The last week of September is National Hazing Prevention Week. Practically every year, someone dies due to hazing. In recent years laws have been changed so that students (and their families) pay the price for these hazing crimes either by criminal penalties or financially.
When the Florida A&M drum major was killed in a hazing event, several students went to jail with the longest sentence, approximately six years. In other recent cases, the penalty amounted to the value of their parents’ homeowner’s insurance policy.
Even in cases where there is no jail time or financial penalty, students might be arrested and find their mug shots plastered across the internet, along with news stories sharing their names with the world.
Imagine these students applying for jobs and having to explain their role in hazing after the background check flags the arrest. Most victims and perpetrators of hazing believe that nothing is going to happen to them, until it does.
Since 2007, campuses have observed hazing prevention week to educate students about the dangers of hazing. Student life professionals work with student leaders to schedule a range of programs, and generally one is a speaker to provide an educational session.
The University of Louisiana at Lafayette was scheduled to host a colleague of mine who is affiliated with the same speaker’s bureau as their speaker.
Unfortunately, he became ill and had to cancel his engagement. The agency contacted me since I live two hours away and asked if I could fill in. I made changes to my schedule and began preparing to drive over but shortly thereafter the campus canceled the event all together.
I’m a no nonsense presenter when it comes to hazing. Having served as an expert witness for dozens of hazing cases, I’ve seen pictures of wounds inches deep, and dead bodies on morgue tables.
In fact, a hazing-related death at UL Lafayette in 2016 led to a lawsuit in which the attorneys reached out for an expert witness. Any guess as to who they contacted? As an expert witness, participant in three hazing documentaries, leading the North American Interfraternity Conference hazing task force, and experience as a Greek life advisor, I have decades of experience and insight that would be valuable.
Even though I was not selected to fill in, I’m going to share these tips for free, primarily because there is clearly a culture of hazing at UL Lafayette. Just last fall my fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha, was suspended on the campus for three years. Pi Kappa Alpha was also suspended in 2022 for three years. SAE was suspended for four years in 2018. Lambda Chi Alpha, Tri Delta and Sigma Chi were investigated and faced interim suspensions in 2018. Weeks after the high-profile death of Max Gruver at LSU, UL Lafayette suspended four additional fraternities.
Something needs to change, but what? First, we need to recruit the right people. Fraternities and sororities are great organizations, but because of poor decisions by people who joined looking for Animal House, they are easy targets for litigation.
We need to select women and men who are committed to the values of the groups, not people looking to gain status or join a drinking club. Chapters should annually ask these questions: Who are we attracting? Are we satisfied with the quality of student joining? Do people join for the stated aims of the organization? If their reasons are incongruent with our aims, should we change our aims?
Second, we need continuous, year-round education on hazing, and speakers aren’t the only way to do it. Last year filmmaker Byron Hurt released his new film, “Hazing.” It is one of the most effective films ever done and addresses hazing from both the IFC/Panhellenic perspective, as well as the culturally-based perspective (Hurt in fact is a member of Omega Psi Phi). Sponsoring a campus movie night, and later having groups of people discuss the film would be a powerful exercise.
Finally, we need more people willing to take a stand. Psychologists study a phenomenon known as bystander apathy, where we expect people who see something happening to intervene, but they don’t. So many serious hazing injuries and deaths happen because, in the name of brotherhood or sisterhood, no one steps forward to intervene. Greeks love to say we build leaders but on this very basic level we fail repeatedly. But in recent years, non-Greek students and parents have stepped up to push for reform, even advocating permanent dissolution of chapters.
If we say we’re self-governing, we need to prove it.
UL Lafayette hasn’t had a good track record recently with hazing. Despite the 2016 hazing-related death, just about every year hazing occurs.
It’s time for tough, honest conversations, and bold actions. It’s time for our rhetoric to match our reality.