By Bailey Brammer | Editor-in-Chief
As National Hazing Prevention Week comes to a close, universities across the country have spent the last few days taking a stand against brutal initiations young students are often subjected to while in campus organizations, particularly Greek life.
Although Baylor University promotes a strict anti-hazing policy, which includes the idea that consent for these actions is not defense, there are still plenty of students in the U.S. who face harsh tests upon entrance to many organizations. These tests are longstanding and enforced traditions.
Examples of these intense trials are shown in Andrew Neel’s 2016 indie film “Goat” and Gerard McMurray’s Netflix drama “Burning Sands.” These movies, both premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in consecutive years, display the physical and emotional abuse groups of young men go through to join fraternities. The main characters in both films endure horrible mistreatment from their future “brothers,” and in both cases, the young men realize that brotherhood may not be exactly what they had in mind.
“Burning Sands,” which premiered in January 2017, offers recent insight on the violence of hazing. This drama follows young black protagonist Zurich (Trevor Jackson) along with four of his fellow pledges as they rush Lambda Lambda Phi during “Hell Week.”
The pledges undergo a week of physical challenges, brutal beatings and humiliating tasks that all lead up to the dreaded “Hell Night.” The current members of the fraternity, known to the pledges simply as Big Brothers, act as if it is their singular mission in life is to abuse their potential new members in any way they can.
One of the worst trials the rushing men experience is when they are forced to stand at the edge of a pool blindfolded. They then walk in a line toward the water, where they are then forced to tread water, still blindfolded, while tennis balls are pelted at them from close range.
Zurich chose to rush Lambda Lambda Phi because his father had also attempted to rush the same fraternity, but ultimately did not make it through Hell Week. At first, Zurich aims to prove to himself and his father that he can succeed in overcoming initiation, but over time, he realizes that withstanding these trials does not sit well with his conscience. He attempts to voice his concerns to the dean of the school (Steve Harris), who was a member of the same fraternity. Instead of being understanding, the dean basically tells Zurich to “suck it up” and push through, despite the fact that the hazing is a danger to the students’ lives.
An underlying message throughout the film is that the struggle will be worth it in the end. Zurich studies Frederick Douglass in his English class and relates his experiences to those of the great abolitionist. While Zurich ultimately sacrifices his conscience for acceptance into Lambda Lambda Phi, he realizes that his true “brothers” are not the current members of the fraternity, but rather the other pledges that stood beside him as they crossed the “Burning Sands.”
While extremely educational, this film is difficult to watch–– it is even more difficult to stomach the idea that the hazing throughout the movie is based on real-life events. McMurray certainly achieves his goal of bringing to light what many young men and women go through to be accepted into an organization. Hopefully, McMurray’s work acts as a cautionary tale to students and universities everywhere.
Although “Goat” focuses on similar hazing situations as “Burning Sands,” this film begins with the main character, Brad (Ben Schnetzer), being assaulted by two random men in the middle of the night while stranded in a field. He is beaten horribly and spends the summer before his first year of college recovering from the attack with the help of his older brother, Brett (Nick Jonas).
Brad takes Brett up on his suggestion to rush Kappa Sigma to take his mind off of the assault, and Brad is put through a “Hell Week” that is in many ways more horrible to watch than that of “Burning Sands.” Brad and his fellow pledges go through physical and mental torment. In one instance, the pledges are told that they must finish an entire keg of beer in a certain amount of time, or they must all sodomize a goat and then kill it. During the physical beatings especially, Brad has flashbacks to his attack, and his brother Brett steps in on more than one occasion to stop the other fraternity members from going too far.
Despite the hazing, Brad and the other pledges make it through the week and attend a crossing ceremony where they are given pins and told that they have made it through the first test. Brad is hurt to learn that his brother did not attend the event, however, this betrayal is overshadowed by the sudden death of Brad’s roommate Will (Daniel Flaherty). Will’s body is discovered covered in bruises, and the fraternity is suspended for a semester to investigate the cause of death. The older members of the fraternity seek to cover up their violent actions and keep the organization alive. However, Brett ousts his “brothers” to the school and he and Brad leave the fraternity.
Although Brad was able to complete Kappa Sigma’s “Hell Week,” he realized that the “brotherhood” he sought was actually right in front of him the entire time. Brett’s protective and caring actions toward his brother demonstrate that not all of the fraternity members aimed to torment and humiliate the pledges.
Because of Brett’s willingness to break the “code of secrecy” and turn his fraternity in for the hazing, Neel offers a message of hope that this type of behavior will not be around forever because all it takes is one person to stand up for what they know is right.