#40Answers On the Way to Hazing Prevention Week

This week began the 6th annual #40Answers twitter campaign for the 40 days leading to Hazing Prevention Week which will take place from September 21-25. Each day, HazingPrevention.Org (@PreventHazing) and Sigma Nu Fraternity (@SigmaNuHQ) will post a commonly heard excuse for hazing using the hashtag #40Answers.

Hazing, according to the definition on HazingPrevention.org, is “any action taken or any situation created intentionally that causes embarrassment, harassment or ridicule and risks emotional and/or physical harm to members of a group or team, whether new or not, regardless of the person’s willingness to participate.”

HazingPrevention.Org was founded in  2007 by Tracy Maxwell. Her goal was to “turn the conversation about hazing from how to punish those who haze to how to prevent it from happening in the first place.” Sigma Nu, co-sponsor of the #40Answers campaign, was founded by three cadets at the Virginia Military Institute after the Civil War. Hazing was rampant in the institution, “the system of physical abuse and hazing of underclassmen at VMI led to James Frank Hopkins, Greenfield Quarles, and James McIlvaine Riley to form the ‘Legion of Honor’ which soon became Sigma Nu Fraternity.”

While hazing has been known to take place in Greek-Letter Organizations, it has no place in any of the organizations. It is against all the values and beliefs of GLOs. Hazing can be found in other places, too. Yesterday’s twitter feed had a picture of a rookie NFL player being hazed. Hazing happens on sports teams, in the military, in academia, in the workplace, among other places. And it needs to stop.

I came across this quote in Roger Ebert’s Life Itself about his experience as a member of the Phi Delta Theta chapter at the University of Illinois. It resonated with me because it is a prime example of how a hazing experience changed the way a member felt about the organization.

I made the rounds during Pledge Week, deciding on Phi Delta Theta and its handsome stone house on Chalmers. This was the top house on campus at the time….The house plunged me into undergraduate life. I memorized the names and years of all the upperclassmen, the names of their girlfriends, the names of the Founders, and much more arcana, and during Hell Week, desperately sleep deprived, I earned myself a night of sleep by winning the raw egg eating contest, with twenty-six. Some years later, when I saw it, the egg scene in Cool Hand Luke rang a bell.

Hell Week was an abomination, a bonding ritual in which pledges were worn down with a mental and physical sadism I believe has now been outlawed. All led up to the last night of the week, in which each candidate was led for the first time into the Chapter Room in the basement, now candlelit and with a medieval theme. I’m not certain that active members wore dark hoods, but that’s how I remember them, like medieval torturers. The final test, which had been darkly hinted at for days, was called ‘Nails.’ We were place barefoot on a tabletop and looked down in the dim light to see a plank with nails driven through it, facing up. There was about enough space for your two feet. Then we were blindfolded. The idea was to jump down to the plank and miss the nails. I believed this absolutely. The members chanted ‘Nails…nails.’ One of the members had reportedly been taken to an emergency room the year before after not missing a nail. I couldn’t do it. I hesitated. I was terrified. I hadn’t had two hours a night of sleep in days. How could I do it? If I didn’t I would never become a Phi Delt. I was eighteen years old. Becoming a Phi Delt had become the most important goal in my life. I jumped. The nails were rubber.

The ritual struck me then as cruel, and strikes me now as bullshit….Nails created an anger toward the house. I didn’t express it. When I stopped going to the house it was for other reasons. But that’s why I only attended one homecoming event at Phi Delt.

Robert Ebert as a high school senior

Robert Ebert as a high school senior

Today’s #40Answers quote is “This is just part of becoming a member of a fraternity.” Nope, it isn’t. Hazing has no place in any GLO, plain and simple, now or ever.

© Fran Becque, www.fraternityhistory.com, 2015. All Rights Reserved. 

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