There are accounts of men being tied up, blindfolded and forced to take shots of vodka until they puke. Others tell of people having to eat omelets made of vomit or being forced to swim in a kiddy pool filled with fecal matter, rotten food and urine. Do these sound like the doings of some sick cult? They are actually all real accounts of fraternity hazing rituals.
The horror stories of hazing are easy to find. Students have been hospitalized and even killed from pledging rituals in which they were forced to participate. Some schools have taken measures to eliminate hazing but with little success.
Despite all this, hazing only makes up seven percent of the liability cases against fraternities, according to a 2010 analysis by fraternity insurer Willis. There are even bigger issues at hand, such as assault and battery, sexual assault and accidents that occur in fraternity houses, as an article published recently by The Atlantic discusses.
It is not just the raging parties that escalate out of control. The houses themselves are usually ridden with hazards and are behind on safety codes. In fact, about 50 percent of fraternity houses in the U.S. do not have fire sprinklers. In recent years, there have been lawsuits upon lawsuits regarding fraternity liability. Many of these cases involve excessive alcohol consumption, among other issues.
It is clear that there is a problem here. While St. Olaf does not have any Greek life, it is a large component of social life at many national universities. There is a fair argument to be made for the existence of fraternities and sororities: They foster a strong community, raise ample funds for their schools, provide community service and equip students with strong alumni connections. They date back to the Free Masons Fraternity, which had distinguished members like George Washington and Benjamin Franklin in their ranks. On paper, Greek life seems like a great opportunity for college and university students.
However, in reality, these societies have evolved into something beyond recognition. Students often abuse the independence and freedom that they gain through Greek life. Rules and laws are often ignored, leading to accidents, physical and sexual abuse, hospitalizations and alcohol poisoning, among other issues.
UW-Madison freshman Indigo Yeager said of fraternities on campus, “They do have a reputation for not being a safe spot for girls to go to, generally. They are so focused on having fun that oftentimes safety is pushed to the side.”
Clearly, today’s fraternities have diverged far from the original intent of the organizations.
There is a desperate need for an overhaul of the fraternity system. Schools have turned a blind eye to the safety issues that fraternities spawn and these issues have only gotten worse. If the organizations wish to continue, they need to make their houses better, safer places for both members and guests. This involves getting buildings up to code, regulating guests, eliminating dangerous hazing and monitoring parties closely.
Perhaps a viable way to reduce hazing is to follow the example of Cornell University, where freshmen are prohibited from attending fraternity parties at which alcohol is served. Or, taking it a step further, the national fraternities Phi Delta Theta and Phi Kappa Sigma have required that all of their houses be alcohol-free. In Phi Delta Theta’s case, the amount they paid out annually from liability claim settlements decreased from $812,951 to $15,388 upon implementing the policy, according to James R. Favory & Company, the fraternity’s insurer. The number of claims dropped from an average of 12.3 per year to three per year. This is a measure that all fraternities need to consider, both as a safety and a money-saving measure.
Fraternities and sororities are a unique aspect of college life. They offer opportunities that can benefit members, students and the community. However, they are institutions with fundamental issues which have proven to cause harm and damage. In order to preserve Greek life and its reliability, there needs to be stronger observation and enforcement of rules that protect students.
Cathrine Meeder ’17 firstname.lastname@example.org is from Shoreview, Minn. She majors in English with concentrations in media studies and women’s and gender studies.
Graphic Credit: EMMA JOHNSON/MANITOU MESSENGER