ED. NOTE: Chad Ellsworth has written a book for Greeks that love fraternal life and values but loathe hazing practices as hardly in keeping with brotherhood and sisterhood. This is the story behind “Building up Without Tearing Down.” –Hank Nuwer, author of “Hazing: Destroying Young Lives”
Essay By Chad Ellsworth
I knew I wasn’t safe there that night. I had to move out. Immediately. As a junior college student and a then-member of that fraternity, I had confronted and sought to end the culture and practices of hazing that existed in the organization at that time.
Suddenly, at 11
p.m. on April 26, 2000, in the middle of Finals Week at my school, my
membership and my personal safety were on the line as a result of the stand I
had taken against hazing.
The fraternity’s officers called an emergency meeting for a bogus reason, with the goal of surprising and trapping me in the chapter meeting room that night. After an hour and a half of a few dozen men directing verbal abuse and threats against me, I was allowed to leave the room, and I knew I wouldn’t be safe staying there that night.
This was the
beginning of my 20-years-and-counting quest to fight hazing. In 2002, I began
pursuing my master’s degree, studying counseling and leadership, and I designed
a major research study on the topic of hazing, the results of which were
published in a peer-reviewed academic journal, among other publications.
Without a doubt,
the fight against hazing is a personal one for me, as I have been involved with
this quest as a student, as a researcher, as a professional, as a speaker, and
now as an author. My recently released book, “Building Up Without Tearing
Down,” is my way of packaging everything I have learned through the last
20-plus years and presenting a strategy that I believe can end hazing.
As a direct
result of my own dramatic experience with hazing, I knew that destructive and
dysfunctional organizations were doing irreparable harm to individuals and
communities, and themselves, as well.
are in need of a powerful strategy for building people up without tearing them
down. I have seen that the top-down directive to “not haze” is not enough to change
hazing cultures and practices in organizations, and even the ever-present
possibilities of public exposure, punishment, imprisonment, injury, and death
are insufficient in curbing dangerous and deadly hazing practices.
Rather, it is
imperative that we help students create challenging, meaningful, and most of
all, constructive and positive rites of passage.
In “Building Up
Without Tearing Down,” I offer a plan for organizations to ignite, rather than
inhibit, the growth and individual potential of its members.
As I was
creating the outline and drafting the main points for each chapter, I kept
thinking about what I would want to impart to 20-something me as I was confronting
the culture of hazing in my organization. What were the lessons and stories
that would have helped me through that situation? It was very hard at the time,
and it took me a very long time to recover from it. It definitely left a mark.
But if I could gather up everything that I learned about myself in the almost
20 years since then and help somebody else through that experience, that was
precisely what I wanted to do with the book.
In as much as this book was meant to help people like 20-something me,
believe it or not, these stories are the ones that I still turn to time and
time again even now to guide and inspire me, and the more I coach others in
their own journeys, the more I’ve found these stories resonate with lots of
As we begin learning more and more about how our brains absorb and retain
information, it is becoming increasingly clear that we learn best through
stories, whether ancient or modern, fictional or real. I wanted to share these
stories with the hope they will guide and inspire others as much as they do for
With all of that in mind, I wanted to write a book that was part
inspiration, part instruction, and part reflection. I wanted to weave a book
featuring some of the best ideas and emerging research from all sorts of fields,
illustrating those great ideas with stories of real and fictional people, and
finally providing an opportunity for people to reflect on and implement those
powerful ideas in their own lives.