Category Archives: personal servitude

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 39: “Hazing teaches pledges to respect their elders”

Pause for a moment to think of a person you respect.  Why do you respect this person?

Did they expect you to fetch a pizza for them at 2:00 a.m.?  Did they ask you to enter their home through a door reserved for second-class citizens?  Maybe because they gave you an embarrassing costume to wear in public?  Or maybe you respect them because they instructed you to clean up after them every week?  That these activities might instill respect should cause most readers to laugh out loud (or maybe just LTMQ).

Chances are you respect this person because they actually deserve it.  Maybe they provided you with guidance and support or served as a role model.  For whatever reason, we respect people who are relevant to our lives.

Hazers tend to be the brothers who contribute nothing but deadweight to the chapter and, as such, are considered relevant by no one.  That is, no one respects them.  Since hazers can’t earn respect by serving as model brothers, they have to demand it by tacitly forcing new members to obey their every command.

Respecting your elders is a good thing–who would argue otherwise? But all too often hazers distort the meaning of this old axiom to to mean “take everything as given,” or “never question anyone who came before you.” Hazers imply that no command, direction or even suggestion deserves any critical evaluation; if a Brother says it then it must be true.  As Maraka from the SNL hit cartoon ‘Dora the Explorer‘ says, “Don’t question it, just do it!”

This exaggerated interpretation of “respect” is often a recipe for fanaticism and groupthink, leading chapters down a road of complacency or even worse.

Genuine respect is earned and those who demand it probably don’t deserve it.  We can show respect for and learn from our elders without taking their every word as an absolute truth.

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?

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.

The Shocking Reality of Irony

Irony can oftentimes be humorous, but in many other instances it can be disappointing or downright sad.

How would you feel if you opened up your local newspaper and read the following headline:

“Anti-hazing fraternity closed due to hazing.”

‘Living our Values’ isn’t just a catchy phrase or some arbitrary title for a LEAD session.  It’s what we’re supposed to do on a daily basis.  To live our values, we must understand them, lest we’re forced to swallow the bitter pill of irony.

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.

Deadheads, Frat Stars and Fraternity Men

The March issue of Atlantic Monthly is running a story on management secrets from the Grateful Dead.  I’m not really a Grateful Dead listener (no particular reason, they just never caught on for me) but, believe it or not, I found a few passages that relate to fraternity life.

What binds us together?

As the band’s following grew, the notion that it might have something to offer scholars, particularly in the social sciences, became somewhat less far-fetched, though still not without professional risk. In the late 1980s, Rebecca G. Adams, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, who studies friendships formed across distances, noticed deep bonds between Deadheads.

Today, everybody is intensely interested in understanding how communities form across distances, because that’s what happens online. Far from being a subject of controversy, Rebecca Adams’s next book on Deadhead sociology has publishers lining up.

Similarly (sort of), Sigma Nus from Orlando to Seattle and L.A. to Boston share deep bonds.  Hazers and true fraternity men agree that brotherhood is about bonding, but bonding around what exactly is where hazers get confused.

In a way, hazers are correct that people can bond together by enduring negative experiences together.  Surviving a natural disaster with your neighbor will surely bring you closer together; however, bonding through negative experiences is a backwards way to create genuine relationships, especially when the situations are created intentionally.

On the other hand, true fraternity brotherhood is built on the foundation of common ideals and positive experiences.  Those who have attended a Grand Chapter and recited the Ritual with hundreds of Sigma Nus from across North America understand what it means to be bonded by common ideals with otherwise complete strangers.

Enduring success relies on innovation

Recently, Barnes has been lecturing to business leaders about strategic improvisation. He’s been a big hit. “People are just so tired of hearing about GE and Southwest Airlines,” he admits. “They get really excited to hear about the Grateful Dead.”

The long-term success for any organization hinges on its ability (and its willingness) to adapt to constantly changing surroundings.  While it’s natural to be skeptical of advice from outsiders, we should also recognize that valuable lessons often come from unlikely sources.