Fraternity Gang Rape: Sex, Brotherhood, and Privilege on Campus

By Peggy Reeves Sanday | Go to book overview

Six
The Initiation Ritual
A Model for Life

It is likely that very few young men would elect to take part in a “train” if they felt and thought like autonomous individuals. It is from the group, not as separate individuals, that most brothers find reassurance in a college environment that they frequently perceive as hostile to their needs. Bound emotionally to one another in the group, they consider group values and traditions to be significant guides for behavior. These values and traditions are inculcated during the pledging period and in the initiation rituals. In these rituals, pledges endure verbal and physical abuse as a condition for membership. The abusive behavior strips the pledge of his individual identity so that he is ready to accept a group-defined identity.

The victimization of pledges is part of a process designed to bring about a transformation of consciousness so that group identity and attitudes becomes personalized. The process includes a symbolic sacrifice of the self (or some part of the self) to a superior body that represents the communal identity of the house. The sacrifice acts to seal a covenant between the individual pledge and the fraternal organization. Reinforced by a vow of secrecy, the covenant promises masculinity and superior power. By yielding himself to the group in this way, the pledge gains a new self, complete with a set of goals, values, concerns, visions, and ready-made discourses that are designed to help him negotiate the academic, social, and sexual contexts of undergraduate life from a position of power and status. In other words, he becomes a subject in a fraternally defined discourse.

Long before college, many young boys experience “breaking-in” as a condition for membership in an all-male group. Sean, who describes his fraternity initiation ritual in this chapter, experienced the “breakingin” process in almost every activity that he can remember—in school, sports, and Boy Scouts. All the secret male clubs Sean joined prior to col

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