A Few Thoughts On Hazing

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As sad as it is, it seems every year or so, there is a college student who dies from alcohol poisoning. The loss of any life is sad, and we’re all still reeling from the even younger loss of life in CT last week. While it’s not nearly as violent and is sometimes voluntary, these alcohol overdoses hold their own kind of sadness. A lot of times, it’s just fun gone wrong.

Unfortunately, there was an alcohol poisoning recently at Northern Illinois University. None of us were there, so none of us can have an absolutely accurate idea of what went down. From the articles I read, though, this incident took place at a fraternity house. The young man who died was a freshman at NIU and was a pledge of the fraternity. From the report I read, the pledges were questioned in various rooms of the house and had to drink vodka if they missed answers. Again, solely from the report I read, this led to the pledge overdosing on alcohol and ultimately dying.

Now, I was active when I was an undergrad at Missouri State University in the Kappa Sigma chapter there. I consider joining Kappa Sig one of the best decisions of my life. While I learned the history of the international fraternity, I was also meeting active members and getting to know my pledge brothers. This is while I was a pledge and hadn’t yet been initiated. As pledges, it was our job to know the history, traditions, values, songs, founders and local history of Kappa Sigma. I love history, so I never considered being quizzed or tested, whether orally or in traditional test form as anything other than helpful.

I was never forced to drink alcohol. I was never pressured, guilt tripped or shamed into drinking alcohol. I never had to drink alcohol for any reason. Period. By the way, I was 22 when I was initiated and, in the late 90s, the view of fraternities as “Animal House” had started to shift. Gone were keg parties. Gone was anyone being forced to drink. Gone was any meaningless or random punishment, especially punishment by intoxication.

This young man’s death is being called a hazing death. And, apparently, that’s got some teeth behind it since five active brothers of this fraternity are being charged with felony hazing and another 17 with misdemeanor hazing.

After I read this article, I wrote to one of my best friends, Doug. Doug and I were Kappa Sigma pledges together and were active in the fraternity throughout our years at Missouri State. He was my best man and is still one of my best friends.

When I wrote him, we both had a similar viewpoint: it’s a shame that hazing is most often associated with fraternities. There are so many factions of life that do some type of “initiation” process to obtain membership.

When I was in high school, to be part of the football team, it meant you had to practice. Duh! It’s not like a player just to dress out on Friday night. And during practice, we were tested physically and mentally. There was a lot of yelling and, occasionally, vomiting. As a freshman, we had to “pay our dues” to the football program by being scout defense while the offense was practicing. This meant I was being pummilled by guys three years older (and a decent bit bigger) than me. I can very vividly recall a play where I got doubleteamed, knocked on my butt and the offensive tackle and tight end went back to the huddle smiling and high fiving. Why? They’d just humiliated a freshman.

But, is that hazing? Bullying? Or just a rough and tumble contact sport?

Cultures throughout the world have initiations into manhood. Are these hazing? Inappropriate? Humiliating? I don’t know the answer.

As Doug and I talked, we came to the conclusion tht there is always going to be something in the human make up which likes to have power over another. Taken to an extreme, this can lead to hazing. And hazing can lead to death. We’ve got enough death in this world without individuals and groups putting people in danger for the sake of fun.

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