The week of September 21 was National Hazing Prevention week in the United States. On Thursday, September 25, the Rensselaer Interfraternity Council held its first ever lecture on hazing prevention in the Darrin Communications Center for new pledges. IFC President Tyler Gumina ’15 and Executive Vice President John Schiel ’16 started off the lecture by formally defining the term “hazing.” It is “emotional and physical abuse for the purpose of integration into a community.” Schiel then stated that, according to a study done in 2008 at the University of Maine, 55 percent of club, team, and fraternity participants are exposed to some form of hazing, including sex acts, drinking, and embarrassment, which is often public.
Later, after the opening discussion, Gumina played a nationally disseminated 15 minute video discussing the dangers and ramifications of hazing. First, the video listed several types of hazing: whipping, forced calisthenics, sleep deprivation, confinement, forced eating and drinking, vandalism, theft, and humiliation. Then, the video discussed several recent deaths that have occurred because of hazing. The three most discussed occurred at Rider University, California Polytechnic State University, and California State University, Chico. Two died because they were forced to drink dangerous amounts of alcohol. A pledge of Sigma Alpha Epsilon at California Polytechnic fell unconscious after a long night of drinking; eight hours later he was still unconscious. Yet the brothers of Sigma Alpha Epsilon failed to call for emergency medical services until he was already dead the next afternoon. The other death was caused by water poisoning, where a pledge was forced to drink many gallons of water before being confinedto a basement flooded with sewage. He later died due to brain swelling.
Because of the deaths and severe injuries that occur every year from hazing, most states have adopted harsher anti-hazing laws in the past decade. These laws have resulted in convictions for many fraternities, even when they haven’t been responsible for deaths or severe injuries. The Sigma Alpha Epsilon incident in particular prompted hazing lawyer Douglas Fierberg to sue Sigma Alpha Epsilon for wrongful death. Sigma Alpha Epsilon settled, paying the Starkey family several million dollars.
After the video, Gumina and Schiel discussed why hazing happens. Hazing was first used in the United States in the late 1860s by Civil War veterans who had formed brotherhoods after the war. The goal was to create brotherly bonds through the use of war simulations and common suffering. Many men were injured and killed as a result. Then, they presented a map showing the distribution of hazing-related deaths. There have been over 180 hazing deaths in the United States since the practice became widespread after the Civil War. The Northeast, of which Rensselaer is part of, has had more than any other region. Later, Schiel revealed that most fraternity “traditions” are less than a decade old. Therefore, he stated that it’s important to be prudent and discerning when a fraternity member uses the word “tradition.”
Lastly, Gumina and Schiel spoke to the assembly of pledges in attendance on what to do if they become aware of the presence of hazing in a fraternity’s pledge initiation activities. They stressed the importance of telling others, including other pledges, fraternity leaders, friends outside of the fraternity, members of the Interfraternity Council, and college administrators. They advised that pledges speak to fraternity leaders when they’re uncomfortable with a pledging activity. Fraternity leaders have been advised to alter activities to suit the pledges’ needs or allow them to sit out if necessary.