So, last week I heard a story about an organization on our local college campus that, like every other organization, does "getting to know you" activities before initiating new members. I think icebreakers and group games are a great way to get to know potential members. It’s also a great way for potential members to decide if they genuinely want to join a group.
What concerns me was the nature of these activities. I was only told about two of them, so I’m sure some of the others are totally innocuous. The two I heard about, though, gave me some cause for concern.
Activity 1 included pledges being blindfolded, driven around campus, and dropped off at a previously unknown location (this year, the cemetery) with the rest of the initiation class, and told to find their way home.
Activity 2 paired potential new members with members form the brother organization. The brothers competed to create the best hairstyle on their partner. Instead of styling their actual hair, they used shaving cream as sculpting material.
As I’ve mentioned many times, I’m a member of Sigma Alpha Iota. In addition to being a member of the fraternity, I also serve as an advisor to the collegiate chapter at U of I, and I oversaw 4 collegiate chapters during my term as a Province Officer for the organization. SAI takes hazing very seriously, and because of this, I’m pretty sensitive to the subject. We have a fairly strict hazing policy that forbids “any action or situation that recklessly or intentionally endangers mental or physical health or any action taken or situation created which produces mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment or ridicule.”
I’m sure my experiences in such a group are what set off the alarms in my head the moment I heard “blindfolded”. I'm really sad that these activities happened, but I’m especially sad they happened to mostly freshman girls. These young women are looking for support and friendship, and this is what they receive. When one girl was told that sounded like hazing, her response was "but they didn't yell at us, and no one got hurt!"
That broke my heart. It also made me mad. I wish I could explain to that young woman that hazing doesn’t always end up in injury or death. It isn’t limited to verbal abuse or alcohol consumption. It’s about stripping an individual of his or her dignity.
The week before these incidents occurred was National Hazing Prevention week, which adds a whole new layer of frustration to the story, in my opinion. Hazingprevention.org is full of useful information on the subject. It has a thorough definition of hazing, as well as the difference between hazing and bullying. There are all sorts of resources and ideas for activities. I highly suggest checking it out.
I have to reiterate how happy I am to be in a fraternity that takes hazing very seriously. I am so proud of my collegiate chapter advisees for being keenly aware that potential new members and members-in-training should be treated with respect.