Hazing News

Positive changes in Greek life at Rutgers


Students feel the ‘rush’ of fraternity life
By: Dmitry Sheynin / Contributing Writer

Amit Sinha, a first-year student in the School of Arts and Sciences, had a different perception of what fraternity life would be like before rushing last week.

Standing in the lobby of the 120-year-old Chi Psi house on Tuesday, he said it is definitely not what you see on television.

“I thought it would be like on MTV,” Sinha said.

Although a string of alcohol-related hazing deaths have occurred on campuses across the country – including one at Rider University in nearby Lawrenceville – and have earned greek life a bad reputation in recent years, many of the fraternal organizations at the University say they are working in an effort to offer a cleaner image.

“AKL is built on the ideals of Judeo-Christian principles-leadership, scholarship and loyalty,” said Alpha Kappa Lambda President Luke Riabowol, a Rutgers College senior.

“We’re looking for kids who aren’t just interested in partying, kids with good grades who seem to be motivated,” said rush Chair Keith Hernandez, a Mason Gross School of the Arts junior.

These virtues are not unique to AKL. Instead, Joann Arnholt, dean of fraternity and sorority affairs, said all greek organizations on campus should be working to recruit students in high standing.

“We expect them to be scholars, to be leaders, to be good servants in the community and to provide a good friendship experience for the students while they’re here as undergrads,” Arnholt said.

Out of a converted two-story residential house on Bartlett Street, Arnholt enforces the University’s mandates for fraternal organizations and compile rankings based on criteria ranging from academics to brotherhood.

“There are very few opportunities where a student will be in charge of such large budgets, will have to manage such large groups of students, will have to manage a property, will have to run large events,” Arnholt said. “They have some of those things in other organizations for sure, but greek life provides all of that in one organization.”

Each year, every group turns in an annual report of their chapter’s activities for the previous year. There are eight different parts of the report, which are ranked based on the quality of each of those areas, Arnholt said.

Hernandez said being part of a fraternity teaches brothers about time management.

“Having classes, sports, it gets crazy but it teaches you to be responsible because if you neglect your duties, you’re hurting the fraternity,” he said. “If I didn’t do my job, we wouldn’t have rushes. If the house manager doesn’t do his job, the house looks like crap. I think being in a fraternity teaches you to stick to your commitments.”

Rutgers College senior Trevor Jackman, a member of AKL’s 2004 pledge class, said the fraternity has a scholarship chair to assist members with time management techniques.

“He’ll set study hours for brothers, gather books and test information and organize it,” Jackman said. “[The fraternity] tries to make an effort to help you out academically. If you’re doing really poorly in school, you’re put on probation.”

Chi Psi rush Chair Brendan Cassidy, a Rutgers College junior, said many of the values that keep his fraternity at the top of the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs’ list correlates with the dry nature of the pledging process.

Chi Psi was awarded nine separate awards including achievements in scholarship and philanthropy, according to the office’s most recent annual report.

“Our [rush and pledging] events are strictly non-alcoholic and in good taste,” said Cassidy, who was preparing for the Tuesday rush event, “Pool and Darts at the Lodge.”

“We treat the pledges with the dignity they deserve,” he said. “We try not to be condescending, and there is a strict no-hazing policy.”

Cassidy said potential recruits often sign their names to grade release forms, which allow the fraternity’s officers to evaluate their academic performances. It is a voluntary process for most brothers unless they wish to hold an officer position in the organization.

The average GPA at the fraternity is a 3.0, Cassidy said.

Although the pledging process is one of the most criticized fraternal practices, Arnholt said its intended purpose is well intentioned.

“The new member time period is supposed to be one of learning and education,” she said. “It’s not supposed to be about mindless games, servitude or any of those things that people see on TV or in the movies or read about or even see here. Those things are really contrary to what greek life is about.”

Arnholt said students interested in a fraternity should look for one that is open about their pledging process.

“While you’re shopping, you should be asking about those things,” Arnholt said. “If you can’t get a straight answer from the organization, you should drop them from your list and go talk to a chapter that’s willing to be transparent with you about their new member process.”

Arnholt said some fraternities give a timeline of what their plans are throughout the pledging process.

“They’ll tell you exactly what’ll start day one, eight weeks later when they’re done and everything that’ll happen in between,” Arnholt said. “They have nothing to hide. Others – perhaps they do.”

Cassidy agreed, describing Chi Psi’s pledging process as straight forward.

“At Chi Psi, everyone is told exactly what the pledging process is, exactly what they’re entering into,” he said. “[The brothers become] people that you know, people that you feel you can connect with or at least you should if you’re going to swear eternal loyalty to them for life.”

Cassidy admits he was skeptical about fraternities before he joined, but after pledging, he said his fraternity provides a sense of community for him and other members.

“I never really had brothers growing up, I never understood what that was really about but after being part of this organization for a year and a half, I get it,” he said

People who attend the rush events do so for a variety of reasons.

“[I came] to get a feel for the whole brotherhood, for more friends and a bonding experience,” said Neophytes Zambas, Rutgers College sophomore who attended a Chi Psi event last week.

“I just came to play some Halo,” said Chris Matter, an Ernst Mario School of Pharmacy first-year student who momentarily tore himself away from one of a half dozen plasma screen TVs at AKL’s video game night.

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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