’m glad it was written BUT let me give you a 40-year perspective.  Hazing was condemned by the national chapters and the University in the 1980’s, and articles were written about the practices back then, and pledges were made about “no more hazing”.  And it just continues on as it always has. And in 2060, another student will write an article about how the practice of hazing has to be abolished.

    The solution is to shut down the entire greek system.  The Greek system a plague, breathing hell into every corner of the rotting Earth.

    Thank you, thank you, very much.

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