Fraternity pledge details UA’s culture of hazing

Ashley Chaffin

“Who wants to drop?” They’re asked as they run errands.

They’re asked as they do physically strenuous tasks on basement floors, “Who wants to drop?”

They’re asked constantly as their schedules are consumed with the duties and hazing associated with pledgeship, “Who wants to drop?”

Greek pledges at The University of Alabama live a life narrowly focused on making it to initiation into their fraternity of choice. For them, a word like “drop” is used as a weapon, daring them to quit in front of their pledge brothers.

“Basically, they tell us, like, the whole time we’re doing stuff they’ll be like, ‘Who wants to drop? Who wants to drop?’” a University of Alabama fraternity pledge told The Crimson White. “So they kind of like, put you on the spot. And at that point you’re thinking, ‘There’s no way I’m going to drop in front of all these people.’”

The pledge asked to remain anonymous, expressing concern that he would face immediate retribution from his fraternity if identified. He represents a group of pledges who, on Oct. 10, sent an anonymous email to The Crimson White saying the group has “reached our maximum, where we can no longer take the brutality of pledgeship and something must be done.”

The email followed the University’s response to another anonymous email, which was sent on Sept. 16 to UA administrators, demanding changes in pledgeship and threatening to take the issue to the national media. Less than 10 days later, the University suspended pledgeship for the week of Oct. 1-7. Dean of Students Tim Hebson said the action had nothing to do with that email.

“We get letters all the time, and usually they mention specific incidents if there’s a problem, and that one didn’t mention any specific incidents,” Hebson said Oct. 8. “If I acted every time I got a letter based on false information, I would be acting all the time. We only act on what’s factual.”

Physical Abuse

The fraternity pledge who spoke on the condition of anonymity described a series of hazing incidents and said he witnessed another pledge with a head injury that appeared to be serious.

“I saw a pledge bleeding out of his head, out of the back of his head,” he said. “So a kid I was with went up to him and asked him why he didn’t go to the hospital. And he said he was afraid if he went, someone – they’re obviously going to ask him what happened, and who did it, because that just doesn’t happen to you. So he just went to his room, his dorm – and I don’t know.”

The pledge said the back of the student’s head, from halfway between his hairline and crown down to his hairline, was raw. Detailing the same story in the email, the authors wrote that the pledge said he was afraid that if he went to the hospital or told anyone what happened it would happen again, the next time worse.

Less violent, but still physically straining and sometimes painful hazing incidents are common, the pledge told the CW. The pledge described one of these tasks as “bows and toes,” usually conducted on the concrete floor in the basement of a fraternity house. Pledges are ordered into a pushup-like position, but only allowed to only use their elbows, and forced to stay in the position for up to five minutes.

“I’ve heard people doing bows and toes and an active will come up and kick them in the ribs,” he said.

Alcohol also plays a major role in the physical abuse of pledgeship, the pledge said.

“So during pre-swaps, you can be forced to drink – a lot,” he said. “Well, it’s probably eight or nine beers, but it’s in like half an hour. So you don’t really get drunk, you just can’t physically keep the carbonation in your stomach and you have to throw it up.”

Psychological Abuse

Fear and intimidation, the psychological sides of hazing during pledgeship, often keep pledges from reporting injuries or other hazing incidents.

“I’d just say, basically, 24/7 you’re nervous, worried about getting a text or after getting a text you’re more worried about what could come next,” the pledge told the CW. “You’re always kind of looking around – even just walking from house to class, you always have to be watching out, looking around.”

When asked why he didn’t drop out of pledgeship, the pledge said actives in the fraternity threaten “blackballing,” or permanent alienation from the greek community.

“They, like, force it into you that if you drop, you’re going to be blackballed by the largest greek system in America,” he said.

Executive Director of the Counseling Center Lee Keyes said fear and intimidation are common characteristics of abusive situations in general.

“The use of fear and controlling behavior is common among perpetrators of all violence and abuse, with one intention being to maintain access to the victim,” Keyes said, speaking on abusive relationships in general, not hazing specifically.

Psychological, as well as physical, abuse could also explain why some – only 10 percent, by the pledge’s estimate – actives in fraternities participate in hazing at all.

“It is a well known fact that many, but of course not all, of those who have been in abusive relationships perpetuate the abuse themselves,” Keyes said.

When speaking about the psychological effects of pledgeship in his own experience, the pledge said that he has found himself doing things he wouldn’t have under normal circumstances.

For instance, at swaps, pledges are told to do things “just for the entertainment of your actives or sorority actives,” such as grinding on random girls or other “sexual things,” the pledge said.

“I wouldn’t say any sexual harassment boundaries would be crossed, but it’s definitely not something you would just go do because you felt it was all right,” the pledge said. “You know it’s wrong when you do it.”

University Response

In an Oct. 10 statement, Vice President for Student Affairs Mark Nelson listed several measures the University uses to prevent hazing. Nelson cited limited house hours each day from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., a shorter pledge period and a hazing hotline that is monitored daily.

Those measures, however, are mostly ignored, according to the both the Oct. 10 email and the source interviewed by the CW.

In the email, the pledges said the daytime house hours are used for hazing and spent mostly in places “pledges dread such as basements, band rooms and attics.”

The hazing hotline is also of little or no use, the pledge said. The one time he had heard of the hotline being used, the actives from the house named in the tip looked through all of the pledges’ phones.

“They just went through everyone’s phone looking for the Hazing Hotline number,” he said. “Looking for any texts – to a girlfriend, to someone’s parents, brother, sister – looking for anything about hazing.”

The University often relies on a self-reporting policy for dealing with hazing situations, Hebson said.

“What we tell the people, the new member educator, if there’s something that happens in that pledge program and that person doesn’t report it, he can be referred to judicial affairs,” Hebson said in an Oct. 2 interview with the CW.

Hebson said he believes the policy has been a “very, very positive thing.” The source, however, said self-reporting is something that just doesn’t happen.

“Basically, some of the only times I’ve heard of anything getting out is two pledges will be walking to class, and there’ll be a random student behind them that hears something, [and] they’ll go tell them,” he said.

The source also said the Oct. 1-7 pledgeship suspension didn’t change anything.

“The University has eight weeks of pledgeship, and I think they cut it down to seven,” he said. “What the University says means nothing to the fraternities and their pledgeship. Like we’ve had weeks off, technically, from pledgeship and we just wear normal clothes, not pledge gear, but we still have all our pledge duties. I’ve heard from almost every pledge I know in many different houses that after the eight weeks is up, it’s just kind of no big deal, you’re still a pledge, you’re just not dressing like one. That’s the only difference.”

Moving forward after his initiation, he said he doesn’t see himself being one of the brothers who hazes pledges.

“I can’t see myself, like, doing this back,” he said. “After feeling what it’s like, I wouldn’t want to ruin a kid’s first semester.”

Editor’s note: This story uses an anonymous source. To read the reasoning behind The Crimson White’s decision to not disclose the identity of our source, click here.