Disclaimer: The terms bullying and hazing are used interchangeably
Across the country, many fraternity men will say that hazing and bullying are traditions and normal protocols that come with wanting to be a brother.
Men can be asked to complete absurd and unsafe tasks in order to be initiated into the fraternity. According to the New York Times, a freshman at Virginia State University died because of a hazing-related incident. According to Joe, (a fraternity member who requested his real name not be mentioned and will be referred to by this pseudonym) males in fraternities can be asked to do dangerous activities such as chug excess amounts of water or alcohol—and too much of either can kill you. However, Joe believes that UW-Madison is a better and safer environment in terms of hazing compared to other schools.
“I think we’re really lucky that doesn’t happen here as much,” Joe said. “I’d like to think that that’s because our general population of students is a little bit more well-educated than your average college student. But, we’re not above anything else and bad things can still happen to good people.”
UW-Madison Greek Life Coordinator TJ Sargent agrees.
“I think at our institution, I wouldn’t be so naïve to say that it doesn’t happen but I don’t think that it is as common or as regular of an occurrence as might be popularly thought of,” Sargent said. “I think that it probably happens within more of an individual basis as opposed to organizationally or community wide.”
Sargent’s statement applies to Joe’s personal experiences with bullying and fraternities as a freshman on campus.
“Just speaking from my personal experience when I was a freshmen, kind of young blood on campus not really sure what was going on yet, I was threatened a few different times just like by seniors in other fraternities and actually had to walk with groups of my friends for a several month period,” Joe said. “This happened my sophomore year as well and I think it just comes from when you become a notable figure in one fraternity. Sometimes, there is some animosity from other fraternities.”
Measures are taken within the Greek community to improve relations between the Madison Police Department and the fraternity scene. One-on-one meetings between fraternity leaders and the police department are coordinated and police speak at several seminars. Additionally, the UW-Madison Police Department has a Langdon Street officer in order to try and tame the dangers of these activities.
“Not only do we work closely with the city of Madison Police Department but we also work closely with the school itself,” UW-Madison Police Officer Tricia Meinholz said. “We make inroads and contacts with the fraternity members and the leaders or presidents of the fraternities. I do know that previous Langdon Street officers meet with those fraternity members on a regular basis throughout the year and do a lot of education about hazing, bullying and safety in general.”
While there are protocols in place to try to tame the hazing, it still exists. According to Joe, the school has an absolute no hazing policy and it is the number one reason that individual chapters and entire fraternity and sorority systems will be completely shut down by the university.
“Bullying or hazing is 100 percent against everything the school stands for and it’s also one of the biggest risk factors when it comes to dealing with a group of people this large,” Joe said.
According to Sargent, hazing is a constant topic of discussion and there are anti-hazing laws that exist at the university, council and state level. As a result, hazing education is provided to all new members, new member educators and presidents in the form of presentations at least once a semester. Additionally, there is an anti-hazing informational release form that provides the laws for the members.
“If there are allegations of hazing that do come up that are brought through our judicial process, we do fully investigate those from the university side of things,” Sargent said. “Most of our organizations also have national headquarters that will provide some sort of investigation assistance within that and so it’s a partnership between national organizations and the university as a whole to do any investigation related to those items.”
Ultimately, the overall idea behind hazing is that it’s a tradition and it is a way for brothers to bond and become closer. According to Educational Psychology Professor Amy Bellmore, bullying can be interpreted within the fraternity environment differently than it would be in another setting.
“My hunch is that there’s some downside obviously of the hazing process,” Bellmore said. “I wouldn’t equate it to the downsides of the bullying process just because of the meaning of the actions.”
However, Sargent doesn’t agree and believes that bullying in the fraternity scene is very comparable to any other environment.
“I think that there’s probably a lot of similarities between the two more than there are differences,” Sargent said. “ I think in many cases, it’s a position of power and privilege piece within that and so how do I create my power within that place I think one of the things that we see that’s especially true in the collegiate scene.”
Additionally, Sargent does not believe that hazing is the best way for fraternity members to bond.
“I think a lot of the stuff that you’ll find out there as far as research and those types of things, looking at fraternity hazing especially, deals a little bit with tradition of ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it’ which is an argument that often isn’t valid,” Sargent said. “The other argument slash excuse that a lot of folks who are involved in these types of activities will use is that it builds comradery and those types of things. Within that, there have been a number of documents that have proven that there are many other ways to do that and that there isn’t necessarily any benefit to relationship between or within an individual group.”
While there are negative aspects to hazing, fraternity brothers commonly believe the process can be a positive experience and can make them closer and unified.
“The general idea is that it’s not necessarily you’re going to break somebody down to build them up, but it’s more of a common experience and going through something with your pledge brothers that then you are always able to look back on and say ‘everyone in my fraternity did this,’” Joe said. “’All the older guys did this. All of me and my pledge brothers made it through this together.’”
While fraternity brothers may have to go through activities that were not the most enjoyable, most boys believe that they had fun at the end of the day and appreciate their experiences. Ultimately, bullying within the fraternity scene can be argued as both detrimental or traditional and positive.