Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Notes from Underground: Despite a Ban, Pledging Remains

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Notes from Underground: Despite a Ban, Pledging Remains

Article excerpt

Officials with Omega Psi Phi fraternity recently agreed to pay $1 million to a former University of Louisville student who pledged the house, then suffered renal failure after being beaten with a wooden paddle during a hazing incident three years ago. It is said to be one of the largest settlements ever in such a case. But one disturbing fact has been overlooked in all the publicity surrounding this and other high-profile fraternity hazing cases: the practice of pledging historically Black fraternities and sororities officially ended a decade ago.

In 1990, the presidents of the eight largest historically Black fraternities and sororities ended pledging. In its stead, each organization developed a "membership intake program."

But a mere two years after membership intake began, John A. Williams, then a doctoral student at Kansas State University, completed a dissertation on undergraduate students' perceptions about the new policy.

The study revealed few students supported the new policy because they did not believe they had been given any input. Williams found only 22 percent believed that membership intake would end hazing, signifying an intent to continue pledging activities.

The study also indicated that fraternity and sorority members considered respect a core value, that such respect could only be earned through the pledge process and that it was worth risking sanctions to continue the pledge system by taking it underground.

For such a prophetic study, no one seemed to notice. But it is clear that membership intake is a failure. In 1999 alone, dozens of fraternity or sorority hazing incidents made headlines in state, local and campus newspapers. This shows that campus Greek organizations obviously are not following the membership intake policies closely, if at all. To help buttress my beliefs, last spring I replicated Williams' work.

Nearly 200 students participated in this national study. These were students from a range of colleges and universities -- public and private, predominantly White and historically Black institutions. The results indicated that membership intake is a failure.

More than 53 percent of the respondents indicated that they "pledged." I am willing to bet a significant portion of the remaining respondents also pledged, but were afraid to implicate themselves. The key was to ascertain if any "progress" was made in the seven years between studies. Exact comparisons to the group surveyed in 1992 are impossible because these are different students. …

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