By Ted Eliott
Editors Note: All the anecdotes in this story are true, but the names of the brothers have been removed to protect their identities. This story is written by a fraternity brother under a pen name.
Mold and mildew blended with the smell of old eggs, rotting vegetables and anything else the brothers managed to get their hands on. The attic had been ransacked multiple times that week. The clothes and sleeping bags the pledges had brought the first night were now strewn across the room, saturated in a layer of dirt and bodily fluids.
Four sleepless nights in the attic were taking their toll, as the pledges drifted in and out of consciousness. Up to this point, they had endured ice baths, 5:00 a.m. “fun” runs, a myriad of verbal assaults and whiskey-soaked brawls.
For participating fraternities here at UF and other universities, the Hell Week culminates in the initiation of the pledge class. Eight weeks of dress code enforcement, tests and non-stop scrutiny drag to a close with the transformation from pledge to brother. Blindfolded, the pledges are led in groups and the ritual begins.
To the average person unassociated with Greek life, fraternity men exude an aura of cocky arrogance whose only priority is attending the biggest party and bringing home the hottest “slammie.” The word “fraternity” evokes images of boat shoes, excessive alcohol consumption, the word “bro” and hazing. Across the board, fraternities tout their stance against hazing, promoting a zero tolerance policy. Yet, below the surface, a different story is taking place. What fraternity men tell their mothers is not going to be the same shenanigans they’d gush about with fellow “bros.”
State and university policy prohibits hazing, which Florida considers a third degree felony or a first degree misdemeanor depending on whether serious injury or death occurs. UF defines hazing as “any action that intentionally endangers the mental or physical health of a student for any purpose, including initiation into any group or organization.” However, tradition often triumphs over law.
As one Spring ‘09 brother put it, “Looking back, [hazing] was the one of the best experiences of my life.”
Perhaps most surprising is that most new members want to be hazed.
Even during a new member’s pledgeship, the positives of hazing are more often cited than the negatives. When Hell Week was cut two days early for one Fall ‘10 pledge class, the group refused to go home. Up to this point, every other pledge class belonging to this fraternity had gone through a full Hell Week. To them, it was custom. It represented the final challenge before entering the ritual and becoming initiated. A haze-free initiation just didn’t carry the same significance.
In fraternity life, hazing exists in a legal and moral gray area. What constitutes hazing is still open to debate in most brothers’ eyes.
One Fall ‘11 brother pointed out, “If a coach can make you run laps, why can’t we?”
Another pledge chimed in, “Being hazed is my choice. If I am willing, what’s the problem?”
As one brother said, when hazing does happen, it is rationalized as “character building – a way to bring pledges out of their shells,” implying that it is easier to get to know someone after hazing or being hazed with them. As generation after generation experience hazing, it almost becomes normalized. The cycle becomes a rite of passage and the justification is just that – a matter of tradition.
In late January, allegations against the UF chapter of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity thrust hazing into the national spotlight once again. According to the UF Police Department, five potential members sustained serious injuries after being “repeatedly paddled and struck in the chest by members of the fraternity in a hazing ritual.”
An e-mail sent by the Office of Sorority and Fraternity Affairs to members of the Greek community said that the UFPD had completed its investigation of Alpha Phi Alpha and that State Attorney Bill Cervone “will now review the allegations and evidence to decide if he will pursue charges against these individuals.”
Less than two months later, the UF chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi was the second fraternity embroiled in a recent hazing incident.
The UFPD crime log cites the incidents under investigation took place between April 23, 2010 and Jan. 31, 2011. During this nine-month period, pledges allegedly endured repeated whippings across their backsides that resulted in extensive bruising. Sworn allegations name 13 brothers involved in the beatings – striking pledges anywhere from 30 to 150 times on numerous occasions throughout this period.
All of this falls on the heels of the Florida A&M hazing incident that resulted in the death of Robert Champion Jr., a 26-year-old drum major who was found unconscious after being thrashed by his fellow band members in mid-November.
Janine Sikes, UF’s Director of Public Affairs, said the university’s Anti-Hazing Task Force is planning on implementing several new methods to further combat hazing, one of which is an online record of disciplinary sanctions against campus organizations.
In theory, these published online records will make fraternities’ histories transparent. Perhaps it will serve as an incentive to fraternities to not haze, since any incidents would now be easily accessible to potential members and parents.
“Hazing exists in many organizations. To effectively combat it, we need to address it as a university-wide problem,” Sikes said. “It is ingrained into these organizations, but it is not acceptable at the University of Florida.”
Chapters found in violation of hazing policies are subject to sanctions from the university as well as from the national level of the fraternity. In more serious cases, the university may temporarily suspend or revoke the chapter. Alternatively, the national level of the fraternity can either terminate or re-establish the chapter through an exhaustive membership review.
Either way, most fraternities are likely to be re-established in a matter of years. But will a fresh start successfully eradicate hazing?
Regardless of programs and legal measures against hazing and fraternities’ own sugar-coated mission statements, brothers continue to use fear to instill their values. After all, hazing is more deeply rooted in tradition than it is in the actual members.
Illustration by Emma Roulette.