The author of this article wishes to remain anonymous.
At Vanderbilt, where 42.4% of undergraduates are members of one of the university’s 32 fraternities or sororities, the Greek community comprises a vast swath of the student body. While the merits and faults of Greek life are frequent topics of campus discussion, the university’s efforts to eradicate hazing, or the forceful intimidation, exhaustion, and ridicule of fraternity new members, has been largely accepted as a step in the right direction, given that all national fraternities with chapters at Vanderbilt and Tennessee state law outlaw the practice.
In a since-retracted Vanderbilt Hustler op-ed, however, an anonymous author opined that anti-hazing efforts are mistaken. Titled “In defense of hazing,” the article makes the case that hazing is indispensable in building “a bond between brothers and gives meaning to fraternity.” As a member of a fraternity at Vanderbilt myself, I believe that the author’s reasoning is sorely mistaken, the result a core misunderstanding of the proper way to facilitate productive, responsible fraternities.
Even if hazing did somehow produce tight-knit bonds in a way that no other process could, the reality is that the types of hazing prohibited by the University and state law are simply inappropriate and unnecessary. The author cites incidents at Pennsylvania State University and Louisiana State University in which new members died as a result of hazing; while the author casts these as isolated incidents to be disregarded, the fact of the matter is that no other club puts the lives of its members on the line to join. If Greek Life is to survive at Vanderbilt, Greek chapters ought to rally around reforms to new member education so that they can continue to exist in a climate haunted by tragedies such as those to which the author refers.
The author later states that “subordination breeds equality and camaraderie,” implying that by being made to feel inferior to initiated members of chapters, new members will somehow feel more welcome. However, such excessive belittling does just the opposite, fostering strife and distrust between new member classes.
Citing a Scientific American article which states that increased stress promotes camaraderie amongst groups, the author claims that hazing activities like compulsory 5:00 AM workouts, sleep deprivation, and push ups are what separate fraternities from “loose friend groups with a secret handshake.” However, there are university-condoned ways of establishing strong connections among new members without resorting to such egregious acts. While sports teams, like the high school volleyball team to which the author refers, necessitate physical conditioning for membership, nothing about a fraternity requires being able to perform push-ups. I recommend to instead build parties or philanthropy projects, for example, and provide new members with opportunities to collaborate in achieving a common goal while ensuring they feel respected and are treated humanely. Shared responsibility, in tandem with education about the history, traditions, structure, management and ritual of the chapter, will ensure that new members successfully acclimate to their chapters without subverting university policy or falling victim any of the well-documented detriments of hazing, from mental anxiety to physical harm.
While Greek Life does have several undeniable faults, it will not likely disappear from Vanderbilt any time soon. There are clear, achievable ways of reforming the new member education process so that fraternities ensure the safety of their new members while still creating cohesive chapters. Whether or not one believes that hazing works, it is a simple fact of modern life that there is no longer room for such despicable, avoidable treatment of fellow students.