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.
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.
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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