By Megan Grindstaff
Pledging and hazing are not synonymous. Before I get into the meat of this column and you write me off as a sadistic, pledge-hating psychopath, I need to make that much clear.
In classical rhetoric fashion, I need to define some terms.
For the purpose of my argument, pledging is the process of proving one’s character and worth as a potential new member of an organization by learning the chapter’s history, bylaws and expectations and by performing tasks to show commitment to the existing members.
Hazing on the other hand, is requiring the completion of humiliating, abusive, degrading or mentally or physically harmful tasks in order to gain admisrindsion into a certain group.
This past month, Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s national headquarters made the decision to eliminate pledging from its fraternity experience, and that was a critical error.
Pledging, not hazing, is a valuable experience for fraternity members and doing away with it will deal a massive blow to the institution.
Pledging keeps members from telling their secrets to virtual strangers. During this time, members can get to know the new guys and pledges can be closely observed and evaluated in order to ensure they embody the characteristics and values of the fraternity.
This is especially important for chapters at schools that hold formal rush in the fall. In many cases, the new members have only been on campus for a week or two before accepting a bid. Consequently, without a pledging period, members have to share the 100-year-old secrets of their fraternity with glorified acquaintances.
No one likes a participation medal. In a fraternity with pledging, meeting all of the qualifications of the group and eventually being initiated is an accomplishment. There is a certain exclusivity to a group that chooses its new members carefully over the course of several weeks, rather than one that admits members on bid day with no questions asked. For the pledges, membership has more intrinsic value after pledging because it was something each one of them earned. Brotherhood, then, is not something to be doled out to any old Joe, but something that one works for and consequently appreciates.
Remember those horrifying, awkward icebreaker games they used to force us to do on middle school retreats? Successfully transporting 12 people across a field of “molten lava” using only 2x4s may not have built deep and meaningful friendships with your fifth grade class, but pledging is team building on steroids.
Throughout the process, the new members rely on each other. They work together to learn chapter history and to accomplish tasks for weeks at a time. Pledges learn to operate as a team; when one person succeeds the group succeeds, and when one person fails, the whole group fails.
In the media statement released March 7, Sigma Alpha Epsilon said the decision to ban pledging in the best interest of the fraternity and its future. Sigma Alpha Epsilon has been plagued in recent years with countless scandals, lawsuits, and even deaths in relation to its fraternity conduct, pledging bearing the brunt of the blame for most of the ordeals.
Despite the noblest of efforts, banning pledging will not bring an end to Sigma Alpha Epsilon hazing. Forty-four states, including Texas, employ anti-hazing laws. Every major national fraternity in the country has banned the practice.
Yet the abuse continues underground. Sigma Alpha Epsilon’s pledging ban will do little more than the already existing anti-hazing laws.
It may only serve to exacerbate the situation, since hazing practices in secret tend to be more violent and dangerous than those performed for public knowledge.
The pledging experiences that garner national attention are the most extreme cases. There is no news value in good, clean brotherly bonding, so those instances are overshadowed by the few horrible cases.
These severe examples of pledging are the exception, rather than the rule. The exceptions call for admonition against hazing and more stringent enforcement of acceptable pledging guidelines on the part of the national fraternity and the individual chapter leadership.
That being said, there is no reason to throw out the baby with the bathwater and abandon all of the positives pledging brings to the fraternity experience.
Megan Grindstaff is a senior journalism major from Franklin, Tenn. She is a reporter for The Lariat.