By Katelyn Billings
At 7:00 p.m. this past Thursday, Union students and faculty filed into Memorial Chapel to attend the “Anti-Hazing Panel and Discussion,” led by expert Hank Nuwer and his colleagues.
Nuwer and his panel members briefly discussed what hazing meant to them and how it was applicable to situations outside of Greek Life, specifically in athletics. They explained that hazing is attractive in many aspects and applications because of the element of having power over someone else.
Whether it involves the pledging process of fraternities and sororities or the initiation of rookie baseball players, Nuwer highlighted the extreme dangers of this influential power.
Nuwer, author of The Hazing Reader and several other books on hazing, recollected his time on a baseball team and his experience in very risky hazing incidents. He spoke of one experience in which a teammate was killed, and others faced prison terms without plea bargains.
In The Hazing Reader, Nuwer uses the term “frat rat” to describe members of Greek organizations who “abuse, degrade and humiliate pledges, then graduate.” According to Nuwer, these members “chew away at the foundations of Greek houses and threaten to bring the system crashing down on the heads of all.”
He explained that while hazing could be considered “fun” or simply joking around and teasing pledges and new members, there is always the potential for serious trouble, criminal charges and even deadly danger.
Nuwer recounted some infamous college hazing scandals from Florida A&M and University of Virginia, in which students died as a result of pledging and initiation activity. In his book, Wrongs of Passage, Nuwer recounts a specific story of the hazing death of Chad Saucier, a pledge of Auburn University’s Phi Delta Theta chapter. Saucier, who was encouraged to drink by brothers of the chapter, died after consuming excessive amounts of alcohol.
According to Nuwer, 44 states in the U.S. currently have federal laws outlawing any practice of hazing.
Rick Foreman, another speaker on the panel, believes that hazing in athletics is more prominent than most people think. While this notion was intriguing, it was a little off-putting for most students, since the audience was mostly comprised of sorority and fraternity members.
Foreman defined hazing as “a situation that creates harm and demonstrates an abuse of power … creating an environment or climate where everyone is not respected or cared for.” Foreman elaborated on this, stating that even calling freshmen or new team members “rookie” can be considered a form of hazing,
because it is labeling the new players as different and separate from the team.
He also indicated that having only new players of a team clean up equipment after practice is a form of hazing, as well as not giving every team member the same type of uniform.
Sabeha Syeda ‘14 commented on the panel’s heavy emphasis on sports-related hazing, arguing that it could have been better suited for the college students who attended the discussion to hear more about Greek life hazing, because that is more prominent on campus.
“The discussion was very informative, but it focused heavily on hazing in sports teams instead of Greek life,” she said. “In light of recent events, this discussion would have been even more successful had it had more stories in relation to Greek life,” Syeda continued.
When given the opportunity to ask questions, students asked the panel if they thought the attention given to hazing would scare away potential pledges in the future. One student asked if the pressure created from the recent negative attention to Union’s Greek system would eliminate Greek life on campus altogether.
The panel stated that although hazing is effective in fostering friendship and bonds in pledge classes, they felt it was completely inappropriate and Greek Life could definitely survive without it. Panel members identified hazing in sororities and fraternities as “an excuse to justify tradition,” and commented that when outsiders challenge those traditions, members defend them steadfastly.
When asked, “What really constitutes hazing, and how will we know what is and is not hazing?” Foreman brought the conversation back to athletics, and used the snowball effect to demonstrate how making pledges and new recruits do a few things here and there easily escalates and gets out of control.
With the information garnered from the panel’s discussion, Syeda believes that students are taking a step towards phasing out the dangerous practices of hazing. “The student turnout was great, and it showed they took hazing seriously and wanted to take the first step in stopping it. The discussion was informative and I’m happy the school is keeping students informed,” remarked Syeda.