A twitching, vomiting and ice-cold 19-year-old was lying on the ground. Groaning. His struggles were ridiculed and recorded for snapchat, he was kicked in the stomach and slapped in the face as members of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity at Pennsylvania State University horrifyingly attempted to rouse a teenager they killed, rather than alert authorities. Timothy Piazza’s 2017 death was a result of hazing rituals. The ‘Gauntlet’, as they call it is a game in which potential new members or ‘pledges’ of a fraternity or sorority are forced into drinking copious amounts of alcohol. Down a beer. Take numerous vodka shots. Chug from a bag of wine. Or they would be forced into doing much worse things.
The death of Timothy Piazza did not ignite remorse from the members who killed him. No. “Make sure the pledges keep quiet about last night and the situation” was what one member involved in Piazza’s death was urging others to do, along with deleting text messages from a group chat that Piazza was in, so there would be no evidence on his phone (ABC news broadcast). They wanted to cover up their illegal actions. They didn’t care about Piazza. They didn’t see the hazing that they were taking part in as an issue. Like so many other young adults who take part and encourage hazing they disguised their actions as ‘rituals’ that are a ‘rite of passage’. Hazing is a cruel and inhumane practice and serious actions need to be taken against it. Not just wishy-washy statements from universities about how they “will not tolerate hazing at XYZ”. But, as stated previously, serious actions must be taken; harsher security should be implemented around student residential colleges and organisations such as fraternities and sororities need to be disbanded, as they are only perpetrating hazing
Maybe it is a good idea to provide a clear understanding of what hazing is exactly as provided by a dictionary: a ritual in which a new member of a university, a university club or society is humiliated or abused.
Now, if that definition did not ring alarm bells as to why hazing is cruel and that serious action needs to be taken against it, let me reiterate it for you. Hazing is outstandingly barbaric and leads to devastating consequences. Of course, the most obvious consequence is the deaths, but there are plenty more besides Timothy Piazza. In September of 2017, Louisiana State University first-year student Maxwell Gruver died of alcohol poisoning after being forced into participating in a hazing ritual at Phi Delta Theta fraternity. In November 2017, Andrew Coffey died after being viciously hazed at a party. A bottle of bourbon was taped to Coffey’s hands, he was made to drink the entire thing. He passed out, was dragged onto a couch and left alone. Then, he died. And again here is an example of fraternity members more worried about getting in trouble than about the dying person in front of them. But perhaps the consequences of hazing are seen more in those who live through the experiences and are left damaged and oftentimes mentally unstable. These people survived what I would even go as far as labelling as involuntary attempted murder. And it leaves them with mental and physical scars that are a reminder of the experiences they went through. Not to mention that they have to see those that inflicted the torment on them every day at university or in their fraternity or sorority house. And those who even make the slightest attempt at speaking out against the behaviour they face are viciously ostracised from the group.
After Jo Hannah Burch was forced to crawl through an ice cold creek in the dead of night as part of a sorority ‘tradition’ at Young Harris College, she reported the incident to school officials. Subsequently, the members of her sorority mocked and ridiculed her. Due to this she suffered from depression and was constantly paranoid, not leaving her room in fear of what the other girls might do to her. Burch’s story is not an outlier. In a University of Maine study on hazing in colleges, it was found that 73% of students in fraternities and sororities experience a form of hazing and 71% of students suffer from negative consequences of a similar manner to Burch’s. I must contest that American students are not the only ones suffering from hazing. A recent report into hazing at the University of New England in Armidale, New South Wales conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission found that first-year female students were forced into taking part in an initiation called the ‘ladies lounge’, where they were made to get “excessively drunk” and then give lap dances to male students. Events such as the many I have given leave students feeling even more vulnerable than they were before, which is a hard feat considering that they have just left home for what is likely the first time and are completely on their own, trying their hardest to go about their studies and make friends. Their desire and desperation to be accepted was quite frankly used against them in acts of disgusting abuse and humiliation, what older students (or members in the case of fraternities and sororities) would call a ‘bonding’ activity and simply something to see whether these teenagers would be a ‘right fit’ in their friendship group. Clearly, I have illustrated that hazing is barbaric and all of this overwhelming and widely publicised evidence supporting this claim prompts the question; why? Why are on-campus student residencies not put under harsh security measures and why are sororities and fraternities still in existence. The answer leads nicely into my next point. Hazing is not as an irregularity, but rather, the norm.
This is the reasoning behind the university’s stock response and reaction to hazing incidents on their campuses. An answer so often used that every single university that was involved in the previously mentioned events expressed; they all have a “zero-tolerance policy” to hazing. Don’t get me wrong, this is true, they reassure the parents that hazing is banned on their campuses. Though hazing doesn’t cease to exist. But what can the university do if the hazing practices are happening in the dead of night, underground, unbeknownst to them, strategically hiding their ‘rituals’ under a blanket of secrecy. Until someone dies. And this is precisely what happens, such policies against hazing are in place, but they lead to the organisations engaging in hazing in even more dangerous settings and circumstances. These policies only fire the secrecy surrounding sororities and fraternities and when things go wrong, as they evidently do, members start rushing to protect themselves rather than save an injured or dying person, as the members of both Piazza and Coffey’s fraternities did. But let’s return to my main point. Universities only implement easily broken policies because they see hazing as a normality, something that cannot be stopped and so to do the students that both join and run these organisations. In a case of hazing at Pennsylvania State University, Marquise Braham sent a message to his residence-hall advisor seeking help in understanding why he was undergoing such cruel hazing (just to name a few of the things Braham was made to so you understand the seriousness of the situation: he was forced to swallow live fish and kill, gut and skin animals). Her response was, to say the least, underwhelming. “Yes it will get worse,” she wrote. “I’m sorry to say hahaha but it will”.
Returning back the case of hazing at the University of New England, when cases such as the one mentioned earlier were reported to the university, a senior member of staff merely reprimanded the student who spoke out against the initiation rituals for being drunk and “putting herself in that situation”. Two students were brave enough to share their stories of abuse and torment, at two separate universities in two separate continents. Yet both received subpar responses. This type of thinking surrounding hazing needs to be quashed immediately. Action is not being taken against these practices because the behaviour is seen as normal. It is my belief that opinions regarding hazing will only start to improve once drastic actions have been taken, in which people will begin to realise that maybe, just maybe, these practices are wrong. And even those who do see them as wrong at the current time don’t try and stop the behaviour, lamenting that it’s just part of the system and there is no way of getting rid of it. Well, there absolutely are ways, Security cameras. Random security check-ups in residential colleges. And perhaps the most important, completely disbanding sororities and fraternities. But if no university takes these actions then the cycle will continue. A hazing death. A stock response from the university. And then no further action is taken, because it’s just the normality.