Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

The Broken Pledges of Greek Life

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

The Broken Pledges of Greek Life

Article excerpt

Videoconference searches for ways to end fraternity and sorority hazing

Washington -- Why are Black students continuing to hurt -- and even kill -- each other in the name of fraternity/sorority brotherhood and sisterhood? What are the dynamics that keep this outlawed tradition alive among Black Greeks? Is it just a Black problem? Why is it that such incidents elude the supposedly vigilant eyes of fraternal organizations and college administrators? These were but a few of the questions explored by a panel of experts in a live videoconference entitled, Broken Pledges: Fraternities and Sororities at the Crossroads.

The videoconference, the first of a series sponsored by Black Issues In Higher Education for the 1998-99 academic year, was moderated by James Adams, a news anchor with NBC-TV-4 in Washington, D.C. Panelists included: Hank Nuwer, author of the book Broken Pledges; Dr. Earl Richardson, president of Morgan State University; Dr. Gloria R. Scott, president of Bennett College; Michael W. Gordon, executive director of the National Pan-Hellenic Council, Inc., the umbrella organization for predominantly Black fraternities and sororities; Maureen Syring, assistant director of Delta Gamma Foundation; Douglas E. Fierberg, attorney-at-law who has prosecuted many hazing incidents; and Dr. Walter Kimbrough, director of student activities and leadership at Old Dominion University.

According to Black Issues correspondent Paul Ruffins, who has done extensive research on the subject, one reason hazing persists is that many fraternity and sorority members don't consider new members to be true members unless they have been properly inducted. And to many, "induction" includes hazing.

To get around the pan-Hellenic council restrictions placed on the hazing of pledges -- students seeking admission to Greek-life organizations -- students are now being hazed after they have become members of the fraternity, as was the case in a recent incident at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES). Despite the National Pan-Hellenic Council's 1990 ban on hazing, last spring six (UMES) students who were already inducted into the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity were hospitalized for injuries to their buttocks -- the results of a paddling ritual. One of the students had to undergo surgery to remove gangrenous flesh. (See Black Issues, June 25)

The practice was defended by a student who said that, for the most part, students who he knew didn't see anything wrong with hazing.

"They know what to expect before they pledge," the student said. "I don't see anything wrong with it."

Gordon said that the desire to be in a brotherhood or a sisterhood and involved with something positive is so strong in young people that they are willing to submit to hazing in order to become members.

Members of the panel pointed out that hazing often continues despite the ban because college administrations are not monitoring the activities of the these groups closely enough. Also, many of them said, the National Pan-Hellenic Council has been negligent in its oversight of the undergraduate chapters.

"We don't give our top people training on how to view and value young people," said Dr. Ted Blakeney, a member of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity. "We view them as a problem and mostly want to stamp them out. We need constant training on how to work with young people and their values. …

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