Why Alumni Hazing Stories Matter

December 11, 2011

By Peter McKay | FAMU ’97 | Email

New York Times columnist Charles Blow, a Grambling alum, wrote a powerful column in the paper Saturday about his own experience being hazed in college. An excerpt:

I was first paddled when I pledged a fraternity in college. It was one of our first meetings as a pledge group and the brothers were working their way through a line of us from shortest to tallest. Eventually they got to me. No. 13.

I moved to the center of the room and assumed the position. I stared straight ahead. I tried to brace myself for the blow, but nothing could have prepared me.

Swat!

The force of the impact nearly knocked me over. I rose on my toes to keep from falling forward. The pain of it crackled through my thin body. My vision blurred. The sound in the room grew muted as if I was listening from underwater. My temples throbbed. My nostrils flared. My nose ran and my eyes watered despite my best efforts to prevent it. Beads of sweat formed on my forehead. I was on fire. My body demanded that I scream, run, cry, do something. But I knew that I could do nothing. I stood firm.

“Thanks — may I have another?”

…When I view what we did with a mature mind and enlightened eyes, it seems insane. But, in the moment, as a young man, it seemed to be a perfectly reasonable rite of passage. And that is the attitude that must be changed. It’s not reasonable. It’s ridiculous.

We must end the “conspiracy of silence.”

Charles’s column is amazing enough when taken at face value. Between the lines, it also eloquently highlights an issue I’ve already come across in the last few weeks blogging about FAMU’s strain of hazing: What’s the point of alumni telling these old stories?

A few people have asked me this, especially since I wrote about the initial round of data we’ve collected regarding FAMU hazing, including firsthand accounts dating back nearly 50 years. (The database continues to grow, by the way. We’re now up to almost 30 entries, doubling in size from the initial round I wrote about. People are submitting their stories at a pretty consistent clip of one or two everyday.)

To me, the answer has two parts. The first is that alumni stories help illustrate what’s meant by the phrase “culture of hazing.” In my social-media streams, a lot of FAMU people were essentially in denial about this in the early days after Robert Champion’s death, saying the phrase is inherently hyperbolic.

When we share stories that go back a decade or three, yet still bear serious resemblance to present-day events, it has to cut through the denial. Hazing is a long-term problem, very deeply ingrained and transferred from generation to generation. If that’s not culture, what is?

The second powerful thing about alumni speaking out is the unique standing we have to say: “When I joined Organization X, the experience was a certain way for me. But I don’t want it to be that way for the members after me. It should be different for them. Better. And I will accept them as fellow members wholeheartedly.”

That’s the sentiment that shouts out from between the lines of stories like Charles Blow’s, or the ones I’m seeing everyday from my fellow Rattler alumni. It takes a lot of maturity and courage; it’s not easy. But it also has serious power to really bring hazing to an end at FAMU, I think.

Conversely, when we as alumni set a bad example and take the opposite attitude — “Hey, I did it. It’s OK for these kids to do it. In fact, they don’t really belong if they don’t.” — we’re helping to prolong the problem.

Again: “That is the attitude that must be changed. It’s not reasonable. It’s ridiculous.”

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2 Responses to “Why Alumni Hazing Stories Matter”

  1. JamaicaJoe Says:

    I am shocked that the punishment for a Hazing Death (MURDER) in Florida is no different that driving with an unexpired tag. It is almost as if it is expected. Haze and torture, just don’t kill anyone.

    I am also shocked to learn how prevalent this practice is in many organizations, not only colleges. Truly sick.

    FAMU needs to take the high road and eradicate this practice, close down the band and any other organizations on campus for 8 or more years to clean out the bad apples. And mandatory expulsion for anyone practicing hazing. It should be made to be a very foreign concept.

    Hazing = Bullying
    Bullying = Criminal Assault
    Criminal assault with death = Murder

  2. Jay Says:

    As a fraternity member, I believe I realize why this practice may continue to go on even when a chapter or organization is suspended for X amount of years. Many young mature minds are seeking an experience that they have heard about from older members of that organization (this was one of my main reasons for enduring hazing rituals). It becomes as ridiculous as to the fact that some individuals, who are not “hazed” in the initial initiation process, then seek out what some label as a “traditional pledge process” after they become members of the organization of interest. I believe the best solution for this problem resides in older members. The less older members share their pledge experiences, which involve hazing, the less likely our younger brothers and sisters will strive to go through such hash hazing rituals to become a member of an organization.
    Thanks,
    JD


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