The History of Hazing
Hazing isn’t a trend started by bored fraternity men but a tradition deeply rooted in history.
You look into a dark room lit by candles and full of men in long, black-hooded cloaks. You notice there are five men kneeling on the floor, half-naked. The cloaked man who looks to be the leader looks at one of the kneeling men and tells him to assume the position. The pledge does as he is told, and the leader grabs a wooden paddle and proceeds to spank the pledge.
This may be the setting of an initiation scene in the movie National Lampoon’s Animal House but it also could be what is going on in fraternity basements across the country. Hazing has become a large issue surrounding Greek life in recent year. After the death of Tim Piazza at Penn State University, Greek chapters have been under scrutiny about activities related to hazing.
While there are many advocates for diminishing hazing all together, it won’t be that easy, as hazing is a tradition that has been around for centuries.
The first form of hazing dates back to 387 B.C. with the founding of Plato’s Academy. While it wasn’t exactly called hazing, the idea was the same. Plato referred to such activities as pennalism, a system of mild oppression and torment practiced upon first-year students.
A Medium article by Gavin Klinger said Plato thought the idea of pennalism was childish and could end up hurting the people involved.
Boy, was Plato ahead of his time.
The practice of pennalism was put into play for older students to prove their power and authority to the new students. It was a “wright of passage” to say the least, and as time went on, the practice of pennalism evolved into hazing.
In 1684, the first student in history expelled for hazing occurred at Harvard University. This student was said to be hitting students and making them perform acts of servitude. While this doesn’t seem to be something to be expelled over, this was fairly dramatic back in the day.
Hazing didn’t start to become intense and deadly until around the Civil War. After the war, the men returning to school brought the military-grade hazing to the college campuses, thus creating the culture that we have today. In 1912, hazing deaths became prevalent, so prevalent that it caught the eyes of London journalists who saw it as a big issue. The concern overseas brought more concern into the schools, forcing them to crack down on the organizations.
And the rest is history.
Hazing isn’t a modern fad that bored fraternity and sorority members do to pledges, but a tradition that is deeply rooted in our American culture. Ryan Dornbusch, a junior Sigma Nu member, feels that because hazing is so ingrained in this tradition, it will be really hard to get rid of in the next decade.
“I think one reason that hazing is still around today is because people say ‘oh like my dad was hazed and his dad was hazed’ and that is just part of the process,” Dornbusch said. “So I think it would be one thing to say in the is day and age to say it’s not acceptable to do that.”
However, hazing doesn’t occur in every organization. While it is a hot topic right now, organizations are starting to move away from continuing traditions similar to hazing. Many campuses have strict rules against hazing and most Greek organization have it in their rules and foundation.
Kaylee Land, junior Chi Omega member, knew hazing occurred in sororities as well as fraternities and kept that in mind while going through recruitment. Hazing conflicted with her moral values and wanted to stay true to those when looking for a chapter to call home.
“I knew I wanted to join a sorority that wasn’t going to have those values and morals and I am very grateful I have not experienced it,” Land said. “If I would have, I don’t think I would still be a member of a sorority.
While it would be hard to get rid of hazing all together, it doesn’t mean people shouldn’t try to put it to rest. There are prevention programs sororities and fraternities have to steer members away from such activities. Dornbusch said he feels getting rid of hazing isn’t something that can happen overnight, but with a few strong members, hazing can be stopped, one campus at a time.
“If one class didn’t haze then why would the next class haze,” Dornbusch said. “If you stopped now, it seems like you could break the cycle pretty easily.”