Smoking Out Hazing

Note: This post was first written for Phi Delta Theta and published in September 2010 at their blog: (without question one of the best blogs in the fraternity world).  I wanted to give new life to this essay in honor of National Hazing Prevention Week 2012.  Some passages have been updated and revised.

The other day I was flying back home and while sitting on the plane, I noticed the “no smoking” signs all over the cabin.  This wasn’t a new observation, but I stopped to think about what it must have been like when smoking was allowed on airplanes.  Imagine the guy next to you, sharing your armrest, smoking a half a pack between takeoff and landing.  And you couldn’t escape.  You just had to deal with it.  That’s the way smoking was all over our country not that long ago.  Restaurants, grocery stores, taxi cabs, and hotels were filled with smoke.

And now?  Light up within 100 yards of a nonsmoker and you’re treated like you have the plague.  The only safe place for smokers to go is out behind a building right next to the dumpster.  It is safe to say that most places in our society have grown intolerant of smoking, and those who choose to do it are often isolated.  Smoking still takes place, and consumption levels are still high.  There is just a different attitude toward the practice, especially among young people.

I believe this change over the last decade or so was accelerated by an extraordinary anti-smoking campaign, called “The Truth”.  You have probably seen their commercials, one of which shows a group of activists carrying megaphones lining hundreds of body bags on the street below the offices of tobacco executives.  This campaign has been effective in reducing smoking – especially in young people – because instead of focusing only on the health reasons, it turns nonsmokers into rebellious youth sticking it to the “man” (tobacco companies).  Rebellion has always been a well-received message amongst teens!

The campaign is also effective because it involves young people talking to other young people.  Peer to peer education works.

So what does this have to do with hazing?  From my observation, the vast majority of anti-hazing messages that are delivered to college students come from much older adults.  It feels like a parent telling their child to “stop doing that” because “I know better than you.”  While we’ve made strides against hazing, there certainly hasn’t been the same momentum like we’ve seen against smoking.  We need acceleration.

Let me offer a vision.  What if fraternity and sorority undergraduate members became the chief activists against hazing in our society and brought that message to their brothers and sisters, as well as their peers in sports, the marching band, or other clubs on campus? 

Let’s take it one step further.  Where I live in Indiana, there have been some high-profile hazing incidents in the high schools.  What if fraternity and sorority members were invited into high schools to educate students about the dangers of hazing?

We understand hazing because it has been a vicious scar on our legacy.  So, let's make amends by being the world leaders against it. 

The messaging could be similar to that of “The Truth” campaign – hazing offers power-hungry meatheads the chance to bully others, and we’re not going to take it anymore!

Perhaps this vision is not yet within reach.  What is within reach is your personal influence within your own chapter.  It’s not enough to be quietly against hazing and just hope that it will go away.  I tried that approach, and it didn’t work.  If you want to see hazing eliminated, you need to pound the pavement and work against it.  Find like-minded members and start a rally within your own organization.  Put the “no hazing” signs right next to the “no smoking” ones.

Hazers are like tobacco executives – getting compensated for promoting an unsafe practice.  Treat them as such.  Turn the chapter against them.  The ones who matter will allow themselves to change.

Imagine if the one place on a college campus where a person could know for sure that they would be safe from hazing was your fraternity.  Or any fraternity.

It’s great to be against hazing.  It’s better to make sure it has no place in your fraternity.  Working to eradicate it from our society is even better than that.  Let’s stop reacting to this issue and start leading.   

Grab your megaphones.

Fraternity Expansion: Take a Number

Submitted by a staff member at a men's fraternity.  Edited slightly with permission.

A young man enters his freshman year of college ready and excited for the adventure ahead of him.  He has anxiously waited for this day, hearing fond memories from his father about his days as a fraternity man; days that forever changed his life.  The young man’s father has introduced him to his brothers, taken him to chapter alumni events and even bought him a t-shirt with his organizational letters.  He is a legacy.

The young man is accepted to a different state institution than his father, and his father’s organization is not represented on campus.  He signs up for fall recruitment with an open-mind and visits all of the chapters on campus.  Frustrated with the chapter members’ interest in alcohol and the lack of brotherhood, he drops out.  The semester continues and the young man makes several good friends through his residence hall, getting involved with student government and participating in intramurals.  

During winter break, a friend attending a different university shares he is pledging a fraternity and will be a founding father.  Curious about his experience, the young man e-mails his friend and learns more about the process.  He is first intrigued, and then enthusiastic.  Could he start his own fraternity?  What a great opportunity and a great tribute to his father.

As soon as he returns for the spring semester he quickly recruits 15 men from his residence hall, student government and his intramural team.  His friend told him that he would need at least 20 guys to be taken seriously by the IFC.

By February, he has set up a meeting with the campus fraternity and sorority advisor.  He has downloaded the IFC constitution, as well as information from his father’s fraternity website about expansion.  He and the two other “soon-to-be-founding-fathers “ walk into the advisor’s office organized and prepared.

Through their conversation they learn that another fraternity just colonized on campus.  The advisor informs the men that there is an order of when fraternities are able to colonize on campus.  If they want to join a fraternity, they can join the new colony or one of the existing chapters.  The students leave the office deflated, discouraged and frustrated. 

The young man calls his father and lets him know that he isn’t allowed to start the new fraternity, despite their best efforts.  Even worse, he won’t be able to carry on the fraternal legacy.

Flash back more than a hundred years.  A young man decides to go to college in a rural farm community.  He is the first in his family to attend college and very intimidated by the size of the buildings, the demanding professors and the academic expectations.  However, he finds solace in the conversations and debate that occurs between him and his friends each evening.

This man, like so many men and women, were told by their higher education institution that literary societies were not permitted.  The institutions had regulations and policies they must abide by.  Sound familiar?  However, they persevered and established a tradition of fraternal excellence that has spanned more than 150 years.

So why is it today we are still battling limitations on our freedom to associate with host institutions?

Policies and regulations are much tighter than they were 15 years ago when it comes to expansion, and include: 
  • Scheduling fraternity expansion 5 to 10 years out.
  • Requiring scholarships and financial contributions to local governing councils.
  • Imposing regulations on colonies that aren’t required of other fraternities and sororities.
  • Headquarters courting campus professionals to ensure their selection during expansion.

All under the auspices of fairness, balance, and control.

And because of that, have we let the needs and desires of existing groups (including their fear of competition) trump the needs and desires of unaffiliated students?

Have we accepted that notion that all fraternities are the same?  That it doesn’t matter which ones exist on a given campus – only how many?  That one fraternity can’t offer anything different than another? 

Is it acceptable that fraternal organizations are expected to invest $3000 - $6000 per campus to “present” to a group of undergraduate leaders and campus professionals on why they should be “allowed” a place on that campus? You better send the executive director as well!

If the intention in doing all of this is to “change the culture or our communities”, is it working?

Why do we have Interfraternity Councils that have become the roadblocks to fraternity expansion, taking over for the authoritarian administrators of yesterday?   What might our founder’s say? 

Times have changed, but the limits on our ability to associate haven’t.  The troubling thing is that the regulators have become IFCs and professionals who believe in the fraternity movement.  Just at their own pace it seems.

In the past, staring in the face of opposition meant looking in the eyes of headmasters and professors who resisted anything they couldn’t control.  Now, in many ways, the face of opposition we are staring at is our own.

[This staff member wished to remain anonymous, ironically enough, so that the fraternity's expansion efforts wouldn't be harmed]