So I've had this story in my tabs for like a week now and I haven't known what to do with it. The story is about a student who went to Dartmouth and who subsequently reported on the hazing and alcohol abuse he saw there and that he participated in.
Fair warning - the story recounts some pretty horrific practices. There's lot of drinking. Vomiting. Physical violence. Sexual harassment. Sexual assault. And on it goes. Now like ti says in the title, I'm in a fraternity. Not the one mentioned in the story but still. I've been in it for decades and am one of those people who don't see it as something you leave although I have been fairly inactive for a number of years. Before that though, I held numerous chapter offices, national offices and worked for our national headquarters for 2 years then served on our national board of directors. I wish deeply that I could tell you that the stories that the subject of the story lays out sound totally foreign to me and that I could never imagine humans doing things like that other humans voluntarily and certainly not when those humans happen to be college students. Sadly, the stories are all too familiar.
I will say I haven't seen abuse to the extreme and at the scale that is described in the story but then I haven't been a college undergrad for a couple of years. I will say this - that if those kind of problems exist at one chapter on a campus, they probably exist to some degree in all the chapters on that campus and probably with the band and football team as well. I'm not trying to widen the blame circle, I'm just stating that in my travels, I've observed that the attitdudes that allow this type of abuse to flourish are rooted in local traditions and mores. I should also say that hazing isn't restricted to fraternities and/or sororities. If its on campus, its kinda like an STD, you never know who has it and some of the folks who do will shock you.
I'll also say that I went through a transformative moment on this topic while in school. You go through this process and yoru first thought after it is - if I went through, so will the next people. Thank God that something my parents did, or divine intervention or something snapped inside me and that feeling lasted only about one term. I then spent the rest of my time as an undergrad, grad student house father, travelling consultant, national board member - fighting against this awful blight.
I also want to say that I have seen amazing things on the positive side. I had two fraternity brothers stabbed while I was in school. One died. I've never seen a group of young men come together and support each other like we did then. I lost my mom to an anuerism while I was in school. I had no car and was in Georgia and she was in North Carolina. It was finals week but I turned to a brother while still on the phone with the doctor and asked him to drive me the 5 hours to NC - he only asked when I wanted to leave. I'm also a historian. At one point, I was the National Historian for my fraternity and so I've seen stories both good and bad stretching back over the entire span of our existence.
I'll also say that our ritual which does feature things like robes and candles, is no more threatening when done right, than the Masonic rituals from which it (and about 90% of all fraternities rituals) are drawn (most of our founders were Masons after all). Actually there are some quite beautiful parts in there and I wish deeply that we did not keep our ritual secret for two reasons - 1. I'd like to share it with you and 2. I'd like everyone to know what the letters that I wear stand for and to hold me to that brave and enduring motto.
So let me close this rambling post by saying that I have a 12 year old son. When he goes off to college, I'll tell him that he should go through rush and see if there is a chapter of a fraternity at his school that he likes (if its not mine, that's ok - although that would be cool). I'll also urger him to take with him a strong sense of self and a strong conviction not to belong to any group that asks him to violate his own personal values (things I think all people should carry with them). I may also visit campus and talk to the Greek advisor. I'll also go to bed every night as I do now after reading that story and having these thoughts all come flooding back - wishing and hoping that fraternities and the young men in them, will understand that they belong to organizations founded on the highest aspirations of man and not ones that should in any way be focused instead on the basest degradations of the human spirit.