What is Frat Hazing?
Pledging a fraternity is a process that takes place over multiple stages that can take as long as a few weeks to a year. The purpose of the frat pledging process is for those who want to join the fraternity, also called pledges, to get to know the current members, and vice versa. During this process the pledges will bond with other members, learn more about the fraternity, such as the history of the fraternity itself and the Greek system as a whole.
The pledging process is done so a pledge can prove their brotherhood to a Greek chapter by showing that they will uphold the ideals of the fraternity and make their brothers proud.
Various exercises are completed as a part of the pledging process, such as working on various sizes of projects or being in charge of tasks around the pledge house, such as chores or cleaning up after parties.
Unfortunately, there can be a dark side to pledging – frat hazing. Frat hazing is the practice of rituals and other activities that involve the harassment, abuse and/or humiliation of a pledge. It is considered to be a way of initiating someone into the fraternity, with a goal of testing one’s strength and seeing which limits they are willing to go to as a pledge looking to be a brother in the fraternity.
Often prohibited by law, but still executed, hazing often involves physical and emotional abuse, and may also include nudity or sexually oriented offenses meant to embarrass and break down the pledge. Typically, there are three sections of hazing: subtle, harassment, and violent.
Subtle hazing is usually when the current frat members require a pledge to do tasks that emphasize the imbalance of status or power between the pledges and the current members. Subtle hazing may include rituals such as:
- Assigning demerits for outlandish reason
- Forcing a pledge to be silent for a period of time with threats of violation if they break the deal
- Deprivation of privileges that other members have access to
- Requiring a pledge to perform duties that other members do not have to do
- Forcing the pledge into social isolation
- Drills/tests on meaningless or nonsense information
- Name calling
- Requiring pledges to refer to current members as “Sir” or “Mr.” as a way of demeaning the pledge
- Expecting the pledge to maintain possession of certain, often meaningless items
Harassment hazing is when the current members of the fraternity make pledges do tasks that will cause them emotional or physical anguish and discomfort. The purpose of these tasks is to confuse, frustrate and cause stress to the pledges.
Harassment hazing may include rituals such as:
- Verbal abuse
- Threats, or implied threats, toward the safety of the pledge
- Requesting that pledges wear attire that is humiliating
- Forcing the pledges to do stunts or skits meant to degrade and humiliate them
- Asking new members to perform demeaning, personal services for members with higher rank, such as giving rides, cleaning, cooking, etc.
- Preventing the pledge from sleeping, taking showers, etc.
- Forcing the pledge to perform sexual simulations meant to embarrass them
- Forcing the pledge to harass others, whether it is pledges or those outside of the fraternity
Violent hazing is the type of frat hazing that can often result in serious injury, and sometimes death, of the pledge, and is usually the kind that is exposed in the media because of the level of violence that ensues. These acts have the potential to cause physical, emotional and psychological harm.
Violent hazing may include rituals such as:
- Forcing a pledge to consume alcohol or drugs, or vile substances or concoctions
- Beating, padding, burning, branding, and other forms of violent assault
- Requesting that a pledge mistreat or abuse an animal
- Forcing a pledge to be nude in public
- Water intoxication – consuming large amounts of water until physically ill (this ritual has been known to cause death by internal drowning of the organs)
- Coercing the pledge into illegal activity
- Abductions or kidnappings of the pledge
- Exposing the pledge to cold weather or extreme heat without proper protection from the elements
Even though every national fraternity and university strictly prohibits frat hazing, it still occurs with a rationale of a pledge’s proof of loyalty to the fraternity and his brothers. While it usually is not the intended outcome, college hazing can often result in dangerous and sometimes fatal activities. On record are some of the most gruesome and dangerous hazing rituals in history.
Paddling pledges is a very old tradition in Greek organizations and college hazing. It began historically as a swift paddle to the pledge’s backside, but has resulted in incidents that have involved blood clots, kidney damage, bloody urine, and sometimes death or other symptoms that can go unnoticed and result in critical conditions.
Sodomy with Foreign Objects
In 2002, players on the Seven Methodist College football team were charged with college hazing when they restrained a freshman player and physically assaulted him. They stripped the victim to his underwear and sodomized him with a Sharpie marker.
Forcing Dangerous Decisions
In many cases of frat hazing, pledges are put in compromising positions where they must choose between two humiliating or dangerous decisions. In one case, a female pledge had to choose between taking cocaine and using a sex toy in front of the other pledges.
Threats of Injury by Objects
Some pledges that take part in college hazing are forced to take part in games or activities and told that if they lose they will be hurt or violated with dangerous objects such as a knife, hammer or sex toy.
Water Overdose/Binge Drinking
There have been various cases of pledges dying due to an overdose on water. Pledges are forced to drink multiple pitchers of water to the point that they vomit. Some pledges have drunk such high amounts of water that it causes swelling of the brain and water intoxication.
Binge drinking is also a common practice on college campuses, and during frat hazing it is usually forced, which has resulted in numerous deaths from alcohol poisoning.
At Hartwick College, pledges of Alpha Chi Ro were forced to carry rocks covered in feces for a required distance and do exercises over urine soaked garbage.
This is a common ritual in frat hazing that requires the pledges to mimic the walking of elephants by lining up and walking as they hold the anuses and genital of the ones in front of and behind them in line.
Consumption of Foreign Food
Some pledges have reported that they were forced to eat pet food or drink or eat mixtures of random foods, chemicals, or other items as part of their hazing. Some of these incidents resulted in the pledge becoming extremely sick or even being hospitalized.
Some frat brothers have been reported to have poured boiling liquids on pledges. In one case at Tulane University, the men boiled water with pepper spray and crab boil seasonings, causing second- and third- degree burns to the pledge’s back, chest, buttocks and genitals.
While college hazing may be considered a rite of passage by some, it is in fact an illegal activity. In legal terms, hazing is “the abuse a student must endure to gain admittance into an organization.” The term does not just apply to physical harm, but mental harm as well.
Many colleges and universities have strict policies against hazing, highlighted in statements that can be found on almost every single university website. Most of these policies come with penalties for hazing by not only the university, but state law as well. The punishment for the crime depends on the physical and mental abuse that the victim was subdued to, and what kind of injuries they sustained. If the student is not physically hurt, the hazing will be considered as a misdemeanor charge. If the student was physically injured, the person or group charged with the hazing could face felony charges. The sentencing depends mostly on the extent of the injuries that the victim faced.
A student injured as a result of hazing as a part of frat pledging can file a tort claim, which is a civil lawsuit that allows the injured party to collect monetary damages from those who caused him or her pain and suffering. Even the school, faculty, coaches, and other individuals connected with the hazing could face being charged as responsible parties to the hazing if they are found to have allowed the hazing to occur, or if they showed failure in taking the correct steps to stopping or preventing the hazing.