Category Archives: candidate education

Ritual Ceremonies Exclude Hazing For a Reason

By Leadership Consultant Adam Bremmeyer

“There are no offensive or hazing practices involved in a fraternity initiation.”

For the last couple of nights, I have sat and pondered what this statement means to me. As I have worked with various chapters, I realized the best resource is the actual collegiate members I talk with day-to-day.

I read this statement to members of Beta Beta Chapter during a recent Ritual workshop. Almost unanimously their response was “well we know OUR initiation does not involve any hazing practices but there is no way to know for sure if other fraternities follow this practice.”

This was the same thing that I thought about after reading the statement the first time. I started researching online what society thought of fraternity initiations and rituals and, not surprisingly, it wasn’t too favorable.

Many times when fraternities and sororities are in the public light, it is for reasons that the Greek community are ashamed of. A small percentage of misguided individuals make things a lot harder for those who do the right thing.

According to a simple Google search, most think of initiation as the completion of certain degrading, physical, and mental tasks throughout a semester or a week to eventually earn your membership without any reason or purpose.

It was difficult to find a factual description of what I feel is the definition of a fraternity initiation. The majority of fraternity initiations are sacred within that organization and it is something that is unique to the fraternity and that connects them with thousands of other people over the course of one hundred or so years depending on the organization. It defines the fraternity based on a set of values and principles and gives those members purpose as a part of something greater than each individual.

Because of the secrecy, the idea of initiation is that of Animal House, what we see in similar movies, and what we read in books and magazines. Richard H. Robbins, the author of Cultural Anthropology: A Problem-Based Approach, stated the following in his 2008 book:

The fraternity initiation ritual on most college campuses is the culmination of a period of pledging in which initiates are required to perform various demeaning acts. Particulars may vary from fraternity to fraternity and campus to campus, but in general the ritual stigmatizes the initiates as infants, children, or girls and then proceeds to cleanse them of this negative identity before incorporating them into the fraternity as full-fledged brothers.

I don’t remember any of this happening when I was initiated in the fall of 2006 and, sadly, this is the idea that even many of my friends who didn’t attend college always seem to mention upon learning of my fraternity membership.

I can’t speak for every fraternity but I am sure they will appreciate it when I say the official initiation ceremony of a fraternity is a momentous occasion that was a culmination of hard work, dedication, and strong brotherhood over the course of the semester, none of which was demeaning or made me feel like less of a person.

As many already know, Sigma Nu was founded in direct opposition to hazing and the act itself is not suggested anywhere in the ceremonies or The Ritual of Sigma Nu.

As with many fraternities, the Founders of Sigma Nu specifically made the initiation ceremony without acts of hazing. For those chapters and fraternities that choose to alter these ceremonies, they are not living up to the values they committed themselves to, and are in fact not actually performing the ceremony the way it is meant to be, thus stripping those individuals of a valuable experience.

Your Initiation Ceremony is Only the Beginning

By Drew Logsdon (Western Kentucky)

This was it. Twelve long weeks had culminated into this exact moment. I had passed the tests. I knew the history. I was familiar with risk reduction, time management, community service, and leadership concepts. I was also still very naïve.

I knew I was about to go through a ritual that had been passed down through the years but I didn’t really understand the significance of the event until much later.

I remember that morning very distinctly. My candidate brothers and I were waiting with strong anticipation for this moment. However, internally, I was thinking of so much more.

I was about to become a member of not just a chapter with over 40 years of history on campus but also a fraternity of international membership.

I remembered what my father had told me during a phone conversation the night before. “Don’t waste this experience. Don’t be an empty seat. The easy part is over, now the hard part begins. You have nothing to prove to anyone else but you do have something to prove to yourself. Prove to yourself that this commitment wasn’t a half-assed one. Prove to yourself that you’re going to actually do something.”

Honor candidate ritual robe.

He was absolutely right.

When I finally walked into the room for the ceremony I remember feeling extremely excited. So excited I wanted to almost skip the ceremony and go straight to my first meeting. That’s when it dawned on me: This wasn’t the culmination of twelve weeks. This was the beginning of change. I now had a voice. I now had an obligation. There were no more “but I’m just a candidate” excuses. Now I had an obligation to stand for the values of the Fraternity. When the door shut behind us I felt the weight of the silence in the room. In roughly one hour I would be an initiate.

To this day I can’t accurately recreate in my memory what followed because it seemed to happen so fast (it didn’t). But I will never forget those first few moments and my father’s words to me the night before. I believe it is a charge we are all obligated to uphold.

As initiates we have nothing to prove to anyone else, but we do have to prove something to ourselves.

We all have to prove that we will carry through with the vows we took. We all have to prove that our decisions were not made in vain and that we will all leave our active chapters better than when we came into them.

So throughout this week of celebration for our Ritual I encourage every active member and candidate alike to think about what they have done or plan to do. Don’t be an empty seat. Do something.

Update: Dallas Cowboys Rookie Hazing Didn’t Work

Remember the hullabaloo from last summer’s Dallas Cowboys training camp when  rookie Dez Bryant refused to carry Roy Williams’ shoulder pads?

“I’m not doing it,” Bryant said. “I feel like I was drafted to play football, not carry another player’s pads.”

“If I was a free agent, it would still be the same thing. I just feel like I’m here to play football. I’m here to try to help win a championship, not carry someone’s pads. I’m saying that out of no disrespect to [anyone].”

The story made national news and ESPN analysts were quick to criticize Dez Bryant for neglecting the time-honored tradition of rookie hazing.  “Shut up and carry the pads,” said Mike Golic, co-host of ESPN’s ‘Mike and Mike in the Morning.’  Golic went on to brag about holding rookies down to perform unpleasant haircuts and throwing uncooperative rookies’ clothes into the shower.

Posting the story to the Sigma Nu fan page received an outpouring of criticism even from some of our own members:

Dislike, pay your dues Dez…humbling rookies out of college is definitely necessary for new ego-centric players like him. This post is most disheartening.

This post doesn’t exactly make me proud to be a Sigma Nu. That tradition isn’t arbitrary at all. It would be arbitrary if only certain rookies had to do it. It might teach Dez to appreciate where he is and what he has.

where I come from when someone older more experienced tells you what to do….you say yes sir!

There’s nothing about carrying somebody’s pads that even remotely resembles hazing. It’s a simple way to show respect for guys that have been there before you.

Nothing wrong with Hazing. Thank you Sigma Nu Nationals for adding to the continual feminization of America. I know you have to do it for liability purposes but it doesn’t mean I have to agree with it.

Proponents of Tim Tebow’s infamous haircut and Dez Bryant’s personal servitude promised to create “team chemistry” and “a fun time for the rookies,” which would in turn produce a successful season.  But with both teams sitting at last place in their respective divisions, and a Dallas Cowboys record envied only by the Buffalo Bills, we can safely conclude now that this failed experiment in rookie hazing didn’t result in a team chemistry that wins football games.

Hazing’s “true believers” will be quick to blame the coaches, or a lack of talented players, or Tony Romo’s fractured clavicle or anything other than the training camp antics.  There’s no doubt that a team can fail for any number of reasons and no one–not even the ESPN analysts–can say why with certainty.  The point is not necessarily that rookie hazing caused their bad season but, rather, that rookie hazing failed to fulfill its promises, namely, that personal servitude would create a team culture conducive to winning football games.

In any case, this story sheds some light on the true nature of hazing: Though always justified with the best of intentions, hazing is not much more than a form of entertainment for veterans who take pleasure in embarrassing their teammates.

Does carrying a veteran player’s shoulder pads risk personal injury?  Doubtful.  What about the potential for psychological harm?  Probably not.  So what’s the big deal in a little harmless rookie hazing?  It’s an utter waste of time and a distraction from the team’s core purpose.

The time spent duct-taping a rookie to the goal post, giving embarrassing haircuts and bickering over who should carry the veteran’s shoulder pads could have been spent on activities that are actually relevant to winning football games, like practicing audibles, studying film or even reviewing blocking assignments to protect the quarterback from injury.  (Too soon?)

Rookie hazing may seem harmless on the surface because most of it probably is harmless.  But the unseen harm comes in the form of distracting a team from its mission to win a championship (or in our case, teaching ethical leadership).  Hazing is harmful because it’s insidious.

Hazing is often perpetuated by the Brothers who contribute nothing to the chapter, leaving coerced respect as their only way to feel relevant.  Similarly, it’s not uncommon for the third and fourth stringers to be the loudest proponents of hazing.  They can’t earn respect on the field, or by embracing their role as a valuable backup teammate, so they’re compelled to demand respect by bossing around the rookies.  If you want respect from the new members, earn it the right way by holding a leadership position and moving your chapter forward.

Thankfully, sensible Brothers who want to lead their chapter to excellence are taking a stand against arbitrary tradition as evidenced by one of the more uplifting Facebook comments:

I’ve never felt admiration or respect for someone while being their servant. Listening to advice and learning from the elder is a better way to show respect. Saying, “no thanks, I can carry my own pads” is a better way to get respect from the rookies. The rookie who works hard and learns is going to get more playing time than the rookie who carries shoulder pads the best. It is a pointless tradition with little to no benefit and much bigger risks such as resentment and spite.

“The military hazes so why can’t we?”

By Drew Logsdon (Western Kentucky)

This a great time to discuss this topic as Discovery Channel launches one of their newest shows “Surviving the Cut.” The premise is to show the entry training process for elite units within the United States Armed Forces such as US Navy SEALS, Air Force Pararescue, and Marine Corps Recon. The reason I bring this up is because if you have ever seen the show (or experienced said training) then by Sigma Nu’s and many other standards many of these activities would be hazing if they were taking place in any other setting. But here we come to the difference between mentally breaking down a Marine and mentally breaking down a new member in a college or high school organization.

The military does this sort of training for a specific reason: Because these men and women may die if they don’t. Others may die if they don’t. Lives are at stake. Why does an instructor scream at someone going through the excruciating BUD/S training for Navy SEALS? It’s because those individuals have to be able to act competently under severe stress and harsh conditions. It’s not for personal enjoyment. Instructors do not laugh, and some may even argue they rarely smile. The military is creating a system similar to new member education in one regard. It’s a training process.

New member education programs should train new members to become amazing actives who can act competently and intelligently. Does this require tests of physical ability or mental/psychological breakdown activities? Absolutely not. Why? Because lives are not at stake. I didn’t join my chapter with the intent to enter combat and certainly not with the intent that lives would hang in the balance from my daily decisions. I don’t need to perform physical exercises or be psychologically abused to run an effective organization, balance a budget, or implement the LEAD Program.

So stop your mindless acts of sadism. If I use harsh words it’s because they’re aimed at harsh people. Whenever anyone uses this excuse they offend the United States Armed Forces past and present. The military trains. You haze. As many rappers would say, “Don’t get it twisted.”

Simplifying the Hazing Debate

All hazing debates can be settled by asking two simple questions:

How do you earn your badge and when do you earn your badge?

Membership is earned through vigilance and dedication to the founding principles (i.e. your behavior), not by demonstrating subservience to the older members.  If the activity has no clear connection to Sigma Nu’s purpose then it’s time to find an alternative.

Similarly, membership in Sigma Nu is not earned one time during the pledge process; membership is earned every day–during the new member process and beyond–by remaining committed to the voluntary oath each member accepted during initiation.

By perpetuating the myth that membership is earned one time during the pledge process by performing arbitrary tasks, hazers are creating a culture of apathy and mutual disrespect–everything Sigma Nu is not.  Earn your badge every day by remaining dedicated to your Knightly vows.  Period.

Day 24: “People need a rite of passage and our program provides it.”

The following is a guest post from Director of Financial Operations Justin Wenger.  Justin is a former Leadership Consultant and Director of Education for the General Fraternity staff.

Candidate education is a rite of passage, and there is nothing inherently wrong with looking at it as such. The issue, though, is how a chapter administers that rite. Joining any values-based organization is going to involve a rite of passage because values-based organizations aren’t interested in mediocrity. Values-based organizations are looking for leaders; men of honor and high moral character.

Why is your best friend, your best friend? I doubt it’s because of how many push ups he can do, or how many beers he can drink. If fraternities utilize these types of rites of passage, then fraternities suffer the realities of living up to their stereotypes. But, if we apply our values to developing the rite of passage that is candidate education, then we can be assured that the young leaders identified as candidates for membership will further develop to become brother-leaders; members who have built relationships on who they are as men, rather than how well they take being yelled at.

This post is part of a series dedicated to providing answers to common excuses for hazing.  The #40Answers in 40 Days campaign aims to promote National Hazing Prevention Week (September 20 – 25, 2010) and to ultimately create the definitive collection of crowdsourced knowledge to eliminate hazing.

Day 25: “We can’t just initiate anyone. We have to have some standards.”

The following is a guest post from Director of Risk Reduction Fred Dobry.  Fred is a former Leadership Consultant for the General Fraternity staff.

Most chapters rely solely on their new member program to weed out those individuals who shouldn’t be initiated into the Fraternity.  I have heard many times of chapters extending bids to anyone who expresses interest and then relying on the new member program to expel those who shouldn’t be invited to join the chapter.

Instead of wasting the chapter’s time and resources conducting a new member program for individuals who shouldn’t have received a bid for membership in the first place, why not increase your recruitment standards?  Why else would so many chapters have a 50% or worse retention rate?

I know there are cases where Candidates “slip through the cracks” and turn out to be different from what they portrayed during recruitment.  Yes, that will happen and yes, the chapter should remove those Candidates.  Candidates should be removed for their inability to uphold the standards expected of all members of the chapter.  However, that should never exceed 10% of the Candidate class; otherwise  your chapter’s recruitment program needs some serious improvement.

Now you might be saying “our chapter has a great values-based recruitment program and still has a retention rate around 60%.”  This should be a clear indicator that your new member education program needs an overhaul, including the elimination of some questionable activities.  New members usually quit because there is a difference between the actual chapter operations and what they were told when they were recruited.  For example, a potential new member was likely told by a chapter member during recruitment, “Sigma Nu was founded against hazing so you know that you won’t have to deal with hazing in our chapter.”  Meanwhile, the chapter requires Candidates to endure numerous arbitrary acts of hazing.  This difference between perception and reality is a common reason for leaving the chapter, and those who leave under these circumstances would likely have been model brothers.

The new member program is not a time for a Candidate to prove he belongs (you never stop proving yourself).  That should be done through recruitment and beyond.  The new member program is a time to provide Candidates with knowledge and experience necessary to uphold the standards expected of the initiates (e.g. pay your financial dues, attend chapter events, get involved on-campus, etc…).

This post is part of a series dedicated to providing answers to common excuses for hazing.  The #40Answers in 40 Days campaign aims to promote National Hazing Prevention Week (September 20 – 25, 2010) and to ultimately create the definitive collection of crowdsourced knowledge to eliminate hazing.

Day 33: College students don’t need any more breaking down

“Hazing breaks them down so we can build them up” is one of the hazers’ favorite hackneyed phrases.  But as Rachel’s Challenge speaker and fellow Sigma Nu Dave Gamache tells us, we don’t need any more breaking down.

We don’t need to tear people down to build them back up. Everyone’s already been torn down enough; everyone’s already had their battles,” says Dave. “If you get to know someone you’ll realize he’s already been to hell and back a couple of times. We don’t need to do that to anyone again. We need to meet them where they’re at, find the best in them, and give them places in the chapter to become leaders.

This is an excerpt from a story about Dave’s involvement with the Rachel’s Challenge program which will appear in the fall 2010 issue of The Delta.

This post is part of a series dedicated to providing answers to common excuses for hazing.  The #40Answers in 40 Days campaign aims to promote National Hazing Prevention Week (September 20 – 25, 2010) and to ultimately create the definitive collection of crowdsourced knowledge to eliminate hazing.

Day 35: “Other chapters won’t take us seriously if we don’t haze.”

The following is a guest post from Director of Financial Operations Justin Wenger.  Justin is a former Leadership Consultant and Director of Education for the General Fraternity staff.

Really? This excuse seems a tad absurd, doesn’t it? If there are organizations on your campus who would haze (i.e. treat their members like second class citizens) and be so juvenile as to attempt to negatively impact your chapter’s reputation because you don’t haze, then one would hope that your chapter would embrace that scenario. And, make no mistake, not having the respect of an organization who hazes their members is not a bad thing. In truth, it’s probably a good thing. This line of thought may seem “backwards” for some collegiate members, but in the world outside of the walls of a college/university, no one views a hazing organization as one to be respected. And, please, let us not defame our military branches by dragging them into this discussion by having attempt to say that they utilize hazing. They are not and to say otherwise would, in my opinion, be very insulting.

Stand up, be men of honor, and proclaim for all to hear that you don’t haze. What are the other organizations on campus going to say/do? What, are they going to “dirty rush”? Let them. If people want to join an organization that’s going to haze them, then why would you want those people for members? Those are cattle; they follow the herd because, well, that’s where everyone is going. If you stay in front of the herd, it will follow, and the naysayers will either join the herd or wander off…all alone. In the end, the organizations that participate in hazing become nothing more than after thoughts. Why? Because they won’t exist.

This post is part of a series dedicated to providing answers to common excuses for hazing.  The #40Answers in 40 Days campaign aims to promote National Hazing Prevention Week (September 20 – 25, 2010) and to ultimately create the definitive collection of crowdsourced knowledge to eliminate hazing.

Day 36:“Hazing is just part of becoming a Brother”

The following is a guest post from Director of Risk Reduction Fred Dobry.  Fred is a former Leadership Consultant for the General Fraternity staff.
Why does hazing need to be part of becoming a Brother?  Do they need to “earn” their letters?  Shouldn’t every member be “earning” their letters each day through their actions

“Part” of becoming a Brother is learning the organizational knowledge necessary to be a good, contributing active member (i.e. organizational structure, Robert’s Rules of Order, chapter operations, member expectations, etc…).  In fact, there really is no need for anything else.  That’s why you call it your new member education program.  Once you have equipped a new member with the knowledge necessary to be a good member of your organization, what more do you need to do?  What role does hazing have in that education?  Why must new members be required to learn all of the members’ parents’ names and hometowns to show they “know their Brothers.”  Will your new members not learn that, and more, through the close friendships that are naturally created through fraternity/sorority membership?

Or is your candidate education program more about making a new member “earn” his or her right into the organization and they’ll just figure out the rest after initiation?  Considering that you only have eight or so semesters at maximum to make an impact as an undergraduate member of your chapter, I sure would be disappointed to waste a full semester going through arbitrary acts of hazing to prove I belong rather than being provided the knowledge necessary to show I belong.

This post is part of a series dedicated to providing answers to common excuses for hazing.  The #40Answers in 40 Days campaign aims to promote National Hazing Prevention Week (September 20 – 25, 2010) and to ultimately create the definitive collection of crowdsourced knowledge to eliminate hazing.