New scholarship on hazing from Innsbruck: “Greek Life”: Greek-letter Student Societies in the United States Higher Education System on the Local and National Scale Martin Schefzik Leopold-Franzens-Universität Innsbruck.
Excerpt: In the early 20th century, as hazing deaths became more common, the phenomenon was frequently discussed in the public sphere and partly triggered the founding of the National Interfraternity Conference. However, the NIC remained only as influential and powerful in its regulatory power as its members allowed it to be (Sterner 7-8). A look at Wikipedia’s list of hazing deaths in the United States since the 1900s shows the majority of hazing deaths occurred within Greek life organizations and the most recent case of a student dying dates back to November 10th 2019 (List of Hazing Deaths). Author and questioning observer of the Greek life system Hank Nuwer offers a list of the many hazing deaths in the USA in which many of the practices of various Greek life organizations, mostly fraternities, are described and the circumstances of the deadly incidents are more closely discussed (Nuwer Database). Sterner, based on Nuwer’s work, gives a brief outline of how hazing practices changed during the 20th century.
Hazing is described as a persisting phenomenon over the course of Greek life’s existence, especially as a way of being initiated into the tightly knit community that is the Greek life organization (Sterner 7-8). Sterner includes the following sentence that describes the appeal of joining Greek life at colleges: The reason for their [social fraternities] growth was attributed to the fact that more and more young men were leaving behind the brotherhood, friendship and camaraderie they had in their close-knit frontier communities and fraternity membership was an easy way to re-establish close social and emotional connections with other students. (Sterner 6) This quote is not only a good attempt of explaining the Greek life phenomenon as a whole, but it is also an explanation for the voluntary participation of pledges in hazing procedures upon joining a fraternity or sorority. Syrett also mentions the widespread willingness by pledges across the country to subjugate themselves to these often crude and dangerous practices. Others, however, 55 have tried to stop the hazing practices at their colleges in order to avoid them, yet, they still wanted to join the organizations they are pledged for and anonymously reported hazing that often occurs during the so-called Hell Week (Syrett 247). In Greek life terminology, Hell Week describes the rough phase of an initiation period and that is where hazing usually occurs (Merriam-Webster). While the methods and practices to haze new members might have changed over time, the practice seems to have remained, as there are still reported deaths among Greek life pledges today. In fact, more deaths because of hazing have happened since 1990 than in all previously recorded years (Hollman in Schmalzer 3).