Hazing News

CNN interview in-depth on hazing: 1993 Sonya Friedman, Eileen Stevens, Hank Nuwer

CNN Sonya Live

August 31, 1993

SONYA: It’s a proud moment and a really expensive one, as you watch your child go off to college. But wait. That kid may be in for a terrible time.

ANNOUNCER: Live from CNN New York, intelligent talk for intelligent people with Dr. Sonya Friedman.

SONYA: Hello, again! It’s a matter of trust, loyalty, brotherhood, a rite of passage many young men go through in order to fit in, in order to belong. Many see pledging a college fraternity as their ticket to a social life – parties, girls – and they would do anything to just get in, including face what’s become known as ‘Hell Week,’ a series of activities that fraternity brothers think up to initiate pledges, activities that sometimes involve hazing, and sometimes may put a young man’s life in danger.

James Gill was kidnapped, taken to a bar, and forced to drink what he calls ‘ridiculous amounts of alcohol.’ When he told fraternity brothers he wanted to leave, they kept saying, ‘Just one more. Just one more.’ James ended up literally crawling back to his dorm room, drunk, and sick.

[interviewing] Now, you ended up quitting during Hell Week; is that right? Was it this incident? Did it take away from your basic sense of trust? What did this do to you besides make you sick?

JAMES GILL, Fraternity Hazing Victim: Well, you have, when you start pledging, understanding that these people are going to be there for you. You’re kind of saying, ‘Over the next eight to 12 weeks, I’m going to put my trust in your hands.’ And when things of this nature – and a lot of things besides this go on – when you see those and you experience those, you start to wonder if you’re trusting the right people. And it does; it shatters your trust.

SONYA: What other kinds of things did you experience?

Mr. GILL: Not myself, personally, but my roommate, who also pledged with me, had his shoulder dislocated and his collar bone broken because he was thrown down a flight of steps.

SONYA: That was all considered good fun?

Mr. GILL: Discipline.

SONYA: What do you see is the purpose of pledging a fraternity?

Mr. GILL: In my views or theirs, because they’re two different things?

SONYA: Well, let’s hear both.

Mr. GILL: My view, the act of pledging fraternity, is to become bonded, a part of something that’s greater than just yourself. You’re in a union, so to speak, you know, and you’re in a fraternity.

SONYA: And theirs?

Mr. GILL: Their idea is that you become something that is up and above all else. It is the king of the hill on a college campus. You’re supposed to be, you know, the fraternity, and the Greek way of life is the way of life.

SONYA: Then what is there about the humiliation and torture that seems to go with the hazing process?

Mr. GILL: Fraternities and brothers that have been involved with a fraternity for several years, several semesters feel that by torturing you, by disciplining you, it makes you stronger as a group. And when you’re pledging, you lose your individuality, or you’re supposed to lose your individuality and become a member of your group, which is your pledge class.

SONYA: Do you think, for a minute, that the guys who surround you at this bar did not know that you were really getting very sick?

Mr. GILL: Oh, they knew.

SONYA: How much did you have to drink?

Mr. GILL: A rough estimate, I would say maybe 12 shots and six beers in a half hour, 45 minutes.

SONYA: And you literally had to crawl home?

Mr. GILL: I crawled up two flights of stairs to my room.

SONYA: Did any of them come to see you?

Mr. GILL: One. One in 24 hours.

SONYA: What did he say?

Mr. GILL: I don’t really remember. I was really inebriated.

SONYA: Still hung over after 24 hours and more. It took you, what?, three days to kind of pull yourself together?

Mr. GILL: Oh, definitely. Yeah, it took me a long time.

SONYA: After winning a drinking contest at a fraternity initiation party, Dennis Jay was rushed to the hospital with a blood alcohol level of .48. That’s nearly fatal.

[interviewing] Now, Dennis, it took seven hours for you to regain consciousness. What was the first thing that one of the fraternity brothers said to you when you finally woke up?

DENNIS JAY, Fraternity Hazing Victim: Asked me if my parents were going to press charges.

SONYA: And what did you say?

Mr. JAY: I was still kind of out of it, kind of freaked out at the time, and I couldn’t believe he was asking me that. The first thing, I was, like, ‘I don’t know; I’ll talk to them. I’ll see what he has to say.’ I mean, I didn’t even talk to my parents really about it, yet. I mean, I just pretty much come to and was able to speak and talk to them at this point.

SONYA: Now, what was going on, and why did you cooperate with this amount of alcohol, Dennis?

Mr. JAY: It was, like, a ritual-type thing. The fraternity had been doing it for years, and everyone had done it, you know, all my pledge brothers. There were 20 other guys this night involved in it, and I was the only one who got hurt, but 20 other guys were doing the same thing that night. In the whole fraternity, everyone had done it before me, before me, before me, and it was two nights before I was supposed to be initiated, I figured, you know, it’s something everyone’s done. It’s something you need to do to be in the fraternity, and I felt it was, you know, my duty to drink until they told me to.

SONYA: And how do you feel about it now?

Mr. JAY: I think it was ridiculous. It was partly my fault and part theirs. It was just a bad situation. It’s amazing that someone hadn’t been hurt before, because it had been going on for years. We were blindfolded and forced to drink until we vomited. It’s just that kind of situation that’s way too dangerous, and no one realizes it.

SONYA: Indeed. But more than that, it doesn’t even make sense. You know, listening to James’ and Dennis’ stories, I’m sure it’s not easy for my next guest, because Eileen Stevens is a woman who has experienced this in her own life. Her son, Chuck, died of alcohol poisoning after a hazing ritual at Alfred University. He was just 20 years old. Eileen is founder of the Committee to Halt Useless College Killings, C-H-U-C-K, CHUCK, in honor of her son.

[interviewing] Take us back to what happened to your son.

EILEEN STEVENS, Son Died in Hazing Incident: Well, when I was telephoned, I was told only that Chuck had died of alcohol overdose at a party. I did not learn it was hazing until after his funeral from his roommate, who then shared with me the fact that Chuck had decided to pledge that very day and had been taken, coerced to leave his room with other young men, taken to a parking lot. Three of them were put into a car trunk late at night in freezing temperatures, and waiting for them inside of trunk was a pint of bourbon each and a mixture of wine and beer. They were told they had to consume that before they would be released. They were driven around, then taken to the fraternity house, brought to an upstairs bedroom to sleep it off, and Chuck was dead of acute alcohol poisoning and exposure within hours. I did learn, from the young man on the phone, that this was a practice shrouded in secrecy. The young men pledging had no idea this was in store for them. The membership took oaths of silence and a vow of secrecy. And like James and Dennis have told you, this was obviously a tradition. It was a local fraternity but a very strong and old fraternity at Alfred University. And apparently, this had gone on every semester, and it was a miracle no one else had died. But the night that Chuck died, some of those young men were hospitalized, and two were critical for more than two days. It was the first time that I had ever heard the word ‘hazing.’

SONYA: Was anything done about this on campus?

Ms. STEVENS: No, unfortunately. It was very minimized. It was treated as an isolated accident. The university assumed no responsibility other than to put the fraternity on temporary probation. And the local authorities held no one accountable at all. That is what motivated me to begin the work that I do in hopes that it wouldn’t happen again.

SONYA: James, do you see this as a rites of passage as a proof of manhood, this kind of drinking or blind obedience to another group?

Mr. GILL: I don’t personally, but I know that there are-

SONYA: But you did at the time?

Mr. GILL: I did believe that, to a degree, there were things and steps that you needed to do to prove that you meant- you deserved to belong.

SONYA: And that nothing would hurt you, that you could put yourself in the hands of these other men slightly older, who had been through it, and trust them?

Mr. GILL: For weeks, you’re preached by them that you can trust them. And as, you know, your pledging period goes on, it doesn’t start out that difficult. It starts our very easy, and they slowly try to gain your trust. And by taking me to a bar that evening, I was told later that that was supposed to be my- allow me to trust them more.

Ms. STEVENS: Intense peer pressure.

SONYA: Intense peer pressure. Well, it sounds to me like the rites of passage, but is it to manhood, or is there a certain kind of meanness that is attached to this? We’ll find out when we continue on Sonya Live.

[Commercial break]

SONYA: I’m talking about hazing and fraternities.

Hank Nuwer says hazing, while shocking, has been going on since the beginning of time. He’s the author of Broken Pledges, The Deadly Rite of Hazing.

[interviewing] What is hazing, if we want to define it?

HANK NUWER, Hazing Researcher: Hazing is any silly, demeaning, or dangerous task required for admission into a group.

SONYA: And that’s a big range from silly to demeaning to dangerous.

Mr. NUWER: It certainly is. And the ones that I’m most concerned with are the dangerous sorts of things, and then, we get into the realm of hazing that should concern parents. The dangerous things, such as making people consume vast amounts of alcohol, 200 kamikazes for a handful of people of which James Callahan died at Rutgers, or-

SONYA: What’s a kamikaze?

Mr. NUWER: It’s a sort of a mixed drink that has a lot of different ingredients in it, a very powerful drink. And fraternity members have been electrocuted, they’ve been buried alive and died. They’ve been put into steam rooms and have perished while doing calisthenics. They’ve fallen over cliffs while being pursued. So it runs the gamut. People say that the media treats this as a sensational issue, but the fact is these deaths have been done in sensational ways.

SONYA: Well, let me ask you about this, because I know that you’ve had some personal experience with this and stepped in and helped somebody many years ago. And then the same kind of ritual occurred and a young man died. But how widespread is this? I mean, is it pockets of the country? Are there only certain universities where this occurs?

Mr. NUWER: In my estimation, it’s widespread, and it’s not only in fraternities, but also in sororities, in student groups, even honor societies, such as Auburn [sp?]. It’s widespread.

SONYA: Do sororities use different kinds of hazing techniques?

Mr. NUWER: For a long time, they did. It was a lot more mental and a lot more make fun of someone’s weight, or draw magic markers on. But now, women are starting to imitate men’s behavior. You’re seeing branding at the University of Maine. You’re seeing-

SONYA: Branding? Did you say branding, like cattle prod branding?

Mr. NUWER: A small sort of thing to put the initials of the sorority on the flesh.

Ms. STEVENS: At a cemetery.

Mr. NUWER: At a cemetery.

SONYA: Wow! That sounds like very serious stuff. You know, according to a study by Southern Illinois University and William and Mary, residents of fraternity houses have an average of 20 drinks per week as compared to eight for other college men. And you thought you were sending them to college to learn. How big a role does alcohol play in the lives of fraternity men?

Well, Jim Scott is the vice president of Student Life and Enrollment Services at Georgia State University.

[interviewing] Jim, how widespread is this, and is this a serious problem? Or again, are we really just exploiting some incidents?

JIM SCOTT, University Administrator: Well, I think hazing is a major concern to colleges and universities all around the country. We’ve certainly made a number of efforts and attempts to deal with the problems related to hazing. There are educational programs that are initiated every year with fraternities and sorority leaders. States have initiated legislation to actually ban hazing and take legal action against those found responsible. The national fraternity and sorority organizations and executive directors have also put into place rules and regulations regarding hazing. I think institutions are making a sincere effort through enforcement, as well as educational programs to try to deal with the problem.

SONYA: Eileen, are you satisfied with that?

Ms. STEVENS: Well, there has been a great deal of change and a growing awareness. I have spoken at 550-some-odd colleges in the past 14 years. I am seeing an increase in educational programming, and now, 38 states have anti-hazing laws. But now, we have a long way to go. Many people still minimize the problem, camouflage it. The secrecy that shrouds hazing is so unbelievably powerful that, obviously, they need to do more.

SONYA: But what about those kids who really feel that it’s not only important, it’s necessary for this rite of passage and bonding to take place?

Adam Sikora, you are a former fraternity brother. You actually quit because your house at the University of Alabama abolished pledging. Now, what do you think about what you’ve been hearing so far?

ADAM SIKORA, Fraternity Alumnus: I feel like that everybody’s got a point, and there’s a lot of bad stories that happen to everybody. Personally, pledging, for me, was the best thing that I ever did. I went to school with a lot of values and morals that my parents gave me, but going through pledging taught me a certain amount of discipline, respect. It taught me things that I use today in life.

SONYA: I am very interested in hearing about that point of view. Would you tell me some of the things that were required of you when you pledged, please?

Mr. SIKORA: There was a lot of personal servitude. There was nothing that was- We were never forced to really do anything but to gain the respect. We did a lot of cleaning of houses, and we did different things around the house.

SONYA: How does that make you gain respect?

Mr. SIKORA: I think it’s a matter of working for something. You’re constantly- You’re being told that you’ve got to work to be in this house, and if you go through life giving up on something because something is a little difficult, then I think that you’re going to back away from a lot of things in life.

SONYA: So there was some humiliation. The last photo we saw there, the guys are dressed as women. When you talk about nothing dangerous, would you say that what you heard here today from James and from Dennis is out of sorts, that what Hank Nuwer talks about really does not occur that much, in your experience?

Mr. SIKORA: In my personal experience, it did not occur at all. It does happen. I think a lot of it was peer pressure. Nothing like that ever happened to me. There are so many gray areas involved in the hazing whether you’re going to step the line or cross the line. And I knew personally that if there was any crossing the line, then I would stand up and say, ‘This is not right.’ I feel comfortable about that.

SONYA: Now, Dennis Jay, that’s interesting, because Adam says he would stand up and he would not allow a line to be crossed. What happens that a guy like yourself or a guy like James may not have been able to do that?

Mr. JAY: I don’t know. I guess it’s- You know, when it comes down to the- You think that you- It’s a mindset here, and I guess I can understand where he’s coming from, because even though you’re not forced and bound and gagged to do something, it’s like your duty. You do what the other members in the fraternity want you to do. They did it. If you didn’t do it, then you wouldn’t really be a full member, then would you? I mean, if everybody else had gone through something and I was to say, ‘No, I don’t want to do this,’ then I wouldn’t feel like I earned it. I wouldn’t feel like I earned my status as an active.

Mr. SIKORA: Well, that’s part of the point. You’ve got to work for something that you really want, and that’s what it taught me. I mean, when you go on for life, and you go into a job, and you really want something bad enough, you’ve got to work very hard for it. and it taught you in a little bit different way – it may not be the best way – but it did teach me not to give up on certain things that I really want.

SONYA: Yet, at the same time, the issue of trust has come up in our discussion. And James Gill, when he pledged, pledged dry, because a cousin of his died a year before under a similar set of circumstances. And yet, pledging dry is not what happened. So what happens to the basic sense of trust. We’ll talk about that when we continue.

[Commercial break]

SONYA: The Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts – those are groups where young people are asked to prove themselves. And according to my next guest, fraternities are not much different. They, too, are trying to build bonds. Jonathan Brant is executive vice president of the National Interfraternity Conference.

[interviewing] Now, Mr. Brant, I want you to just hear one thing, and then respond to it.

James, you had a cousin who died the year before in a similar hazing kind of incident with alcohol. You asked to pledge dry. What happened the night of the experience that led to you quitting?

Mr. GILL: I was put in the back seat of a car, was kidnapped, which we were announced to on a Sunday that it was going to happen. And I was convinced to be alone in the fraternity house. He said it was going to be OK. Ended up kidnapping me anyway, taking me to a bar. Along the route to the bar- I was new to the city. Along the route to the bar, I was in the back seat with my head down, and I couldn’t see where we were going. I really didn’t know where we were going anyway. After driving in circles-

SONYA: Were you scared at all?

Mr. GILL: To a degree but not a lot.

SONYA: Not a lot.

Mr. GILL: No. I still felt pretty comfortable. The president of the fraternity was with us, you know, the person that I had expressed to that I didn’t want to drink during my pledging. So upon getting to this bar, I said, ‘Listen.’ I said, ‘Guys, you know, I’m out of here,’ and I started running down the street. They said, ‘Where are you going? You have no money. You have no identification. You have no idea where you are.’ So, you know, as Adam pointed out, that there’s certain things you have to work toward and things that you should do, I don’t think that that type of work is deserving. But yes, they didn’t squeeze my cheeks and pour the alcohol down my throat. I put the glass to my mouth, but I was really in a no-win situation.

SONYA: Right. Now, Jonathan, how often do you think this occurs?

JONATHAN BRANT, National Interfraternity Conference: Well, it’s devastating to hear stories like James’ and Dennis’ and Chuck’s, because our experience is most of the 400,000 men who are in fraternities and in schools today are having great experiences within fraternities. But we recognize that silly and dangerous things are occurring within fraternities, just as they do in other membership organizations. And as Jim Scott said, we’ve had a policy in place, and we have stringent risk management approaches. We really have to do some things to make certain that we replace hazing type activities and engage students in healthy activities and help them learn how to confront these kinds of inappropriate behaviors on college campuses.

SONYA: Hank, how often is there a death or some serious accident connected with this?

Mr. NUWER: In the last 20 years, there have been more than 51 deaths from fraternity hazing and pledge-related sorts of things, and also roof deaths, where people fall. So the amount of deaths is very, very disturbing. And in fraternities, they go back to 1873 in this country at Cornell. So, it’s a problem that the fraternities have not been able to get away with for all these problems.

SONYA: Indeed, though, deaths don’t really tell the whole story, because there can be accidents, there can be any one of a number of things that are never told.

Let me introduce all of you to Bernard Watson, who is vice president, treasurer of the Kappa Alpha Si [sp?] Fraternity Incorporated at Emery University.

[interviewing] Bernard, in your opinion, what about the black fraternities versus white fraternities? Is there a different form of hazing? Does hazing go on?

BERNARD WATSON, Fraternity Alumnus: Well, when you’re dealing with historically African-American fraternities and historically white fraternities, you are dealing with different types of pledging and different activities. In my fraternity, there was no alcohol consumption or things of that nature. There were no times when we were forced to consume alcohol. Our was more of a discipline type ritual.

SONYA: Give me examples of what discipline means.

Mr. WATSON: Well, I think when a lot of people talk about hazing, they automatically assume the worse things, like the alcohol, or getting paddled, and things like that. But there are a lot of other things that are considered hazing that I don’t necessarily think are harmful, such as dressing the same, respecting authority, respecting the brothers, saying, ‘Yes, sir’ to a brother who’s in a fraternity who you’re trying to become a member of. And we had to do things like that. We shaved our heads off, which is something that we wanted to do anyway.

SONYA: I hope it was just the hair on your head, Bernard.

Mr. WATSON: Yes, just the hair on our head, and it wasn’t anything else. But, you know, it was- I thought it was a very positive experience.

SONYA: On the other hand, have you heard about the issue of branding? That in some black fraternities, that there is branding that takes place on the arm with the initials of the group, that there is paddling, that there are other kinds of humiliating experiences?

Mr. WATSON: Well, first things first. In terms of their branding, the branding, yes, that does go on. But it’s not something that is forced upon you. It’s something that you have the option of doing once you become a brother. It’s a totally voluntary thing.

SONYA: Bernard, you just heard a little bit ago, when James talked about the sense that you’re there in a situation. Dennis talked about the fact that everybody else is doing it; how are you going to cop out? Would you not say that even if you might see it as- not see it as force, that the peer influence, as Eileen has pointed out to us before, is extraordinary?

Mr. WATSON: Well, I would say, yes, it can be extraordinary. But, at the same time, like I was saying before is, you’re a member of the fraternity now, and it’s not something that you are forced to do. And to be honest with you, not a whole lot of brothers, at least in my fraternity, and definitely not my chapter, have done. It’s something that’s totally up to you.

Mr. NUWER: But at Ball State University where I used to teach, one of my students who was black told me that, no, it’s a voluntary thing, but no one who hasn’t been branded has ever gotten in. How voluntary is that?

Mr. WATSON: Well, first of all, I think if you’re dealing with any situations, there’s going to always be exceptions to the rule. Nothing in this world is a hundred percent. So you can’t expect one statement to be totally true. And I think if you’ve looked at it across the board, the numbers will show you that most of the brothers do not have brands on their arm. And even if, in that particular chapter, that that was the case, that doesn’t necessarily mean that every chapter around the state or around the country is like that. So I don’t think you can really make that statement.

Mr. WATSON: What about the positive things that you can do in place of subservience and deprivation and periods of silence? The community needs, the campus needs, the needs that every area and campus situation has. That’s what brotherhood is.

SONYA: Well, frankly, one of the things that I find very disturbing, as I listen to this, is the issue of the power struggle, the issue of submission and dominance and, if I may, a little sadism that is involved in all of this, particularly, ‘Now that I’ve made it, I’m going to get you, and I may do a little bit more than was done to me.’

And I’ll find out if that’s accurate. Also, your calls and particularly, your personal experiences – 212-643-0077.

[Commercial break]

SONYA: It’s an old idea. If you want to be one of the boys – and who doesn’t – then you’ve got to prove yourself. But why does it have to involve going to life-threatening extremes? Do the rites of passage into college fraternities have to be a form of torture? My discussion continues on Sonya Live after this.

[Commercial break]

SONYA: Welcome back! We’re talking about the horrors that too often figure into the initiation of new pledges into a college fraternity. Also, we’re talking about the hard partying that can dominate a student’s time at college.

Let’s take a call, as we go to Adam in Maryland. Welcome, Adam!

1st CALLER: [Maryland] Hi, there! My brother, back in 1989, was an alumnus of a university up in Western Maryland called Frostferd [sp?] State University. And he went up there for a formal, and one way or the other, he got involved in a practical joke in which methyl alcohol was ingested into his system. And he died two days later, and the autopsy came back two weeks later in which it was found out there was methyl alcohol. The investigation went underway, but nothing was every found.

SONYA: Was this part of a hazing experience.

1st CALLER: No. It was at a fraternity formal that the brothers usually go to once a semester, usually a big party at the end of the semester. This is up in a resort up in Western Maryland.

SONYA: That brings me to the issue of whether or not somebody can innocently get involved in something like this. I mean, is it possible to kind of walk by when something like this is going on and find yourself potentially a victim? Do you think that that can happen, Hank?

Mr. NUWER: Sure, it happens, because it’s part of the group mentality, ‘I trust these people. They trust me. They want me in the group.’ And because you expect nothing to happen, it comes upon you, and suddenly, you’re caught up in it. And groups psychology says you won’t interfere, you’ll watch it happen, and you’re going to have a tremendous amount of guilt when someone dies, and you’ll carry it with you forever.

SONYA: Yeah, I fear that that’s probably true. I want to ask Dennis how you have the courage to come forth. What led to the day that you squealed on your brothers?

Mr. JAY: I went for a month or so without saying a word about it or anything, and then they ended up getting one of my friends who I had had from high school, who was also in the fraternity. They got him, like, over a barrel, the dean in the administration. And they ended up pitting him against the rest of the fraternity while I was just sitting back not saying anything. And he was going to be kicked out of school because the brothers in the fraternity were saying that he was lying and he wasn’t telling the truth, and it was his fault and all this stuff. And they were trying to pin it on him. So I had to come forward and tell the truth in order to get him out of so much trouble.

SONYA: And then what happened to you?

Mr. JAY: Then I ended up coming back home, and I left school. And the fraternity ended up getting kicked off campus for three years. They’ll be back next year.

Mr. BRANT: And Sonya, to reinforce what’s being said here, we think it’s particularly important in the National Interfraternity Conference that we address the culture of the chapters. So we’re partnering with the United States Department of Education, a program called Our Chapter, Our Choice, and we’re trying to utilize this dynamic that you identified earlier, this peer influence, which can be a very positive thing as well-

Mr. SCOTT: That’s tremendous!

Mr. BRANT: -and help students change the way they value things within their chapters. We’ve got to change the culture of the chapters and engage students in a passion for this issue, if we’re ever going to solve the whole concern for hazing.

SONYA: Let’s let Jim Scott jump in.

Mr. SCOTT: Yeah, I would agree a hundred percent with Jonathan. I think he’s right on target. Given the tremendous peer pressure that young people have to conform and to be a part of the group, I think part of the big dilemma we face as college administrators is to convey to students that it’s OK to speak out and say when you think something is wrong.

SONYA: Jim Scott, I’ve got to call you on that and ask you, isn’t there the same pressure for guys like you not to admit it? I mean, we see cover ups in school all over the place. When we get into a bureaucratic or institutional setting, people are protecting their jobs and protecting the university. Can you really assure parents who are watching us today that you put your job on the line by going out and saying, ‘Yes, my university is in line with that,’ if, in fact, it was occurring at your university?

Mr. SCOTT: Sonya, I do believe that institutions have that responsibility, and certainly, those of us in higher education recognize our responsibilities and know that we need to do whatever is possible to make sure that we’re not subjecting our students to any kind of physical or emotional or psychological abuse. We have that responsibility.

SONYA: OK. I thank you for that.

Mr. NUWER: But not all schools do. In Eileen’s case, when I did the book, Broken Pledges, Alfred University absolutely covered it up. And then there’s the problem of trying not to call something hazing. At Trinity College in Texas, people were deprived of sleep, encouraged to drink alcohol, and then when someone goes to the side of the road to urinate and is hit by a car and killed, they call that not a hazing. This idea of a definition is a difficulty, and I’m not saying that that gentleman would do so. But at Trinity College, I would call it a hazing, and I would have had charges pressed.

SONYA: Let’s take another call. We’ll go to Irwin in New York, now. Welcome, Irwin!

2nd CALLER: [New York] Hello! My name is Joel, but I was calling to say that in hazing, you’re not required to do the things that your bigger brothers say. If an individual doesn’t want to do something, they don’t have to do that.

SONYA: Well, Adam, you agree with that, don’t you?

Mr. SIKORA: I feel exactly like that. I don’t think that I was ever forced to do anything. I mean, if it was told me, it was asked of me, and somebody had made me feel a little bit of peer pressure, but I felt like there was no reason for it, I would not do it.

SONYA: Now, James Gill, does that make you weak in comparison to what I hear from Adam and the caller?

Mr. GILL: I disagree totally. I think that for him to say, ‘Well, there was nothing that I was asked to do or told to do.’ Well, if you’re asked to do something, then you’re doing it voluntarily. But if you’re told to do it, then it’s no longer voluntary.

SONYA: Do you give up your will to the group? Is that what happens? You kind of meld with them?

Mr. GILL: Well, a lot of times, you’re involved with a pledge class of more than, let’s say, ten people. So, if you are the sore thumb, everyone else usually suffers besides yourself. So, a lot of times, people take that into consideration, as well. That if you, you know, don’t conform, it’s not necessarily you that’s going to be punished. It’s the other members of the group.

Mr. SIKORA: The things that I was ever told to do – not asked to do, but told to do – it built a lot of character in me. And I had the choice of being- whether I wanted to do it or not.

Mr. NUWER: I don’t agree with that in character. I don’t think being able to clean a house with a toothbrush makes you a better person and heads you on to life.

Mr. SIKORA: It made me have the attitude that I needed to work for something. I wanted to be in that fraternity, and I never had a problem with it. And if I wanted to leave, then I could have left. I had a choice. [crosstalk]

Mr. NUWER: As an employer, I wouldn’t hire you because of that. I would hire you to be a housekeeper. That does not impress me that you’ve learned how to clean a house.

Mr. WATSON: Excuse me, Sonya. Sonya, I have to say this, though. I understand so many things that are going on in terms of people getting killed and being made to drink things that they don’t want to is wrong. But at the same time, let’s look at it from this perspective. Every day, you have, you know, 18 year olds who are joining the military forces, and some of the same things that we are considering hazing right here are being done to these recruits. I mean, granted, it’s talking about dealing with military forces, but the same type of thing: sleep deprivation. You’re talking about respect. You’re talking about dressing alike, shaving your head. All those type of things still go on.

Mr. NUWER: It should be unacceptable in the military. It’s done in the Coast Guard, and it needs to be uncovered. I agree with you. It shouldn’t be done in the Coast Guard. It shouldn’t be done in fraternities.

Mr. WATSON: But the problem is, by saying all these things, these negative things- A lot of these things are negative, but you’re not giving the fraternities and sororities enough respect and enough-

Mr. NUWER: I’ve sat in the homes of too many mothers whose sons have died, and they need more than respect. They want their sons back.

Mr. WATSON: But there are a lot of other positive things that we do that are not being brought to light. There are a lot of other positive things that we are doing that are not being brought to light. It’s not as if the way it’s being painted here is that all fraternities and sororities are-

SONYA: Well, I want to be sure that you understand, Bernard, as well as our audience and our other guests, that we are not painting all fraternities with a broad brush or sororities. What we are doing is saying that this apparently occurs. Now, how do you stop it and who, in heaven’s name would want to lose a child to something like this? 212-643-0077, as we continue our discussion about hazing.

[Commercial break]

SONYA: And who stops the hazing? James Gill, who stops it? We have a couple of administrators here talking about the fact it can be done.

Mr. GILL: I think it has to come from the administration. When an 18-year-old guy graduates from high school, he thinks about going to college, and he walks on campus, and he sees one of those beautiful colonial houses on the corner up on a hill. He walks in and he smells the damp beer on the hardwood floor. He thinks about all the keg parties. He thinks about all the girls at the keg parties, all the good times, all the screaming and yelling, all the Monday night football games. That’s what they think about. They don’t think about, ‘Oh, I could get hurt at this.’

Mr. NUWER: I’d like to put more responsibility on the students themselves for them to not behave in a way that they know is wrong. They know this alcohol abuse is wrong. They know the hazing is wrong, and yet, it continues.

Mr. GILL: I think if you’re going to put it on the shoulders of the students, though, it’s got to be done from the members who already exist, not from the kids who are coming in.

Ms. STEVENS: And I speak to them as a mother and urge them to have the courage to speak out and come forward. But they need a support system. And what Jonathan and the administrator, Mr. Scott said is true. They do need someone there to help them make this decision, because ultimately, the choice is theirs. It’s up to them.

Mr. SCOTT: Well, it’s a shared responsibility, I believe, between the individual students, the university administration, as well as the Greek leaders on the campuses. It’s not any one group’s sole responsibility to deal with the problem.

Mr. WATSON: And the kids, a lot of times, also, the members of our fraternity, at least is historically African-American fraternities are trying to do these things, because we’re in a position now where we keep having these incidents where people are getting hurt, we’re not going to be financially able to exist in not decades, but we’re talking about years, you know, 5, 10, 15 years. If we keep getting these lawsuits and incidents where people are getting hurt and suing, we’re not going to be able to financially handle this. So I think you have a lot of them-

Ms. STEVENS: I think Jonathan will agree that hazing and alcohol are the two greatest enemies of fraternity life today. And all these young people have to do is reflect on what fraternity and brotherhood means, and they’ll realize that hazing has no place.

SONYA: Yeah, it really is very surprising, as I hear this all played out in front of me to see that these kinds of things, humiliating incidents, verbal abuse, and the potential of getting very sick and perhaps dying are considered a part of the rites of passage to young manhood in America.

Let’s go to Michigan for a call, say hello to Jeremy. Welcome, Jeremy!

3rd CALLER: [Michigan] Hi! I just wanted to, you know, make a few comments about the positive things. Like, our fraternity- I’m from Ohio State, and it’s a really strong [unintelligible] system down there, and we had the largest blood drive in the United States as far as I know, where we donate, I don’t know, just thousands of pints or whatever of blood. And just all those lives that we saved through that, that’s just one of the things. I mean, we’ve gotten rid of kegs. We’ve taken so many steps to reduce the amount of alcohol consumption, and we have noticed a reduction in, like, the violence, like, after parties and stuff like that, kids going out and getting wild afterwards. And it’s just the pluses far outweigh the minuses in my-

Mr. NUWER: I don’t think that’s exactly true. Two hundred blood drives does not bring back one person. [crosstalk]

SONYA: We’ve got Jim speaking in the background.

Mr. NUWER: Yes. Two hundred blood drives does not bring back one person. Here is the thing. Yes, fraternities give a sense of community, particularly at large universities, and they are very important for that. But the idea is just like with the Catholic church does good things-

Mr. SIKORA: What is the solution to take away hazing and taking away pledging? You know, my fraternity nationally abolished pledging. They were the very first fraternity to do it. And a lot of people had respect for it. I became very angry. My fraternity is in worst shape. It’s more dangerous to be in this fraternity now than it was when I was a pledge. This house is turned upside down. I’m scared for it. Now, I kind of want to speak out for it because-

SONYA: Well, why is that? Wait a minute. Are you saying that the rites of passage were rules and organization, and without that, young boys in a fraternity house go into anarchy, chaos?

Mr. SIKORA: That’s what happened. It took about a year, and everybody pretty much laid off of any kind of hazing. And as the people that were hazed graduated and moved on, the younger people felt like these new guys coming in didn’t have respect for the house. And now, I’m hearing stories that really bother me, and I don’t have any respect for what’s going on. But the thing is is that my national fraternity jumped in, abolished pledging, but they didn’t give us any laws or any standards of what we should do, how can we make our program better. They just said, ‘This is it,’ and it kind of went into chaos, yes.

Mr. NUWER: Hazing is going underground. [crosstalk]

SONYA: Well, let’s have- If I may, I’d like to get James Gill in to just to respond to what was heard, then I’ll get right back to you.

Let me ask how you feel about this: the need for law and order, the need for rules and regulations, the need to make you submit.

Mr. GILL: To say that- For Adam to say that they need hazing or some form of discipline in his fraternity to make someone have respect is totally inaccurate. I mean, why can’t he go back to the fraternity, then, if he feels uncomfortable, if he’s scared for it, why can’t you go back-

Mr. SIKORA: I have made myself very clear to them.

Mr. GILL: Why can’t you go back and step up it and try and run for an officer? And why can’t you make the rules? Why does your national have to give you rules to follow?

Mr. SIKORA: I’m stricken from the records ’cause I left the fraternity, because I didn’t believe that they should abolish pledging without any recourse or what to do.

Mr. GILL: So you don’t feel that you can strongly encourage any of the other senior members or the upper classmen to such structure-

Mr. SIKORA: They have no idea who I am. I go by and they look at me like I’m just somebody off the street. They don’t know. They’re a bunch of kids that are running this place that has never been hazed and feel like, ‘Hey, these younger guys need to have respect.’

Mr. GILL: So you think you have to be hazed to be in line?

Mr. SIKORA: I don’t think that you have to be hazed, but the discipline I’ve gotten out of it and certain things that I’ve personally gained out of it are going to help me through life and I think have done a tremendous amount for me.

Mr. NUWER: But here’s where the law comes in, Sonya. We have more than 35 laws in this country against hazing, 35 states with laws. Go to the police, turn these people in. You have an obligation, if you are aware of hazing, to turn these people in.

Mr. WATSON: I think, once again, we’re getting confused, because he’s talking about- When he says ‘hazing,’ I think a lot of times we have different ideas in our head what is hazing. I mean-

SONYA: What about verbal abuse, Bernard?

Mr. WATSON: Verbal abuse is considered hazing, but to me, being forced to dress alike and having respect for somebody in terms of saying, ‘Yes, sir,’ or, you know, having respect for somebody who’s in the fraternity, I don’t think that’s necessarily going to be harmful to you. [crosstalk]

Mr. BRANT: Obviously, we need risk management policies in place, but Hank is right. We can’t legislate progress. We’ve got to be responsible for finding other opportunities, including service-oriented learning. We know that college students coming to school today, in 65 percent of the cases say they want to join organizations that are inherently valuable, meaning, they want to help other people on the campus and in the community. And the National Interfraternity Conference really feels it’s our responsibility to offer programs like adopt a school that helps students get involved in worthwhile contributions to their community. We’ve got to provide that kind of programming, as well as the policy that all of our member fraternities have in place.

SONYA: Let me ask Hank Nuwer, if I were a parent sending a youngster off to college today, this is the time, the week that this is going on. Can I feel relatively safe that my boy or girl is going to be OK?

Mr. NUWER: I would follow-up by visiting the campus within the first three weeks after pledging starts and ask some hard questions and observe your son’s condition. So I would not give you a yes to that.

Ms. STEVENS: It should be addressed in orientation.

SONYA: Well, I hope it will be, as a matter of fact. I thank all of you for being here and discussing something that is a highly controversial and troubling subject. I’ll be right back.

[Commercial break]

SONYA: Thank you for joining me today. Now, tomorrow, a woman walks down the street and she’s bound to get it: a whistle, a lewd comment, a look. Ladies know the experience all too well, and they say it’s not fun. Street harassment. That’s my topic tomorrow, as I continue to ask why things are the way they are, a look at our world from the inside out. Enjoy the rest of your day. Now, for a look at what’s coming up on Newsday, we go to Natalie Allen in Atlanta.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN Newscenter, Atlanta: Thanks, Sonya! Just ahead on Newsday, Hurricane Emily is whipping up waves along the North Carolina coast. But will the storm take a turn for the better? We’ll have an update next. And while some of the Middle East question a proposed peace plan, negotiators in Washington try to work out the details. These stories and much more are just ahead on Newsday.


Broken Pledges, The Deadly Rite of Hazing by Hank Nuwer, available in bookstores.

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. 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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