In the wake of the continued incidents of violence and death caused by hazing acts within fraternity and sorority rituals, the methods that organizations are using to cause harm to students are far reaching. Black Haze: Violence, Sacrifice, and Manhood in Black Greek-Letter Fraternities by University of Louisville professor Dr. Ricky Jones is the most prolific and thoughtful writing on hazing to-date. In his book, Jones explains that in pledge initiations that involve hazing rituals, “potential fraternal initiates can no longer be viewed as pledges; they must be considered victims.” A few examples of such victimization include:
In September of 2014, California State University Northridge announced that the death of student Armando Villa, who was killed during an 18-mile pledge hike during the Angeles National Forest earlier in 2014, was part of hazing related activities. Villa, who was 19, was pledging Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity, died of a heatstroke. The case is currently under criminal investigation.
Earlier this month, a Coppin State University student alleging hazing by members of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc. initiated a $4 million lawsuit. The victim, Johnny Powell, II, describes violence that included being “hit, slapped, caned and paddled” by fraternity members.
Pi Delta Psi pledge Chun “Michael” Deng, 19, died during a hazing ritual in December of 2013 when he was forced to sprint blindfolded with a weighted backpack across the yard of a house, in the cold, while other members of the fraternity at Baruch College tackled him and three other pledges repeatedly. This case, also under criminal investigation, involved Fraternity members trying to cover-up evidence of their hazing activities.
Based on the pervasiveness and contrived nature of these and other brutal hazing acts among some Greek Letter Organizations, it is important for anti-hazing educators, colleges, universities, and fraternities and sororities, to engage this challenge in new and unique ways. Conventional methods of education and face to face meetings are no longer the most proactive ways to combat the risks associated with hazing. In part two of my series on Greek Life and Social Media, let’s explore some of the digital education tools and strategies used to educate students about the dangers of hazing.
HazingPrevention.org is a national leader in using social media to engage the higher education community on hazing. Their YouTube video titled “These Hands Don’t Haze” offers a compelling call to action, and their website provides numerous anti-hazing education resources. HazingPrevention.org is also active on Twitter serving as an education and information conduit for nearly 6000 engaged followers.
The University of Texas at Austin offers a robust Online Hazing Prevention Training Module as part of their Safety Education Program. UT-Austin also features a website dedicated to the memory of lPhanta “Jack” Phoummarath, a student who died of alcohol poisoning in 2005 following an alcohol-fueled hazing ritual at a pledge party hosted by Lambda Phi Epsilon Fraternity. This website also features a documentary video called “The Pledge” which shares the events leading up to and following Phoummarath’s death. This digital messaging combines a creative educative approach with a dose of reality to impact their campus community.
Based in Orono, Maine, StopHazing.org is one of the most robust sites for data and trends related to hazing. Dr. Elizabeth Allan & Dr. Mary Madden have conducted the most expansive hazing study in academia, Hazing in View, College Students at Risk, which provides the research backbone of StopHazing.org. The StopHazing.org website also provides a portal to view anti-hazing laws for the 44 U.S. states where hazing is a felony or misdemeanor.
Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. (my fraternity) offers a series of hazing prevention resources on their national website. Additionally, Alpha Phi Alpha provides a web resource page with information for parents of aspiring members as well as an online hazing quiz that provides statistical data and information regarding hazing and violence.
Wellesley College offers their students a unique hazing education webinar and slide show via their campus website. Wellesley’s Office of Student Involvement also actively used social media to market their observation of National Hazing Prevention Week.
In March of 2014, Sigma Alpha Epsilon Fraternity announced the elimination of pledging from their membership process after being labeled the nation’s “deadliest frat” by Bloomberg News. The announcement was released by the fraternity’s Eminent Supreme Archon, Brad Cohen, via a YouTube video as a part of their 158th Founders Day.
Eliminating hazing is the only way to stop the violence, brutality, and losses of life that far too many fraternity and sorority aspirants are experiencing. By taking advantage of digital tools and social media to truthfully educate students and parents about these dangers, universities and anti-hazing focused organizations have a greater opportunity to have impact with their messaging. By evolving into a digital discussion, hazing-prevention conversations now have greater reach, and most importantly, increased potential to save lives.