From time to time, I hear University of Oregon’s Greek life labeled as “less extreme” than other schools across the country. With only 15% of the student body participating in fraternity and sorority life, this seems plausible. Still, fraternities seem to have an exclusive chokehold on weekend events at UO, where the at times very extreme hazing that occurs when the party dies down is seldom acknowledged by anyone in attendance. Greek life instead remains a popularity pissing contest — and the ones getting peed on? Pledges.
I say that begrudgingly because, while I know bodily fluids are among the top five funniest things to most college students, I also know this topic deserves gravity. So, while I may still have any fraternal attention, I want to ask something about hazing: Why do so few seem to take it seriously?
It is not for lack of ability; Anyone who has ever talked to a fraternity pledge knows just how seriously they take being silent on hazing. Whether they ran naked laps around Autzen or had 40-ounce beers duct taped to their hands, any recounting a fraternity member offers of their experience with hazing will be brief, overshadowed by a look of grim discomfort. Maybe that look conveys how they felt being hazed –– humiliated and ashamed –– or maybe that look is something else entirely. Maybe it’s fear.
There is a strict spoken or unspoken rule in fraternities: “Don’t tell anyone about this.” Call it an oath of silence, or something more akin to a trauma bond; fraternity members are “encouraged” to keep quiet about their hazing. The fear of being called a snitch far too often prevents people from doing the right thing, and many seem to forget that indifference is compliance. But, if you’ve ever pushed a fraternity member to talk about hazing, you know just how quickly their cavalier attitude can change into something more cautious; from switching topics to ending the conversation entirely, their demeanor can become avoidant and details become scarce. It’s almost as if they become unsure of what they can share or not, unsure of how much of the time they’ve spent building brotherhood was actually just time spent being hazed.
To be clear: When you have to fetch things around campus all day and take orders all night, when you’re being barked at and insulted by your brothers, you are being hazed. When you are told to eat gross things or compete in drinking games or races, you are being hazed. When you are told to finish a fifth of alcohol yourself while your brothers cheer and egg you on, you are being hazed.
Hazing in any form makes severe impacts, even if it may seem harmless to the unwitting eye. First-year students may struggle to see this, to understand how hazing perpetuates a toxic cycle of abuse and allows power dynamics to be role-played between college men in an unnerving –– both psychologically and physically –– harmful way. Upperclassmen, who more frequently devise and execute the hazing rituals, have less excuse. Alumni donors, who tacitly approve of these abusive practices, have none.
Present and future Oregon fraternity members, there is something a lot less demoralizing you can do to prove your worth than getting spanked all night by another guy: Speak up about it.
While UO has a hazing report form available online, several fraternity members have told me this resource was never discussed during their recruitment process. UO seems perfectly capable of suspending fraternities; whether for hazing or another abysmal “activity,” chapters like Sigma Alpha Epsilon, Kappa Sigma and Alpha Sigma Phi have recently lost university recognition entirely. Still, disbanded chapters with no national credibility are now seeking to recruit new members.
As the less-than-damning fraternity suspension list at UO grows, it becomes clear that stricter consequences for hazing are needed –– especially for individuals. (Call me crazy, but maybe fraternity members should be more scared to haze people than they are of speaking out about being hazed). Suspensions, expulsions, criminal investigations and charges should all be the normal responses to confirmed hazing cases — especially when alcohol and minors are involved. At the state level, hazing deaths should be treated with felony charges. University boards need to facilitate direct and routine conversations with fraternity members and leadership boards about hazing; the UO needs to make resources and consequences regarding hazing widely known.
As we enter this year’s “rush” week, students should be encouraged to speak up about what they endure on campus and within the dungy walls of fraternity houses. Fraternities cannot have the power to traumatize students into silence. Members, ask yourselves: how much is your silence worth? Is it worth a reputation, fleeting feelings of superiority, friendship paid in much more than dollars? Is it worth your humiliation, your brothers’, your sons’? Is it worth complacency in a culture that kills? Is it worth your regret?
Is it worth a life?
If this is beginning to sound dark, if this is beginning to sound serious, that’s because it is. However harmless the hazing act may seem, however significant your obedience may feel, silence is deadly. Lack of action is deadly. Hazing is deadly.
I miss my friend Sam Martinez. I think about him all the time. Sam was hazed to death by his would-be brothers in the Washington State University Alpha Tau Omega chapter. His friends miss him. His family misses him. He should be here.
There are more than 50 other students who have died after being hazed in the last 20 years. They should be here, too. Their families and friends miss them, too.
To those reading, please re-evaluate how you treat hazing — the ease in which you accept its existence. Please remember that these traditions have life-altering and life-ending consequences. Consider what matters more: a night of drinking or a person’s health, a person’s life. College students, make your own and your friends’ safety a priority when you drink. You should be aware of how the Greek system dangerously weaponizes alcohol against young men away from home for the first time. You should want that to change.