Hazing News

Chad Ellsworth: “Why I Wrote ‘Building Up Without Tearing Down'”

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.

Organizations 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 people.

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 me.

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.

By Hank Nuwer

Journalist Hank Nuwer is the Alaska author of Hazing: Destroying Young Lives; Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. In April of 2024, the Alaska Press Club awarded him first place in the Best Columnist division and Best Humorist, second place.

He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His current book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press. He is married to Malgorzata Wroblewska Nuwer of Warsaw, Poland and Fairbanks, Alaska. Nuwer is a former columnist for the Greenville (Ohio)Early Bird and former managing editor of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner in Alaska.
Nuwer was named the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists columnist of the year in 2021 for his “After Darke” column in the Early Bird. He also won third place for the column in 2022 from the Indiana chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He and his wife Gosia, recently of Union City, Ind., have owned 20 acres in Alaska for many years. “The move is a sort-of coming home for us,” said Nuwer. As a journalist, he’s written about the Alaskan Iditarod sled-dog race and other Alaska topics. Read his musings in his blog at Real Alaska Daily-- and in his weekly column "Far from Randolph" in the Winchester Star-Gazette of Randolph County, Indiana.

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