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Greek life and hazing on university campuses

By Sebastian Vasquez Gutierrez, April 30 2021—

Most of us know the stereotypes around fraternities and sororities. Hollywood shows them as groups of students who only party and get drunk but that is far from reality — for the most part. There are many different fraternities and sororities for all sorts of activities and interests, including academics, religion and culture. You could join one that fits your interests — that is if there are any at your university, since Greek life is very different for each university. Some universities in the United States like Penn State and Cornell have a pretty big Greek community on their campuses. In Canada, there aren’t many universities with huge Greek life societies compared to the US but there are some universities such as the University of British Columbia and the University of Toronto that have a good amount of these organizations, which leads to more students interested in joining because of their popularity. 

Fraternities and sororities are directed by national organizations and there are around 90 organizations that are divided into fraternities and sororities. All fraternities and sororities are divided into chapters, and there are around 10,000 chapters in North American Universities. Getting in is a fairly long process since most fraternities and sororities use the same phases to recruit students. The first phase, called recruitment or rushing, is followed by bidding. Invites are sent, followed by pledging where the full-time members test your “worthiness” and finally initiation when the pledges become full-time members. The problem arises with the third stage of entering a frat or sorority since hazing is sometimes involved. 

Hazing can be experienced a lot throughout our lives in many different ways that do not necessarily harm another person physically. Hazing is based on peer pressure and it can range from little actions like making someone buy something for you to extreme drinking games, which has lead to incidents that have caused the deaths of many student recruits across North America — a disclaimer must be made is that not all fraternities or sororities engage in dangerous acts.

It is necessary to mention that fraternities and sororities raise thousands of dollars annually to help different causes through charity work. Also, benefits like having many connections with all members and having a group of people who look out for you since they describe themselves as a brotherhood or sisterhood are also some of the perks of joining Greek life. One of the causes here at the University of Calgary that the Alpha Gamma Delta chapter supports is fighting hunger. Not all Greek societies participate in hazing, but sadly, it has become common practice for a considerable number of them.

Hazing at Greek society parties has killed thousands of students in North America. The first reported case was at Cornell University in 1873. A study from Franklin College shows that there has been at least one death per year due to hazing on college campuses since 1961. Hence, it’s not like hazing and death on college campuses is a new topic. It has been going on since the early 60s and recently some universities have taken action to ban some initiation ceremonies.

Many would argue that hazing incidents are uncommon and don’t happen as often as people think. However, one case that went viral was when Timothy Piazza, a 19-year-old who was part of Beta Theta Pi at Cornell University, died after falling from the stairs into the basement at the Theta Pi fraternity house where students were participating in the “pledging” part of the initiation. Footage of the night at the fraternity party showed him consuming 82 drinks in 82 minutes. Prosecutors say that Piazza was part of an initiation ritual called “the gauntlet,” which consisted of drinking four to five drinks in two minutes. 

After this event went viral, universities started to be more strict on fraternities and the activities that were allowed. However, this raises the question — did a student have to die for this policy to be implemented? Many more cases of deaths at fraternity parties have happened before this incident, yet no serious action was taken aside from a suspension, and those involved faced no consequences. On top of that, Piazza’s death only became viral because it happened at an Ivy League school known for its academic achievements and complex admission process. Many questions arise when discussing this topic and now many more people want to talk about it because of its controversial nature. 

For this article, I was prepared to interview members of Greek clubs at the University of Calgary, as well as with students from the United States, however many were not interested or declined to interview. Most of the questions were related to hazing incidents and initiation processes. Does this mean people who are involved are scared to talk about hazing, fearing the repercussions? Or is it just a sensitive topic?

When it comes to the difference between Greek life in Canada and the US, the main reason why we don’t see many fraternities and sororities in Canada is because of profit and popularity. The US has more money invested in these private organizations which lead to many of them being created, whereas Greek life was just a feature Canada adopted but didn’t really started.

Greek life is not as big in Canada compared to the United States since there are fewer fraternities and sororities in Canada. That raises the question — how can we make sure we are not facing a hazing problem at the University of Calgary since it’s a topic that people are reluctant to talk about? What if hazing happens at our school, too, but we are just unaware of it because it happens behind closed doors, and it’s never seen because of how well hidden it is?

A study shows that three out of five students experience hazing throughout their college experience one way or another. Sometimes we tend to overlook it because it’s just part of “the college experience,” which, as we have seen, has been taken onto a whole new level.

Some universities have taken action in this matter. Hazing policies have been put into place for fraternities and sororities to ban most of their activities. This approach was taken by Florida State University and the University of Michigan after multiple reports of hazing. However, that only happened after hazing incidents had occurred.

As students, we can carefully see what activities sororities and fraternities do as their initiation rituals to understand if they harm any students. We could also have a dialogue with the students that are part of Greek life to create a space where they feel safe to share their experiences. It’s important to create an environment where students feel safe to share any hazing or abuse experiences that they might have experienced as members of Greek societies.

If you need to reach out and talk to someone, a great resource is the Calgary Distress Centre, which can be reached 24/7 at (403)-266-4357. Or, you can check out this article for a list of resources available at the University of Calgary.

This article is part of our Opinions section and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Gauntlet’s editorial board.

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