Hazing News

Inquirer opinion: Dying to Belong

You would never get anywhere in law school if you didn’t join a fraternity. That was the mantra we kept hearing after setting foot on the Padre Faura grounds of the Ateneo Law School in the ’70s. The typical promdi that seven of us were, it wasn’t hard
to make us feel so insecure.

We were told that frat members helped each other, especially in the research and photocopying of cases assigned torturously on a daily basis. There was that constant hassle of going to the library ahead of everybody else because books were limited in number. And they had contacts in the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court that enabled them to obtain the “latest jurisprudence” not yet found in any law library. But the more
irresistible temptation was to be in a fellowship with students and professors belonging to the same fraternity. Just add two and two together, we were asked to figure it out ourselves.

We received application forms from the two rival fraternities then: the Order of Utopia and the Aquila Legis. We were on the cusp of making a choice between the two, but some preconceived risk gave us — and our parents down south — sleepless nights.

What about the initiation, now the notorious “hazing” part? We were assured it was all intellectual and mental challenges like being blindfolded and forced to imbibe a cup of sputum when in fact, they would reveal later, it was nothing but raw scrambled eggs; or being pissed on by everyone when in fact it was just tap water mixed with something that smelled like urine! Come to think of it, how would the neophytes really know for sure?! We suspected it was just a preconditioning so we would not fret too much. Paddle-whacking and all sorts of physical-endurance/torture rituals were actually par for the course.

As in almost all law fraternities, the biggest attraction is the picture they paint when the applicants become full-fledged members practicing law in the courts of the land. There are “brods” in all branches of the judiciary and in all levels of the prosecutorial service — to whom they alone have direct lines. And more “brods” are all over the entire government bureaucracy who can facilitate things for them and let them jump the long lines to get ahead. In short, all things being equal, “brods” will always be “more equal” — if one gets their drift!

So what made us res nullius (nobody’s thing) in the end? We were having snacks at the canteen one afternoon when empty bottles of soft drinks flew over our heads. Those bottles were made of thick and heavy glass then. We saw someone, who was just minding his own business at a nearby table by his lonesome, got hit in the head. It was a bloody sight. We found ourselves seeking shelter under our own table until the pandemonium died down. We were informed later that hotheads from the two rival fraternities were just practicing their aims and that happened every now and then!

Cowards, they said we were. But did we really want any part of that insanity? Despite its perverse appeal to two, the rest of us decided to take our chances. We made it through senior year without a hitch. We passed the bar exam the following year — sans any help from classmates who were frat members and spent quite a fortune to sequester themselves in some classy hotels for their “Bar Operations” (BarOps) that lasted one whole month, spoon-fed with answers to possible bar questions.

Yet all that gasconade about frat membership being a sure ticket to passing the bar exam didn’t really stand some of them in good stead. While all five of us got grades above 80, they got below 75 (oops) and flunked! And how did we fare in our law practice since then without any fiscal, judge or justice to call our “brod”? It wasn’t really all that bad. Despite perceptions to the contrary, there are still a great number of judges and justices who take their oath seriously and are able to rise above such petty loyalties. The bottom line is, no fraternity is worth dying for.


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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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