Just because everyone is aware of it doesn’t mean everyone talks about it.
One sorority member at the University of Georgia believes it’s time to speak out against the hazing and prejudices in Greek life, and she’s not surprised to be the only one willing to talk about it.
“I think a lot of people are aware of the stereotypes, per say,” she said, “but once they’re in it you realize it’s not a stereotype — it’s true.”
The Zeta Iota chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., made headlines after an instance of hazing was brought to police attention in February.
An investigation led to the suspension of the National Pan-Hellenic Council fraternity until 2017 and led to criminal charges against nearly a dozen members.
Hazing was a topic on campus after the news broke, the sorority member said, but not in a large enough scope.
“Seeing seven or however many guys’ lives ruined by what happened with hazing, I just thought it was pretty unfair that with IFC [Interfraternity Council], they get away with this all the time, and they’re going to go off and have great jobs,” she said. “Whereas you have these other guys in non-IFC who, they punched somebody and their lives are ruined. I just don’t appreciate how it’s always pushed under the rug by our Greek Life advisers.”
While Kappa Alpha Psi’s hazing is the most recent incident garnering media attention, other groups have faced suspension or punishment in past years.
In 2010, both Kappa Sigma and Pi Kappa Phi were suspended from campus due to hazing allegations. The national office for Kappa Sigma shut down the UGA chapter that December, and it has not returned to campus. Pi Kappa Phi faced sanctions after a pledge’s father sent an anonymous letter to the Greek Life Office regarding the paddling of his son.
Kappa Alpha Psi’s situation, however, was not settled out of court, and members will face a criminal trial.
“A lot of [hazing incidents] don’t reach the criminal level,” said UGA Police Chief Jimmy Williamson in a previous Red & Black article. “We’ve only gotten involved in a handful over the years. I can only think of two or three in my 20 years here.”
Including, but not limited to
The UGA Greek life hazing policy encompasses yelling at members in line-ups, forcing or requiring alcohol consumption, scavenger hunts, interrupting sleep, running errands for other members or limiting study time. Upon joining a sorority or fraternity, students sign a membership card stating they understand UGA’s code of conduct as well as the hazing policy.
Williamson said police interviews determined Kappa Alpha Psi pledges were “struck with either a closed first or an open hand” during initiation, according to a Red and Black article.
These acts of hazing occur in most fraternities, the sorority member said, but IFC members are more pressured to keep quiet.
She has seen a pledge forced to drink “two swim caps full of alcohol” after he was already swaying from drinking too much. Another pledge was forced to play “speedbump” by laying his body on the ground as other fraternity members stomped over him.
Physically abusive hazing occurs mainly at times that only fraternity members are present, she said, but alcohol-related tasks happen at parties when others are there to witness them.
“I’ve seen a guy forced to stand on a balcony with two beer bottles and crack them together,” she said. “He split his arm open and had to go to the hospital.”
Despite the harmful nature of hazing, she said most people won’t speak out for fear of social repercussions. People would rather be part of a popular organization than be “nothing at all,” she said.
Tradition also factors into keeping quiet. Members see hazing as a “brotherhood” event, pressuring each other to keep the topic within the fraternity and seeing it as a rite of passage.
“I’ve definitely confronted people, like ‘Why are you doing this? You went through this. You know it sucks,’” she said. “But they always think, ‘I went through this. They should go through this as well.’”
Claudia Shamp, director of Greek life, said the Greek Life Office has no illusions about hazing at UGA. Despite precautions against it, including a 24-hour hazing hotline and educational meetings, she said it would be difficult to stop any unwelcome activity from occurring.
“We’re not on-site,” Shamp said. “We’re certainly, with all the education, not going to put our head in the sand and believe there is nothing that would happen that would be inappropriate or antithetical to the ideals of an organization.”
Anyone can report hazing, including roommates, neighbors or classmates, through the Greek Life Office or its hazing hotline.
If hazing is reported, Shamp said the Greek Life Office will investigate the situation. The depth of the investigation, however, depends on what information is provided. Shamp said at times, people call and say “Fraternities are hazing,” and then hang up. There’s not much to be done at those times.
Investigations sometimes involve the police, as occurred with Kappa Alpha Psi, but other situations are dealt with internally.
“If there’s something reported that’s not a violation of our conduct code, but it is a concern, we would work with the fraternity or sorority chapter advisers and talk with their national organization to address whatever the situation might be,” Shamp said.
These internal situations are when things get pushed aside, the sorority member said. IFC fraternities see a sort of protection from affluent members, she said, and any hazing is not investigated to the full extent.
“I’m pretty sure people have brought up hazing, and it’s just swept under the rug,” she said. “You never hear about it. But the moment a non-IFC fraternity does it, it’s a big deal.”
Only if more people came forward would a true investigation take place, she said. Right now, anyone aware of hazing isn’t willing to talk.
“I definitely think more people than me would need to come forward [for a change] because I think it’s a pretty hushed thing, and a lot of people wouldn’t come forward for it,” she said. “It would be kind of invalidating to have one person against 2,000 or so Greek life members.”
It goes deeper than hazing
Hazing hasn’t been the only issue bringing media attention to Greek life. Last week, a Snapchat from a University of Alabama sorority member caught national attention.
The girl, who has since been kicked out of the sorority, was pictured smiling with two other members above a caption that read “Chi O got no n******.” Following a year where multiple black girls were initially denied acceptance into UA sororities, Greek life on campus has faced scrutiny.
Shamp said Greek life did not feel the need to comment on this event because it occurred on another campus. The issue of social media use and guidelines had also been discussed.
“We certainly got the link and certainly talked about it,” she said. “We’ve been dealing with social media issues throughout the recruitment process in general, so I felt like we had covered that already.”
Greek life members on campus, she said, would be better to talk about the occurrence. The issue, however, didn’t come up in conversation, the sorority member said.
Despite circumstances of racism, including some sororities and fraternities not accepting black members, most people don’t bring up the topic of racism. Even with the Crimson White’s article last year, most talk was hushed by a request from the Greek Life Office.
“Please make your members aware to NOT talk to any news reporters regarding the recent article published by the Alabama student newspaper,” said an email from Elizabeth Pittard, adviser to the Panhellenic Council.
Not talking about the problem helps no one, the sorority member said, and is just another issue Greek life seems to willingly ignore.
She has seen some sororities will not accept black members, per alumni preference, and some fraternities refuse to fraternize with black members of sororities or other fraternities as a multicultural member of her sorority.
“I had to get permission to go to a KA [Kappa Alpha] social,” she said. “My big had to ask one of the brothers, and he said it would be OK … yeah, that was a lie.”
After an issue at the door of a Kappa Alpha party, she was allowed to enter, but awkward interactions and rudeness from fraternity members led her to leave early.
The Kappa Alpha Order at UGA is the oldest continually existing KA chapter in the country, established at UGA in 1868. It holds an “Old South Parade” every year, where members and guests dress as Confederate soldiers and don other outfits from the era.
Kappa Alpha Order president David Gibbs said his fraternity does not limit social engagements with sororities with black or non-white members.
“That’s completely false,” he said. “That’s just someone trying to stir up trouble.”
She has also seen issues between Sigma Alpha Epsilon, the first fraternity established at UGA, and non-white members. Another SAE chapter visited UGA’s chapter, and members would not open the door for its black president.
“When he knocked on the door, they wouldn’t even open the door and let him in the house,” she said.
Other fraternities and sororities are less up-front with prejudices, she said, mainly through racially insensitive comments.
She has faced comments such as “That was so nice of them to let you in. How are they treating you?” and “How did [she] get into [that sorority]? Is it because she’s rich or something? I don’t understand.” Even though she finds these comments offensive, she’ll just walk away from them.
Other times, a misunderstanding of “diversity” is the issue. Some sororities tout a few non-white members as representation of a well-rounded group, she said, even though that’s not completely sound reasoning.
“I never know what to say to them,” she said.
Historical habits, necessary change
As a Panhellenic sorority member, she said she believes it is possible for anyone to join an IFC fraternity or Panhellenic sorority, regardless of race. One issue she has seen, however, is having to offer more justification for her membership — something which NPHC or Multicultural Greek Life members do not have to face.
“It makes sense to have [Greek life] separate as well so you don’t have to explain to people what you’re doing and why you’re doing what you’re doing,” she said.
She chose to participate in Panhellenic recruitment because of networking benefits the sororities can provide. Although she enjoys her sorority, she said Southern culture and historical habits in IFC and Panhellenic could prevent non-white members from feeling “completely comfortable.”
In the end, she said it will take a revamp of adviser and alumni opinions for real change to occur. With their say in regulations for recruitment as well as national bylaws, advisers and alumni can restrict a sorority or fraternity’s actions.
“Some people in sororities and fraternities have said, ‘Oh, we would love to have these people, but we can’t do anything because of our advisers,’” she said.