With the best of intentions, Greek life professionals are quick to cite that tragic example as chief justification for eliminating hazing. But does this actually work?
Tragic examples of hazing-related deaths provide compelling reasons to eliminate pernicious hazing. Unfortunately, however, these tragic examples based on emotion alone only have a fleeting effect. When the tragic memory fades, it’s back to business as usual. What’s more, eliminating only the life-threatening activities isn’t good enough, for the seemingly harmless “boys being boys” hazing inevitably escalates over time.
In other words, referencing the tragic hazing death does not motivate most people to eliminate, for example, house chores or running errands for brothers. The personal servitude model of candidate education seems harmless on the surface but it sows the seeds for more dangerous hazing later down the road.
So how can Greek life professionals effectively reason against the arbitrary activities that many people regard as harmless? One possible answer lies in one of the tenets of basic economics: opportunity cost.
The opportunity cost of hazing
If you’ve ever taken an intro to economics course, your first lecture was probably about opportunity cost–the relationship between scarcity and choice. The cost of a choice is everything else we could have done with that time or money. We face trade offs in our choices every single day:
By attending college we forgo the money we could have earned working full time.
By attending Thursday’s happy hour we forgo the time we could have spent studying for Friday’s midterm.
By playing video games for hours we forgo the time we could have spent writing a family member or calling an old friend.
Like individuals, fraternities also make decisions on allocating scarce resources. In essence, opportunity cost helps us identify the best use of our most valuable resource: time.
Aside from freak accidents, house chores and other forms of personal servitude don’t pose much risk for personal injury or death. But there’s an equally compelling reason to eliminate the arbitrary activities along with the more dangerous ones: they’re an utter waste of time.
Think of all the time-wasters many chapters accept as given:
All that time wasted memorizing Sigma Nu history (most of which is forgotten after initiation) could have been spent studying for midterms or participating in another campus organization. (No, memorizing Sigma Nu history isn’t necessarily a waste of time. See “Sigma Nu History Isn’t Just for Candidates“)
All that time wasted cleaning the house after brothers trashed it the night before could have been spent participating in community service projects, studying, calling home, etc.
And the examples could go on forever…
Sigma Nu was founded and still exists today for a specific purpose: To prepare ethical leaders for society. The aforementioned activities may not be dangerous but they’re just as ill-advised. Why? Because they rob our candidates of precious time that could have been spent more productively.
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