Sep 20, 2010

My Journey From Being Hazed, To Being An Enthusiastic Hazer, To Stopping Hazing

Hazing Prevention Phi Delt General Council
My Journey From Being Hazed, To Being An Enthusiastic Hazer, To Stopping Hazing

This week serves as National Hazing Prevention Week and, as General Council President, I was asked to write about why hazing has no place in Phi Delta Theta.  While it would be easy for me to simply repeat the Greek world’s mantra outlining the evils of hazing in order to discredit hazing practices, I wanted to use this opportunity to tell my own story with hazing and why I feel so strongly about the need to bring an end to these practices.  You see, as a Phikeia I was hazed.  As a new initiate I was an active and enthusiastic hazer.  As a chapter officer I stopped hazing in our chapter.  This is a bit of my personal story.

Being hazed:

I pledged Phi Delta Theta at the University of Utah in the fall of 1980.  This was just a few years after the release of Animal House and I was the poster child for the target market for Greek life at the time – I was the consummate joiner.  I was bound and determined to get involved on campus and, even though I didn’t come from a Greek background, I saw fraternity life as the way to immediately become involved on this large public university campus. Going through Rush, I was split between three fraternities at the end of a very formal Rush Week period and ultimately decided to pledge Phi Delta Theta because I liked the laid back, real and friendly nature of the guys I met.  These guys made me feel welcome and wanted.

Soon after our official pledge ceremony we held our first pledge meeting and were given the requirements to complete in order to be initiated.  Our requirements included the usual items; read and learn the Phikeia manual, meet and learn something about all of the brothers, organize a community service event, organize a social with a sorority pledge class, etc.  The chapter officers also told us that the “best pledge,” as identified by the chapter brothers, would be recognized at initiation with the low bond number of the pledge class.  Being competitive, I was determined to earn that low bond number.

Now, I expected some “fun and games” throughout my pledge period because I had seen them in the movies and I figured they were simply a rite of passage that I could tolerate and survive.  My ultimate goal, however, was to earn the low bond number and I worked diligently to be that top pledge.  I played the role to the best of my abilities.  I completed my assignments early, I mastered facts about the Fraternity, I met with all of the active brothers, I maintained a positive attitude.  And I adopted the attitude of “grin and bear it” through the hazing.  Hazing in my chapter wasn’t extremely physical, it was primarily mental with some minor physical activities included. I wasn’t paddled, forced to do calisthenics or consume massive amounts of alcohol, or dropped off in the dessert somewhere blindfolded and told to walk back. For me it was more subtle;  line ups, late night “work” sessions, servitude, yelling, demeaning remarks, surprise requirements, kangaroo courts, etc.  And I excelled at all of it. I could recite the Greek alphabet backwards and forwards before the match burned my finger.  I could stand stone-faced, with a spotlight in my face at 2:00 a.m., while being yelled and cursed at by the wimpiest guy in the chapter, who also happened to be fairly inebriated.  I could say “yes, sir” faster than almost anyone – and mean it.  I could memorize stupid poems used to address the brothers as well as to answer the phone.  I knew that I could put up with anything because I wanted to be initiated and I wanted that low bond number.

When it came time for “Initiation” or I-Week, I put up with a lot.  I wore the dumb clothes, ate the horrible food, carried items around campus, gave up sleep, lived in squalor, and continued to endure mind games.  Mental hazing included those exercises where we were lead to believe we wouldn’t be initiated, or that our entire pledge class was a failure.  After five days of sleep deprivation, spotlights, yelling, poor food, mind games, physical stress and threats, I have to admit I began to wonder if it was all worth it.  Then, just as quickly as it started, it was over and I was initiated.  However, I am sad to say, I don’t remember much of my own initiation – I was simply too tired and mentally frayed to pay attention.  When initiation starts at 1:00 a.m. and ends at 4:00 a.m., and occurs after five days of hell, there is little to remember or cherish. I was simply in survival mode. But, in the end, I had survived and achieved my goal – I had been named the best pledge and was rewarded with the low bond number in my pledge class.  It felt great.  The pledge program had made me a great pledge. Unfortunately I had also developed some real enmity toward several of the brothers and younger alumni who were the most aggressive hazers in the chapter.  I put on a smile in their presence – but I never developed respect for them – and to this day I have no desire to talk with them at alumni events.  I always thought it odd that I had learned a collection of miscellaneous facts and figures about the Fraternity – but I had not learned very much about what makes for a strong chapter.  However, I rationalized that perhaps learning about running the chapter wasn’t too important.  And once I was initiated, I couldn’t wait to have my turn to haze the next pledge class.  Now, it was my turn.

And now it was my turn to be a hazer:

Not long after being initiated we took our Spring pledge class.  As part of my own pledge program I had read the Fraternity’s policy prohibiting hazing (it was printed right in the Phikeia Manual) but I had bought into the “tradition” and “rite of passage” rationales and didn’t think anything bad would happen.  It was during the first pledge class after mine that I became a great hazer.  I could demand respect, play mental games and demean the pledges with the best of them. I wasn’t the worst hazer, but I held my own.  I’m not proud of the fact that I could get in a pledge’s face at 2:00 a.m. and yell at him because he didn’t know how many bricks there were in Old North Dorm.  I believed that if they really wanted to be Phis, they needed to earn it, and that this was just part of the path to membership.  After all, I had come through just fine …. and it was tradition.

By now I was also on the Chapter’s Executive Committee and had started to learn more about the Fraternity’s anti-hazing policies. I met my first Chapter Consultant from General Headquarters and engaged in a heated debate with him about what was, and was not, hazing.  I wanted to focus on the specific aspects that made an activity a hazing activity because it made for an endless debate.  However, I could never quite bring myself to truthfully evaluate whether it was morally and ethically right or wrong.  Quite frankly at the time I thought these policies were just set by a bunch of out-of-touch General Fraternity officers who didn’t really know what was happening at the undergraduate level.

At the same time, my pledge class had taken on several key officer positions and decided to try and really upgrade our chapter and win some Fraternity awards.  However, to do this we knew we needed to do something about our pledge program.  Or perhaps, we could just lie about some of our most cherished “traditions” in our awards packet.

Why I stopped the hazing:

The next fall, my Sophomore year, we took a fairly large pledge class and our pledge program contained the same hazing traditions and rites of passage from previous years.  And I participated as before.  However, this time, something happened that changed my attitude forever.

Our Phikeia class had completed their pledge program and was preparing for Initiation Week.  It was at this point that one of our pledges, Keith, started to become quiet.  He had always been somewhat reserved, but now it was becoming more pronounced.  Our chapter’s Initiation Week lasted five days, with formal initiation on the last evening.  Through the first four days of I-Week, Keith became progressively more withdrawn, more reserved, and more quiet.  Quite frankly, several days of sleep deprivation, stress and mental hazing had dimmed the spark in his eyes – and we started to get worried.

Having finished the “fun” of I-Week, we were preparing the pledge class for their formal initiation, except that we had a problem. When we went to get Keith for the initiation ceremony, we found him in his suit, curled up in the corner of the pledge room, rocking back and forth and humming.  He was non-responsive – he had simply gone beyond his limit for emotional stress and lack of sleep and was now nearly catatonic.   We were able to get Keith to his feet and literally helped him through each step of the entire initiation ceremony with one brother on each arm, whispering in his ears the words he was to repeat.  We were scared for Keith and scared for ourselves.  Toward the end of the ceremony, when Keith realized that he had been initiated, his mental state started to improve since the emotional stress of the past five days had begun to dissipate.  However, as active members, we were extremely concerned for Keith’s safety and for his parent’s reaction.  And to be truthful, we were terrified that the chapter would get into trouble.  We persuaded Keith to stay at the chapter house for an additional two days after initiation so he could sleep and return to a normal state of mind, which he did.  However, it was then and there that I saw the dangers and banality of hazing.  On that day I, and several of my pledge brothers, made the commitment to end hazing in our chapter.  We had come face-to-face with the fact that hazing isn’t funny, it’s not entertaining and it can be very dangerous.

Stopping Hazing Activities:

I discovered a very simple truth in our fight to end hazing.  Most of the brothers in the chapter really didn’t like hazing, they just went along with it because it was tradition.  Except for a small number of hardcore hazers, and they were hardcore, there was very little argument against stopping the hazing.  As officers, we simply said “No More Hazing.”  And for the most part, hazing ended.  It didn’t take discussions at ten chapter meetings, or a chapter task force, or anything else. It simply took leaders standing up and saying “No more.”

Hazing excuses:

Hazing is defined as: “any action taken or situation created, intentionally or unintentionally, whether with or without the consent of the persons subjected to that action which produces mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment, or ridicule.”

Generally, individuals within chapters with hazing cultures, regardless of age or status, have the same common reply when asked about these practices.  I’ve heard the excuses for years and I can tell you from experience that they are simply wrong.

  • “It’s tradition”
  • “No one will get hurt”
  • “It’s funny – what’s the problem?”
  • “They like it; they said it was okay”
  • “It’s okay if they don’t complain”
  • “It helps build team cohesiveness and unity”
  • “I went through it, it’s a rite of passage”

One person can stop hazing:

Some may read this and think “there they go again – one of those old national guys preaching to us again about hazing.”  And you know what?, I would understand that mentality, because I felt the same way at one time.  But I would ask you to consider, for just a minute, the ethics, morals, safety and potential disasters that might occur should a program of hazing go wrong.  I would ask you to consider if you would be so resolute in your opinions, if you or your chapter permanently damaged or even lost a brother.  I would ask you to consider, would it all be worth it for the sake of “tradition?”  I would hope you wouldn’t be so nonchalant in ignoring all of the advice and help available to you to end hazing in your chapter.

If your chapter has a hazing problem I ask you, as a brother, to consider taking just one step.  Please consider being that Phi leader who stands up, says “No more” and stops the hazing. Your chapter will become a better place because of your actions.

The aftermath:

An amazing thing happened once we stopped the hazing and improved our Phikeia education program – our chapter got remarkably better.  We grew in numbers, academics, quality, chapter operations, and loyalty.  Several years after these changes took hold, my chapter went on to win some of the Fraternity’s most prestigious awards.  Some of my chapter’s most loyal and active alumni today come from the pledge classes who were spared the indignities of hazing.  And to this day, Keith remains one of my best friends.  He and his wife have raised a great family and he remains a loyal and active Phi.  And as I write this I realize that, beyond that Initiation Week nearly 30 years ago, he and I have never talked about this.  It’s probably something we would all just rather forget.

Please remember and consider – Hazing Hurts.

Proud to be a Phi!

Brother Mietchen is the General Council President.  Scott is a 1984 graduate of the University of Utah where he earned both his B.S. and MPA. He has served the Fraternity as a chapter consultant, chapter adviser, house corporation president, province president, delegate to the NIC and member of the General Council from 1994-2000 and 2004-Present. Professionally Scott is President and Managing Partner of Fund Raising Counsel, Inc. (FRCI), the oldest fundraising consulting firm in the Intermountain West.  He was recognized as Fund Raiser of the Year in 2006 by the Utah Society of Fund Raisers.  Prior to joining FRCI, he served as Vice President for University Advancement at Utah State University. Scott, his wife Lisa, and their children, Abby (16) and Alex (14) live in Salt Lake City.

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