Two years after Baruch College freshman Michael Deng died after a hazing ritual, a grand jury has recommended charges against the entire fraternity in connection with his death — five of those fraternity members face third-degree murder charges. Deng’s family is not the first to file charges against a fraternity after a child’s death this year: Armando Villa’s family is suing Pi Kappa Phi and the Cal State University of Northridge after he died on a dangerous pledging hike. Tucker Hipps’s family is pursuing a $25 million lawsuit after he died walking a narrow bridge railing during pledging Sigma Phi Epsilon at Clemson. No family should have to say goodbye to their college student because he/she was simply trying to fit in at school.
Pledge season is necessary part of joining a fraternity or sorority. It’s the period of time where a new member learns about the values of an organization and decides if it’s truly where they belong. However, when a person’s safety or health (including mental health) is put at risk to see how far they are willing to go for a glorified club, we have a huge problem.
The answer to this is not eliminating Greek life from college campuses. Fraternities aren’t the only organizations that pick on new members – ask any rookie on a sports team.
Part of the issue is that many institutions consider anything that would make a new member feel uncomfortable to be hazing. I remember being told this on my own Bid Day and knowing there were going to be tons of instances in the next six weeks that there were going to be many moments where I felt uncomfortable, none of which I would be reporting to administration. I would feel “uncomfortable” speaking in front of 100 girls about myself, but if I have a presentation in class, a teacher isn’t hazing me. Sleeping in a dorm room with a random roommate freshman year is uncomfortable. Starting a new internship is uncomfortable. Life is uncomfortable. Students pledging with fraternities and sororities know this.
However, the lines get blurred when taking a quiz about the history of your chapter is grouped in the same category as being blindfolded and instructed to carry sand-filled backpacks across a snow-covered field while fraternity members charge at you, as Michael Deng was asked to do.
Instead of going into pledge season thinking any task given to them is a act of belittlement, new members need to be educated on where the line is drawn. What is okay and what is not okay.
Being required to attend events to get to know your brothers/sisters, participating in a ritual, or not having all the privileges of older members? Okay.
Being forced to take the “washing machine test”? Absolutely not. Drinking to the point of black out (or drinking at all when you don’t want to)? Unacceptable. Being blindfolded in the back of the car with no idea where you’re going? No.
The blame is not on the pledges for doing what is asked for them. Organizations need to get rid of mentality that “If we did, they can do it” when it comes to hazing practices. However, these new members need to stand up for themselves.
Once it’s clear that there’s a difference between being uncomfortable and hazing, pledges will know when things have gone too far, and stop them before something tragic happens.
[Lead image via Shutterstock]