Category Archives: new member education

Day 37: “But I don’t think ____ is hazing.”

One cannot claim to be a Sigma Nu and simultaneously participate in or allow the mistreatment of another person who happens to be new to the group.  Period.  Hazers are often confronted with this reality that their actions are misaligned with their words.

Psychologists have a term to describe people who lack integrity: cognitive dissonance (George Orwell called it doublespeak).  Boiled down, cognitive dissonance (or doublespeak) occurs when a person holds two contradictory views simultaneously (the precise definitions are well worth studying).  For instance:

A person who believes in Sigma Nu’s history and the founding principles of Love, Honor and Truth and preaches a firm opposition to hazing.

And also believes…

…that hazing is a harmless, honorable and legitimate way to test new members for initiation and teach respect and discipline.

So what can you do when your actions don’t match your words?  There are two options: change your words or change your behavior until the two are aligned.

The former is far easier; the latter is far nobler.

For the hazer the solution is simple: just change your words to match your behavior.  In other words, just convince yourself and everyone around you that it isn’t hazing and…*bingo*…problem solved!

The honorable man, however, will do the right thing and change his behavior to match his words.

Which will you choose?

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 40: “Pledges must pay their dues to become a member.”

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.

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.

It’s always interesting to hear the words Greek members choose when discussing issues such as hazing, and this excuse is no different. On the surface, no one can argue with this statement, but scratch the superficial veneer off this comment and its weak attempt at hiding its real intent is shattered. If we take a moment to probe slightly deeper, though, it’s not too hard to begin seeing the illogic of this excuse.

“Pledges must pay their dues to become a member.” First, “pledge” is a verb, not a noun; it’s an action, not a person. Incorrect usages aside, take a moment to consider the underlying meaning of the statement. Yes, new or prospective members must fulfill their financial obligations to the organization, just like current, or active, members, but clearly that’s not the intent of this excuse – only someone who is trying to argue the semantics of the statement would say there isn’t a hidden meaning. Let’s challenge that hidden meaning.

What does a Candidate/new member owe you? What do they owe the chapter? Can’t think of anything besides the obvious – They need to learn the history; they should respect the actives (an item to be covered at a later date), etc.? Well, take a step back and consider the fact that it was the chapter that chose to bring the Candidate into the membership. Sure, the Candidate accepted a bid, and, yes, it is reasonable to expect that he grow to understand the ideals of the organization and how to incorporate those ideals into his daily life. Whose job is it, though, to teach him those things? From one man’s perspective, it’s not the Candidate’s job to learn these things – he doesn’t owe us this – it is our job to teach him.

Go back and read the Ritual. The only thing a Candidate owes us (Sigma Nu) is his acceptance of, and best effort to live by, our ideals. We’ve already identified him as a man of honor, so it is up to us to guide, mentor, and counsel him to further incorporate our ideals into his life. We owe him that. The only thing due to us is his continued commitment to being a man of Love, Honor, and Truth.

Crowdsourcing to Eliminate Hazing: Announcing #40Answers in 40 Days

To promote this year’s National Hazing Prevention Week (September 20-24), the best minds in Greek Life are crowdsourcing their knowledge to provide a comprehensive list of swift and reasoned arguments against the 40 most common excuses for hazing.

Beginning Wednesday, August 11th, this spontaneous team of contributors will blog/tweet/post about a different excuse each day using the Twitter hashtag “#40Answers”.

Some of these excuses might warrant only a short response; others might call for more complex and lengthy explanations.  Contributors are encouraged to use a variety of mediums (blogs, websites, Facebook) that can link back to their Twitter page under the “#40Answers” hashtag.

Once the forty-day countdown is complete, the responses will be compiled, edited and made available for all.  This is likely to become the ultimate resource for fraternity men and sorority women who want to eliminate hazing and provide the true Greek Life experience.

Thanks for your participation and happy tweeting!

***Contributors are encouraged to post a similar announcement on their own blog leading into the campaign.***

Click here to view the calendar and corresponding list of hazing excuses.

Hazing is a ‘Professional’ Plague, too

The Dallas Cowboys knew that there would be questions about who would start at wide receiver this season.  The bigger question that looms now, however, is if the team will support one rookie’s effort to eliminate an ingrained culture of hazing in professional sports.

This weekend, Cowboys rookie Dez Bryant refused to continue a Dallas Cowboys tradition of rookies carrying the equipment of veterans out onto the practice field:

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

Despite the fact that Bryant came out later and said he was just joking, the spat brings to light a long-standing tradition in professional sports of new team members performing embrassing stunts or acts of personal servitude to ‘earn their stripes’ on a professional sports teams.

More concerning is an ESPN Sports Nation poll asking if Bryant should take part in the tradition hazing and carry the pads.  With over 63,000 responding, 73% believe that such acts of hazing are “good for team chemistry to uphold the tradition.”

This should sound familiar; familiar because it often plays out in fraternities and sororities every fall when chapters extend bids to new members.  Instead of carrying pads, new members might be asked to wear a candidate pin every day or formal attire on Fridays.  Instead of bagels for the team every morning, candidates are required to be designated drivers, steal articles of clothing from a sorority or make a late night pizza run.

Perhaps you have members like Roy Williams, who use the same, tired excuses to justify the ‘pranks’ and ‘odd jobs’:

“Everybody has to go through it,” Williams said.  “I had to go through it…I did everything I was supposed to do, because I didn’t want to be that guy.”

The fight against hazing is never easy, especially when professional athletes glorify the inane acts that lead to more dangerous stunts.  Nothing that is worth doing, however, is ever easy.  It only took the convictions of three cadets to inspire an international anti-hazing institution that thrives today; what will you do?

Teaching Empathy to Eliminate Bullying: The Reverse Parents’ Weekend

Grade school bullying and fraternity hazing share many of the same root causes.  While the activities might change from one age group to the next, the underlying philosophy of coerced respect remains the same.

As such, fraternities can draw insightful parallels from efforts to eliminate grade school bullying.  One such program, Roots of Empathy (ROE), aims to eliminate bullying by teaching empathy to students as early as preschool.

TIME magazine reports:

One of the most promising antibullying programs, ROE (along with its sister program, Seeds of Empathy) starts as early as preschool and brings a loving parent and a baby to classrooms to help children learn to understand the perspective of others. The nonprofit program is based in part on social neuroscience, a field that has exploded in the past 10 years, with hundreds of new findings on how our brains are built to care, compete and cooperate.

So maybe we’re not going to place a mother and her baby in every chapter home.  But the lesson here is about teaching empathy and living the golden rule.  What are some innovative ways your chapter can teach empathy?  Here is one possibility, the reverse parents’ weekend:

Send every initiate home with a new member for one weekend each semester.  Get to know his family and learn about his background.  When the would-be hazers have a deeper connection with the new members and their families, they’re more likely to form relationships based on common values and shared [positive] experiences rather than faux relationships built on intimidation and coerced respect.  Maybe this would pose logistical problems for large chapters but variations are available.

Greek Life professionals have two favorite reasons for eliminating hazing:

1) Someone could die or be seriously injured.

2) Hazing is against the law and the members responsible could face jail time.

Unfortunately these serious consequences are not compelling to many hazers.  Why?  Because the probability of someone suffering serious injury or going to jail are probably relatively rare for the seemingly harmless hazing.  This, however, should not undermine the importance of eliminating all hazing, not just the pernicious hazing.  Respect yourself and others regardless of age or tenure and the perceived need for respect through coercion disappears.

Random Thoughts

If fraternities are supposed to stand for such values as honor, integrity and respect then why must every national office employ a full-time Director of Risk Reduction?

Why are marketing campaigns to eliminate hazing almost always directed at our our own members rather than the general public?  Isn’t it pathetic that we should have to convince our own members that the mission of our organization is in fact good?

The few chapters that are either too cool or too dysfunctional to attend Grand Chapter will inevitably complain the most about the new bylaws and policies they didn’t bother to vote for.

If chapters are so proud of their diversity, loosely defined, then why do pledge programs insist on making everyone the same (“our #1 goal is to mold a united pledge class”)?

If hazers are so confident that arbitrary harassment builds brotherhood then why not advertise every activity and expectation during recruitment?

And if hazers are so confident that hazing has an ounce of relevance to real life then why don’t they list “endured hazing pledgeship” on their resume?  Or do they understand that no employer would take them seriously?

Why do some chapters spend more time developing marketing campaigns to make themselves look good rather than actually being good in the first place?

Why do chapters spend so much time trying to motivate members for recruitment rather than just recruiting people who don’t need to be motivated?

If hazing is supposed to teach respect then why are the loudest proponents of hazing always the least respected members in the chapter?

Employers Will Not Be Impressed by Your Hazing ‘Accomplishments’

Tracy Maxwell, Executive Director of, exposes the scam that hazing builds genuine brotherhood/sisterhood:

On top of that, most employers will not be impressed by stories of torture and abuse no matter how creative or “educational” you have deemed it. You won’t tell anyone outside the confines of your organization about what is going on behind closed doors, you certainly aren’t going to brag about it in an interview. Further, I’m guessing the huge amount of time you spend thinking up and carrying out creative hazing activities or administering hell week, probably keeps you from being that involved on campus or holding any leadership positions that you can actually learn from and talk about.

Professionalism and passion are both key to career success. You can certainly have a passion for hazing, and believe in the power of that experience to toughen people up and make them good members and better people (and many, many hazers and formerly hazed will say the experience did just that for them). You can spend an inordinate amount of time on hazing too. Time, in my opinion, that could be much better spent doing something good for society, serving in a visible leadership position and networking on campus, or developing new leadership skills that you can use to land you a job. The latter activities develop professionalism. Screaming obscenities and calling new members maggots does not.

Indeed, the unseen tragedy in hazing is the time that could have been spent on more worthwhile activities.

Tracy’s entire post is a must read.

How Econ 101 Teaches us to Eliminate Hazing

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.

Why People Conform

“Be Yourself” is one of the most repeated and accepted axioms of our time.  But is conformity inherently bad?  It’s natural, after all, to surround ourselves with like-minded people who share common tastes and preferences–the very foundation of social relationships.  An entire chapter with Costas, Croakies and Top Siders isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

But when conformity takes the form of groupthink and impairs our ability to make rational decisions, the results can be disastrous.

This PSYBLOG post lists ten factors that contribute to conformity.  Here are just a few:

2.  Dissent

As soon as there’s someone who disagrees, or even just dithers or can’t decide, conformity is reduced. Some studies have found conformity can be reduced from highs of 97% on a visual judgement task down to only 36% when there is a competent dissenter in the ranks (Allen & Levine, 1971).

Dissenters must be consistent, though, otherwise they’ll fail to convince the majority.

Indeed, all it takes is one dissenting voice to avoid a bad idea.

5.  Need for structure

While personality might not be as important as the situation in which people are put, it none the less has an effect. Some people have more of a ‘need for structure’ and consequently are more likely to conform (Jugert et al., 2009).

Teaching “time management” is often used as a facade for expecting candidates to adhere to arbitrarily busy schedules.

9. Social Norms

Other people affect us even when they’re not present. Whether or not we recycle, litter the street or evade tax often comes down to our perception of society’s view. Most of us are strongly influenced by thinking about how others would behave in the same situation we are in, especially when we are unsure how to act (Cialdini, 2001).

The higher we perceive the level of consensus, the more we are swayed. We are also more easily swayed if we know little about the issue ourselves or can’t be bothered to examine it carefully.

Unfortunately, many candidates who join hazing chapters falsely believe their experience to be the norm.

Sigma Nu History Isn’t Just For Candidates

Many of you have probably noticed that we started posting a Sigma Nu trivia question-of-the-day last week.  So far it’s been a fun way to engage our Facebook fans and Twitter followers about the early days of our storied organization.

A select few of the comments, however, have been disappointing in a subtle way.  Apparently for some, Sigma Nu history is merely a collection of arbitrary information for quizzing candidates.  “…well thats [sic] good trivia to stump candidates with,” read one comment.  Several others echoed a similar sentiment.

I know what you’re thinking: “What’s the big deal?  We expect our candidates to memorize history as a requirement for initiation.  Every chapter teaches history.  Don’t you think history is important??”

Of course history is important.  It explains why we were founded and it helps us understand why Sigma Nu’s mission is still relevant over 140 years later.  But seemingly harmless comments like these only perpetuate the pervasive myth that membership is earned only once during “pledging,” inevitably creating a culture of apathy and entitlement.

It seems harmless at first–a written test here, a verbal quiz there–but this paradigm of pledging is insidious.  Before long, verbal quiz sessions become line ups where deadbeat brothers attempt to gain unearned respect under the guise of “teaching history.”

Oddly, our history is often misused in this way as an arbitrary means to badger new members–the very behavior Sigma Nu was founded against.

Memorizing history is well and good but understanding history is even better.  Instead of barking “WHERE WERE THE FOUNDERS BORN?” why not discuss “Why was Sigma Nu founded and how is this still relevant today?”  Or, “to what extent does our chapter actually practice what the Founders intended?”

Slowly but surely sensible chapters are adopting this not-so-new paradigm for candidate education: Earn your badge every day by living the mission and values of our organization.  They’re not changing because it earns brownie points from the Greek Advisor or because “Nationals” told them to; they’re changing because it works.  Members are realizing that a brotherhood based on fear, harassment and personal servitude isn’t really a brotherhood at all.