Attitudes toward Fraternity Hazing among Fraternity Members, Sorority Members, and Non-Greek Students

Article excerpt

This study was designed to look at differences between Greek and non-Greek college students' perceptions of a hazing incident that had taken place in a fraternity setting. Subjects were 231 students (112 Greeks, 119 independents) at a moderate size state university in the eastern United States with a moderate Greek presence. Subjects read one of four conditions of a hazing scenario involving an overdose of alcohol consumed voluntarily or involuntarily administered by a fraternity president or fraternity brother. Dependent measures included attributions of responsibility as well as causal attributions. Authoritarianism was explored as well. Responsibility attributions and causal attributions varied with the voluntary versus involuntary nature of the overdose and with membership in Greek organizations. Finally, Greek students were found to score higher on authoritarianism than were non-Greek students.

Initiation rituals are a commonly accepted aspect of Greek and other group-oriented organizations. In the context of their organizations, they can often be seen as an exaggeration of the prevailing subgroup norms. Initiation rituals, or pledging, are often ceremonial, even mundane.

Hazing activities, on the other hand, are typically officially condemned but nevertheless may be unofficially practiced by such organizations. Hazing typically involves risky behavior, such as intensive drinking, or potentially life-threatening activities. Hazing, which is officially banned by all national Greek organizations, frequently comes to the public's attention through the popular news media when the activities become fatal. For example, a freshman at Massachusetts Institute of Technology died in 1997 from alcohol poisoning during what was reported as a hazing incident. (Dabek, 1997). Other examples include a student at Alfred University in New York, who was forced into a car trunk along with several other pledges and forced to drink a fatal quantity of bourbon, beer, and wine (Nuwer, 1990) as well as a pledge at St. Louis University who died when he was forced to lie naked on a table and receive shocks while his skin was coated with flammable chemicals (MacLachlan, 2000). Even as reports of cases involving college students continue to make headlines on a regular basis (Herbeck, 2002; Michel & Ernst, 2002) reports of hazing in high school sports teams are making it into the popular press as well (Myers, 2002).

When examining college students' attitudes toward Greek rituals and alcohol use, it is important to differentiate between Greek and independent college students. Greeks and independents have been shown to vary in their attitudes toward pledging and hazing (Cokley et al., 2001). According to Cokley and colleagues , members of Greek organizations displayed more positive beliefs about the purpose of pledging and had more positive perceptions of Greek organizations than did nonmembers. In addition, the researchers assert that "it is apparent that when students' perceptions of Greek letter organizations are uncritically positive, they become susceptible to hazing activities" (Cokley et al., p. 454).

College is inextricably linked with drinking through popular movies and television, parental stories, and general statements about college in relation to drinking behavior (Workman, 2001). This is sufficiently recognized that colleges are now taking preventive measures against alcohol abuse (Siracuse, 2002), scholars are developing measures to use for identifying high risk students (Schumacher, Usdan, McNamara, & Bellis, 2002 ), and alcohol abuse treatment programs are being implemented (Colby, Raymond, & Colby, 2000). According to Workman, five themes may be identified that are related to self-perceptions of fraternity drinking and being drunk. These include drunkenness as entertainment, risk taking, physical exploration, sexual entrapment, and contextual behavior (Workman).

Fraternity members who view drunkenness as entertainment view those who drink to get drunk as entertainers and those who simply drink as the audience (Workman, 2001). …