Hazing in Fraternities and Sororities
Hank Nuwer, Franklin College, Franklin, IN, USA
Ó2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
Hazing in U.S. university fraternal groups is a pernicious and sometimes even deadly practice that dates back to the founding
of the ﬁrst collegiate fraternities in the nineteenth century. In spite of growing antihazing sentiment, laws against hazing in 44
states and campus crackdowns, hazing persists as a rite of passage and tradition in colleges and universities across the United
States and around the world. This article examines the roots and manifestations of hazing in university-based fraternities and
sororities in the United States. It includes a discussion of university policies and practices to curtail it by national fraternal
organizations and antihazing activists. Best practices include the encouragement of bystander intervention to halt hazing as it
happens, along with the mandating of alcohol-free (dry) fraternity houses and an end to the pledge period.
The number of serious researchers devoted to studying and
highlighting hazing is still limited, but the subject is attracting
increasing study from social scientists and other academics
concerned with trying to end the unabated string of deaths
every year from 1970 to 2013 in fraternal chapters, as well as in
other clubs and sports teams.
What exactly is hazing? Researcher Aldo Cimino deﬁnes the
term as “the generation of induction costs (i.e., elements of the
experiences necessary to be acknowledged as a ‘legitimate’
group member) that appear unattributable to group relevant
assessments, preparation, or chance.”He cites calisthenics
being required by a fraternity as an example (Cimino, 2013).
Cimino cites automatic accrual theory to explain why higher
status fraternities with more and better beneﬁts for a pledge can
demand far more severe tests of hazing than a chapter with less
status and fewer beneﬁts can expect (Cimino, 2013).
Most higher-education institutions in the United States use
the deﬁnition of the practice of hazing devised by the Fraternity
Executives Association and endorsed by the Fraternal Infor-
mation and Programming Group, the leading fraternal orga-
nization addressing risk-management issues. Hazing is “any
action taken or situation created intentionally, whether on or
off fraternity premises, to produce mental or physical discom-
fort, embarrassment, harassment or ridicule”(www.ﬁpg.org).
All higher-education institutions and all national and interna-
tional fraternities and sororities in the United States publish
strict policies forbidding hazing. Hazing also meets a deﬁnition
of bullying if fraternal members put newcomers through
tortures intended to make the pledges, neophytes, or associate
members quit a chapter, as opposed to the usual hazing
methods of putting newcomers through stressful conditions
in order to welcome them eventually into the group
Early work by Lionel Tiger of Rutgers University promoted
the term ‘male bonding’and made a case for the evolutionary
aspects of hazing from his neo-Darwinian perspective. In
1969,inhisbookMen in Groups, revised in 2004 by Tiger as
‘Males Courting Males’in The Hazing Reader by Hank Nuwer,
he focused on hazing in male fraternities as a means of
addressing and explaining some hazing activities he witnessed
ﬁrsthand at McGill University, a Canadian institution of
higher learning. Tiger states that men attracted to higher-status
groups, actual or perceived, are attracted in part because they
deﬁne their own self-image from attractive, higher-status
males. In groups such as fraternities that haze (and not all do
haze), Tiger states in ‘Males Courting Males’that the males
staunchly try to defend the status quo by incorporating new
members willing to show they are a suitable ‘ﬁt’by performing
and successfully participating in whatever hazing practices the
group deems appropriate and suitable. These practices at the
chapter level can be crude, even demeaning, and run counter
to what the national or international umbrella fraternal groups
may approve. Thus, all the over-the-top practices in a chapter
get hidden away in hazing episodes done clandestinely behind
closed doors out of sight of advisors and national executive
Tiger, in his ‘Males Courting Males’essay, stressed that the
ability to consume copious amounts of alcohol in the presence
of other fraternal values is a common bonding practice prac-
ticed by some fraternities and other high-status male groups
such as athletes. In ‘Males Courting Males,’he also observes
that many fraternal chapters that haze require members to
participate in activities that appear homoerotic in nature,
requiring pledges alone or in the pledge group to be fully or
partially nude during one or more hazing sessions and occa-
sionally assuming submissive poses in front of the poses of
dominant senior members. Once initiated, the pledge is given
the opportunity to buy a costly ring with the fraternity’s Greek
letters on the stone, and the ring is worn on the ﬁnger tradi-
tionally reserved for a wedding ring. There also are pins with
the fraternal insignia reserved for females that members ﬁnd
Tiger’s observations on the need for new fraternal members
to achieve a ‘clubby’bonding with senior members have echoes
in the well-established ‘groupthink’theory of researcher Irving
Janis (1972).Nuwer (1978, 1999a) adapted Janis’term to
‘Greekthink.’The basis for ‘groupthink’and ‘Greekthink’is that
the clubby nature of groups noted by Tiger reﬂects the over-
arching quest for camaraderie and a desire for harmonious
relationships seen in high-status groups such as fraternities,
even rising to a U.S. President’s inner circle of advisers and
cabinet members, athletes, and so on. Which may not be so
554 International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences, 2nd edition, Volume 10 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-08-097086-8.64092-8
surprising given that the Center for the Study of College
Fraternity and Inside Greek U., author Alan DeSantis counts 18
U.S. Presidents since 1877 that claimed fraternity afﬁliations as
Janis’term, groupthink neatly sums up fraternal organiza-
tions, and their compulsive need and appreciation for cama-
raderie and the approval of current members and even much
older alums whose presence at several hazing incidents in
which a pledge died was noted by Nuwer. Groupthink captures
the behavior of members performing acts of hazing in a group
that prior to joining, they as individuals likely would have
dismissed as deplorable. Groupthink also explains why
fraternal members can display a delusional belief in their own
invincibility while encouraging or ordering hazing activities in
order to foster group unanimity. The groupthink theory
espoused by Janis also explains the deception, denial, and
dishonesty that hazing chapters often demonstrate after a risky
practice leading to serious injury or death and an associated
investigation. Janis’extensive study in group dynamics further
points out that the group’s excessive need for solidarity colors
the judgment of its members, leading them to approve and
carry out activities such as hazing and alcohol over-
consumption that, if exposed, can lead to that hazing chapter
losing its charter. The cost of losing that charter includes the
consequence that the university and its national organization
order individual members to disband for anywhere from a year
to forever and lose the privileges and status of membership
during that ban. Yet, in spite of so much to lose, hazing
continues and also continues to attract media coverage and
Because actual acts of hazing are widely different, ranging
from beatings to drinking extravaganzas to nude groping and
lining up to take verbal abuse, it is difﬁcult to point to a single
behavioral cause of hazing. Most hazing researchers refer to
‘The Effect of Severity of Initiation on Liking for a Group’by
Elliott Aronson and Judson Mills as of crucial value. The two
researchers established through experimentation that hazing
leads to tighter group solidarity because severe initiation
practices cause initiates to appreciate and like the group more
than do initiates who are simply invited to join a group without
hazinglike demands and sacriﬁces.
Another often-quoted expert on hazing behavior is James C.
Arnold who applied the work on cults by Margaret Thaler
Singer, coauthor with Janja Lalich of Cults in Our Midst,to
fraternities (1995). Arnold asserts in his long essay ‘Hazing and
Alcohol in a College Fraternity’(in Nuwer’sThe Hazing Reader)
that many fraternities fall under the category of ‘addictive
organizations.’Such groups quite convincingly are compared
to individuals obsessed with alcohol, for example, and are
similar to a dysfunctional family unit. In short, the chapters
that haze use cultlike systematic manipulation and coercion to
effect psychological and social inﬂuence. In particular, cults
and hazing fraternities alike purposely engender enforced
dependency by instituting ways and means to make potential
members and new members spend the majority of waking and
sleeping hours in the company of members and their fellow
newcomers. Such organizations promise the new initiates
enduring abuse that if they only persist all will be well in the
end, and they will experience many rewards once awarded
membership when the time of trial expires.
Arnold undertook close participant observation as
a doctoral student over a long period of time under the
supervision of well-known Indiana University Higher
Education Professor George Kuh, also the Director of
National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment. Arnold
on many occasions observed his study chapter perform acts
of hazing and alcohol abuse while he performed research for
his dissertation in Higher Education at Indiana University
that was published in Nuwer’sThe Hazing Reader. He was
allowed by the chapter, its national organization, and
Indiana University to have nearly complete access to such
fraternity customs as rush in which attractive newcomers get
invited to the house for inspection under party conditions
and then are given a ‘bid’if enough members agree they
possess the ‘right stuff’for membership.
Sometimes, the bid results in a good ﬁt, and sometimes it
results in conﬂict when an independent thinker among the
new class of pledges raises concerns about the illicit or even
illegal behaviors that the newcomers must brush away. The
desired outcome of hazing is to achieve 100% pledge class
unity –that class fully and wholly subservient to the wishes of
the veteran members. Ironically, to get the ‘trust’of the
pledges, the senior members may lie, deceive, and deny all
responsibility, notes Arnold. What occurs during the stress
and chaos of a pledgeship marked by hazing is what the
ethnographer John van Maanen refers to as ‘cultural
learning’for a group.
In its barest form, the pledgeship involves full indoctrina-
tion of the new members and total obeisance on the part of
pledges as a socialization practice. Members justify their poor
treatment of pledges and forcing them to endure often-squalid
living conditions for weeks under the justiﬁcation that every-
thing asked of the pledges serves some important bonding
purpose, noted Arnold. The chapter he lived with even used
such terms as ‘responsible hazing’and ‘responsible drinking’
that were oxymoronic since from rush until initiation, the
chapter’s behavior was ﬂagrantly irresponsible and reckless. In
the end, the outward result of an entire chapter as a model of
control is a hazing chapter that Arnold stresses (p. 92) in
Nuwer’sThe Hazing Reader must live with ‘denial, dishonesty,
self-centeredness, confusion, and so on.’All this is done by
a group that projects the ‘illusion of control’(Nuwer, 2004:
p. 93). And a hazing chapter strives to admit members who
respect the status quo and work to maintain a homogenous
chapter; nothing incurs the collective wrath of a hazing
group’s members more than a pledge, who refuses to cower,
or who actually quits pledging and rejects that group. Arnold
establishes that the group treats the unhappy quitter with
disdain, anger, and even threats. Conversely, pledges –away
from the security of family and home –that buy into the
addictive chapter mentality then get rewarded by the senior
members with a supply of alcohol, parties, and access to
desirable women who tolerate or even support the practices
of the addictive chapter. Arnold says addictive groups and
members have a dualistic approach to perceiving the world.
Everything is all right or all wrong, and pledges are told it is
‘our way or the highway.’Whatever good philanthropic
activities the chapter supports are, in part, an attempt to
cover up the confused, addictive nature of the chapter,
Arnold concludes, citing the theories on the pervasive and
Hazing in Fraternities and Sororities 555
persistent nature of addiction noted by The Addictive
Organization authors Anne Wilson Schaef and Diane Fassel
that the national organizations and Greek Affairs staffs at
colleges can make a difference if “they can turn away from
a model of control and continued participation in an
unhealthy system and through their actions demonstrate
a healthier way of being”(Nuwer, 2004).
Stephen Sweet uses a frame of symbolic interactionism to
explain how some undergraduates attracted to hard-hazing
groups will do whatever it takes to belong. Herbert
Blumer’s symbolic interactionist construct, cited with regard
to fraternal groups by Sweet, declares that human beings
react to events because the events have meaning for them
based on the social interaction they have with one another
and then interpret those events with some selectivity –
perhaps even outright justiﬁcation and rationalization for
activities banned by society. Blumer’stheoryinparticular
ﬁts when applied to fraternal group members whose
shaped. Sweet notes that the fraternal rings, T-shirts, and
paddles represent part of the identity pledges, are accepting
as they enter a crucial stage of their lives. In turn, the social
relationships with those who already wear the colors and
paraphernalia of the group they aspire to join can be
a powerful lure to those young people who see enduring
hazing as a necessary price to pay to get into an
organization that has value. Conversely, says Sweet, those
who quit pledging rather than endure not only suffer guilt
because their pledge brothers will be asked to carry an
additional burden, but they also lose a tie and part of their
identity by forgoing all connection to the chapter they
already may have sacriﬁced much for during early hazing.
The research by T.A. Leemon, who lived with a fraternity
chapter for one entire pledging period to observe it,
demonstrates that fraternity chapters very deliberately in
the hazing process set out to manipulate and to alter each
pledge’s concept of a self.
Ricky L. Jones also examines hazing in his book Black Haze:
Violence, Sacriﬁce, and Manhood in Black Greek-Letter Fraternities
(2004). Jones postulates that veteran fraternity members in
hazing chapters love their pledges even if they put them
through beatings with canes, ﬁsts, and paddles. While not every
African-American Greek chapter hazes, the heaviest hazing
chapters, according to Jones, demand the ability for pledges
to withstand such sacriﬁces to demonstrate their readiness
and willingness to maintain the group. Signiﬁcantly, physical
hazing at the chapter level is fundamentally the exact
opposite of the relatively tame requirements for initiation
that the national organizations put out in pledging manuals.
Jones persuasively argues that hazing deaths in Asian
fraternities at the University of Texas and University of
California, Irvine, for example, demonstrate a requirement to
endure physical challenges and a demonstration of sacriﬁce
on the part of initiates. While the physical hazing may be
a part of the black membership process in groups that violate
their national organization’s mandate to be hazing-free, it is
also very much present in the rites of even some integrated
chapters or all-Caucasian chapters that have seen new
members hospitalized with physical injuries. Jones, himself
a member of a black fraternity, has become a nationally
known antihazing activist, particularly outspoken in his
objections to hazing of a severe physical nature.
Psychologist Susan Lipkins, in her book Preventing Hazing:
How Parents, Teachers, and Coaches Can Stop the Violence,
Harassment, and Humiliation (2006), maintains that even short-
term hazing can lead to long-term, even lifelong, psychological,
and physical consequences for hazing victims. Short of death,
psychological trauma due to hazing may be an even more
pernicious problem than physical injuries for the latter nearly
always heal, while victims report an inability to get on with
their lives in normal fashion due to the afﬂictions of hazing,
according to Lipkins.
Hazing in U.S. Universities
Hazing in fraternities and sororities in the United States
involves expectations of senior members that potential new
members –often called pledges or associate members –will
perform stunts that demean, degrade, or endanger them.
Those that endure the group’s humiliation prove their
willingness to conform to a perceived status quo. The
members who insist newcomers endure such barbaric
initiations claim they are merely protecting established
tradition and ensuring group solidarity. They maintain that
hazing weeds out potential members who lack the
wherewithal to do anything the fraternal chapter asks of
those who seek membership. It also establishes a senior
pecking order in which new members learn the rules of
precedence and a need to respect both senior members and
alumni as well.
Thus, hazing is common, albeit forbidden, among
fraternities and sororities whose reason for being at educa-
tional institutions is to instill a lifelong commitment to
leadership, community service, and the worth of lifelong
friendships and mentoring. This general ‘mission’coincides
with functionalist theories of rites of passage extending back
to Arnold van Gennep (Les rites de passage (The Rites of
Hazing in university and college fraternities and sororities is
an illicit rite of passage (against the rules of the institution) that
provides opportunities for veteran members to include or
exclude new members on the basis of a variety of trials that
involve varying degrees of physical and psychological stress. In
all too many cases, the theory of social exchange put forth by
psychologists Harold H. Kelley and John W. Thibaut in The
Social Psychology of Groups (Tiger, 1969) describes the recurring
reality. According to this theory, newcomers submit to what-
ever torture or trials are asked of them, comforted by the
assurance that all abuse will cease after the organization
declares them full members. During the next cycle, the new
veterans get to turn the tables and haze the next set of
All new pledge classes experience much the same brutal
hazing their predecessors endured. Hazing can increase in
intensity if members are inebriated or inclined toward sadism
(Nuwer, 1990). After initiation, the hazed become the hazers
and return the ordeals they experienced in equal or greater
intensity and measure to the next pledge class (Nuwer,
556 Hazing in Fraternities and Sororities
Deaths of pledges in Greek organizations have occurred
under bizarre circumstances as the database of hazing deaths
kept by Nuwer in Wrongs of Passage and online (http://www.
hanknuwer.com/hazingdeaths.html) attests. Some have
consumed lethal amounts of alcohol, being required by
members to ﬁll garbage pails with the collective vomit of new
members. Some have perished after being dropped off far from
campus (with victims dying in falls, auto accidents, and by
drowning). Some have endured hours of strenuous exercise in
steam rooms with fatal results. Some have died after being on
the receiving end of beatings with a paddle, ﬁsts, or cane,
according to Nuwer’s list of hazing deaths.
History of University Hazing in the United States
In his 1990 book Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing,
Nuwer demonstrates that the rampant hazing in European
medieval universities such as the ﬁfteenth-century practice of
pennalism developed over the next 200 years into sometimes
savage hazing practices quite similar to the aptly named Hell
Nights of today’s hazing fraternities and sororities. In France
and Germany, the hazed pledges wore a cap similar to the
beanies worn by pledges until all national groups began
outlawing them as symbols of hazing around 1979,
according to Nuwer’sBroken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of
Hazing. At Cambridge and Oxford in England, physical
beatings and enforced servitude among even the aristocracy
was carried out in a custom known as fagging where new
boys on campus became the manservants of older students.
Hazing deaths were not always attributed mainly to frater-
nities historically. Rather, they were a greater problem in the so-
called ‘class hazing’that pitted ﬁrst-year students against
upperclassmen. (While female class hazing existed, not once
did a death occur to either a ﬁrst- or second-year female, but
a female cook did perish in 1894 when an undergraduate
piped chlorine gas into a class party to disrupt it.) Eighteen
of the 25 hazing deaths of males that occurred on U.S.
college campuses from 1838 through 1927 were a result of
freshman-sophomore class hazing excesses during battle
royals, pranks, and organized ﬁghts to capture class ﬂags, but
not because of fraternity hazing, which claimed the lives of
seven young men, according to Nuwer’sBroken Pledges
appendix of deaths. During the late 1920s, thanks to more
awareness on campus and an outpouring of condemnation
of hazing by students themselves, hazing of ﬁrst-year students
no longer included battles for class ﬂags and class pennants
that had seen so much violence. From 1928 through March
2014, only two ﬁrst-year hazing deaths (Cheyney State and
the University of Richmond) occurred, the rest entirely
committed by hazers in fraternities, sororities, athletic teams,
and one band (Florida A & M), according to Nuwer’s list of
hazing deaths and his appendix in Wrongs of Passage.
Fraternities and sororities often trace their origins back to
literary and honor societies that ﬂourished back in 1776. The
ﬁrst fraternity per se was the Kappa Alpha Society founded in
1825 at Union College in New York State. The ﬁrst fraternities
and sororities emulated early literary societies in their educa-
tional values, and their founders were students themselves who
wanted to engage in intellectual debate as well as to socialize.
In addition to establishing the solemn initiation rituals that
often borrowed symbolism from Masonic initiations, the early
fraternity chapters also hazed new members on occasion in
usually ordeals known as stunts. Some stunts included riding
a real or mechanical goat or tossing a newcomer in the air on
a blanket. Injuries occasionally occurred as a result of youths
getting carried away. Nuwer’sBroken Pledges documents injuries
to two University of Georgia Zeta Chi pledges that jumped out
a window when an older member whipped out a pistol as
The ﬁrst U.S. fraternity death was Kappa Sigma Society
member Mortimer Leggett in 1873 at Cornell University. At
least one newcomer has perished while enduring hazing every
year from 1970 to 2013, according to Nuwer’sWrongs of Passage
and the Internet list of veriﬁable hazing deaths. The last one
was an alcohol-related death at Baruch College in New York
State in December 2013 (http://www.hanknuwer.com/
hazingdeaths.html), one of ﬁve hazing deaths in 2013.
Thus, some years far more deaths than a single death have
occurred in Greek organizations. In 2012, ﬁve deaths of
fraternity men in U.S. colleges occurred by hazing that stem-
med from alcohol overdoses; a sixth death occurred by
drowning: a male pledge was asked to swim in a reservoir at the
University of Idaho (http://hanknuwer.com/hazingdeaths.
html). Because some law enforcement ofﬁcers lack a clear
understanding of what hazing actually is, it is plausible that the
number of hazing deaths on the Nuwer’s list is lower than
might actually be the higher total. Similarly, neither universi-
ties nor Greek national organizations are eager to claim a death
as related to hazing lest that admission result in damages
during civil litigation.
Hazing deaths are not limited to on campus to fraternities
and sororities, but those two groups have experienced the
majority of incidents. In the United States, the vast majority of
the 180 hazing deaths from 1838 to 2013 have involved
newcomers in fraternities and, to a lesser extent, in sororities.
Far more males than females have perished in Greek organi-
zations because of hazing, and experts uniformly agree that
fraternity hazing deaths have proven far more common than
sorority hazing deaths. According to a University of Maine
national survey, about half of all students acknowledge that
they belong to groups that haze. Thus, while hazing in sorori-
ties is often reported, it only occasionally rises to the level of an
actual crime and is more likely to be addressed by the hazers’
institution than by a criminal prosecution. It is important to
note that deaths in local, unrecognized, or suspended frater-
nities have resulted in deaths at several institutions, including
the University of Nevada, SUNY Plattsburgh, Chico State, and
Deaths by hazing also have been reported in countries such
as the Philippines, India, Japan, Canada, and Great Britain
Hazing and Alcohol Abuse
Alcohol was consumed by some fraternal chapters in the
nineteenth century through 1939, but such factors as alumni,
faculty, and administration supervision of chapters resulted in
far less tolerance for drunkenness or using alcohol as a sort of
litmus test of new member readiness during hazing. Signiﬁ-
cantly, fraternities likely did not experience a single reported
Hazing in Fraternities and Sororities 557
hazing death due to alcohol until 1940. That year, Hubert L.
Spake, Jr. died following a mandatory drinking session at the
University of Missouri while pledging Theta Nu Epsilon,
according to Nuwer (1990). Clearly, with the escalating
number of hazing deaths from 1970 to December 2013,
according to Nuwer’s list of deaths, a case can be made that the
presence of alcohol has made hazing rituals far more extreme
and life threatening than they were prior to 1969.
Research published in Nuwer’s online list of hazing deaths
demonstrates that the majority of hazing deaths in Greek
groups from 1970 to 2013 involve an overdose of alcohol. In
the period 2012–13, six of the last eight fraternity hazing
deaths involved alcohol. Other victims from 1873 to 2012
have died from beatings, car wrecks, pedestrian accidents,
falls from buildings or high elevations, burns, drowning,
choking, ingestion of many gallons of water or other liquids,
and other causes. A small number of suicides have occurred
immediately following hazing activities and are listed on
Nuwer’s list of hazing deaths.
Here are three examples of hazing deaths due to alcohol
from the Internet ‘List of Hazing Deaths’maintained by Hank
lIn 1980, University of South Carolina Sigma Nu pledge
Barry Ballou choked to death after passing out at a ritualized
drinking session attended by an alumnus and members.
lPi Kappa Alpha pledge David Bogenberger, a Northern
Illinois University freshman, died in 2012 after being asked
to chug copious amounts of hard alcohol. Police charged 22
individuals with crimes, including ﬁve felony counts.
lIn 2012, Fresno State University Theta Chi pledge Philip
Dhanens, a 350-pound former football player, died
following a weekend binge. He died at a hospital where he
had been taken for assistance.
U.S. Laws against Hazing
Hazing may be illicit –against the rules of a collegiate
institution –or forbidden by state law. As of 2012, hazing
was illegal by statute in 44 states, but as of March 2014, there
is no federal law regulating hazing; although, activists such as
Lianne Kowiak, mother of a Theta Chi pledge killed at Lenoir
Rhyne University, advocates for such a law, according to
Bloomberg.com (24 July 2013). In most states, hazing is
most commonly a misdemeanor offense. Florida has the
strictest possible penalty among all U.S. states, allowing
a sentence of 5 years to be imposed upon conviction for
felony hazing. Nonetheless, the courts have traditionally
imposed light jail sentences, often requiring merely
community service or ﬁning individual hazers and/or their
chapters. Hazing can be hard to establish since these illegal
actions often take place behind closed doors. In addition,
after a death or serious incident, uncooperative members
refuse to share details of what took place when investigators
interview them. This is why prosecutors for the state often ﬁle
more easily proven charges such as assault or serving alcohol
to a minor because hazing is a more difﬁcult crime to prove
in court. Felony convictions for repeated hazing beatings
were imposed on a Florida A & M fraternity, and a Chico
State fraternity member was convicted of a felony following
the death of a pledge required to drink so much water than
his body chemistry was altered.
University Hazing Practices and Deaths
The increasing numbers of prospective members injured or
killed by hazing reveals that they stand ready to do whatever is
necessary for acceptance into an organization. When a frater-
nity or sorority pledge fails to complete the pledge process, it
can be a traumatic experience for individuals who fail to cross
the liminal space, particularly if they feel less than full-ﬂedged
adults and must ask either their parents or school ofﬁcials to
intervene on their behalf.
Sororities have been connected to eight deaths of females
and one death of a male in alleged hazing incidents, according
to Nuwer’s list of hazing deaths. In 1970, an Eastern Illinois
sorority member became the ﬁrst to die after she perished from
effects of a head injury incurred in a vehicular accident after she
had resisted being ‘kidnapped’by pledges that intended to
abandon her in the country as a prank, according to Nuwer’s
Wrongs of Passage. Three female deaths have been attributed to
drowning in dangerous ceremonial initiations, one at Virginia
State and two at California State, Los Angeles, according to
A 2012 lawsuit by the mother of a deceased sorority pledge
at East Carolina University maintained that the 2010 deaths of
her daughter and a second pledge were directly caused by sleep
deprivation due to hazing. According to that lawsuit, East
Carolina State University Delta Sigma Theta pledges Victoria
Carter, 20, and Briana Latrice Gather, 20, died in a car accident.
In addition to the aforementioned two sorority deaths at
Eastern Carolina University, one additional death occurred at
Plymouth State University during an automobile accident
while pledges allegedly were made to lie ﬂat on the ﬂoor of an
SUV that then overturned. None of these deaths involved
alcohol. However, in 2008, a total of 12 Chi Omega sorority
and Sigma Nu fraternity members at Utah State University were
charged with crimes following the alcohol-related hazing of
Michael Starks, 18, conducted by both chapters, according to
Nuwer’s list. In addition, in March 2014, an alleged hazing
incident involving Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority and
Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity at the University of
Connecticut resulted in the hospitalization of a sorority
member admitted with a life-threatening blood-alcohol
account, according to widely published media accounts
and an email from the victim to Hank Nuwer sent on
12 March 2014.
In addition to pledge deaths, the so-called pledge ‘sneaks’
routinely occur in which pledges haze senior members to
retaliate for what they themselves have gone through and
endured, and these have resulted in deaths at schools such as
Eastern Illinois University, the University of Texas, University
of Georgia, and Frostburg State University, according to the
appendix listed in Nuwer’sWrongs of Passage (1999b). Such
a practice is often encouraged by the membership as a means of
forging pledge solidarity, according to the same source. The
latest example of the reverse hazing of members by pledges has
been the death of SAE member George Desdunes who was
‘encouraged’by pledges to drink what proved to be a deadly
amount of alcohol in a question-and-answer session at his
558 Hazing in Fraternities and Sororities
Cornell University chapter house in 2011, according to The
New York Times of 12 April 2012.
As mentioned, hazing can also have serious consequences
even without a death. Many male and female students have
been hospitalized for acute alcohol intoxication, for example.
Greek chapters have been punished for such behaviors as
activities of a sexual nature, physical pummeling, verbal abuse,
overwork, sleep deprivation, branding with chemicals, and
a host of bizarre pranks intended to amuse veteran members,
according to the list of examples published in the appendices of
Nuwer’sBroken Pledges and Wrongs of Passage.
To be sure, hazing can also involve activities that do not
qualify as deadly or particularly demeaning such as requiring
a pledge to sing a song or carry a veteran’s book. Nonetheless
all national and international fraternal organizations ban these
activities as well since the possibility exists that a rogue member
or members might get creative with a relatively noninjurious
act of hazing and take the activity to a potentially harmful level.
In addition, what may seem like innocuous hazing to a perpe-
trator may be perceived as threatening to a newcomer. Fraternal
leaders such as Associate Dean of Students Travis Apgar of
Cornell University (http://www.hazingprevention.org/hazing-
information/hidden-harm-of-hazing.html) refer to resultant
psychological trauma as a type of ‘hidden harm.’Even the most
stable of new recruits can break down when subjected to night
after night of verbal abuse, subjugation, and sleep deprivation,
particularly when forced to sleep on a ﬂoor in conﬁned quarters
and to leap up on the instant to carry out some inane errand
that a veteran member has conjured up. Nuwer, in the Chronicle
of Higher Education (26 November 1999a), termed these latter
examples as examples of cultlike systematic hazing.
Prosecuting and Preventing Hazing
From the ﬁrst fraternity hazing death in 1873 to deaths in 1973,
there appear to have been few arrests and no convictions for
fraternity and sorority hazing deaths, according to Nuwer’s
Broken Pledges (1990: pp. 286–298). And while the adviser in
the 1974 shooting death for a hazing at Blueﬁeld State was
convicted and served time for killing a Tau Kappa Epsilon
pledge, and a North Carolina A & T University in 1987
received a 2-year sentence for pledge beatings, it was not
until 1999 that tightened state laws and increasing media
attention led to stricter enforcement and a small number of
arrests resulting in convictions. Most notable was the 2007
sentencing of nearly 2 years in prison for two Florida A & M
fraternity men who pleaded no contest to felony charges of
beating a Kappa Alpha Psi pledge; they served jail time but
on appeal had the charges expunged from their records.
By 2010, more arrests and a handful of convictions for
serious hazing cases began to get the attention of the press. For
example, two young men were convicted of misdemeanor
hazing in the 2008 death of SAE pledge Carson Starkey and
received jail sentences of 30 days each, according to widely
published media accounts such as CBS Sunday Morning
(5 February 2012). On the other hand, in the 2010 death of
a Radford University fraternity pledge, the court punishment
was merely $1000 each and no jail time for ﬁve Tau Kappa
Epsilon members in a plea deal, according to the Orlando
Sentinel (11 July 2012).
Perhaps more effective than laws curtailing hazing have
been attempts by international organization such as SAE to ban
or shorten the pledge period. In March 2014, according to the
Web site of the parent SAE organization, all pledging now has
ceased due to the deaths of 10 SAE pledges, the most of
any national fraternity according to Bloomberg News
(8 March 2014) and Nuwer’s Internet list of hazing deaths
(15 March 2014).
Another effective best practice was the dry house movement
followed most conspicuously by all chapters of the large
national fraternity Phi Delta Theta that in 2000 removed
alcohol from the premises of chapter houses, thereby elimi-
nating the substance that has caused the most hazing deaths
after 1970, according to Nuwer (2001). On 14 March 2014,
executive Vice President of Phi Delta Theta, Bob Biggs told the
Washington Post that in addition to a dramatic decrease in
hazing claims, undergraduate membership increased by 25%.
Hazing Judgments by the Courts
Civil lawsuits in the aftermath of an injury or death blamed on
hazing have become quite common. The parents of Chad
Meredith, a University of Miami pledge who drowned when
forced to swim across a lake by older Kappa Sigma members,
resulted in a $14 million judgment against those young men.
The highest settlement ever paid by a university was $6 million
in 2002 by Massachusetts Institute of Technology to the parents
of Scott Krueger who died of alcohol intoxication following
a Phi Gamma Delta pledge party.
Prevention of Hazing
As might be expected, since deaths by hazing largely occur in
fraternities and to a lesser extent in sororities, the main anti-
hazing activists are undergraduate members, alumni, and
national ofﬁcers of fraternities and sororities. The two most
inﬂuential organizations are the Web-based Stophazing.org
created by University of Maine hazing researcher Elizabeth
Allan and the national group HazingPrevention.Org (HPO).
Stophazing’s Allan is a professor at the University of Maine in
Higher Education Leadership, one of the few academicprograms
offering a hazing studies concentration. She and her Maine
colleague Mary Madden completed in 2011 a 3-year research
project on hazing with responses from 11 482 college students
enrolled in 54 colleges. The survey response rate was 12%.
Slightly more than half of all respondents acknowledged
participating in acts of hazing as members of student groups
such as fraternities and sororities. In her essay for The Hazing
Reader titled ‘Hazing and Gender: Analyzing the Obvious,’
Allan notes that empirical research on gender differences is
scant, but while a national survey distributed to Greek profes-
sionals found that 44% had to deal with reported hazing cases,
the number of violent and otherwise physical hazings were far
fewer than those committed by male students.
HPO is an activist organization dedicated to empower
people to prevent hazing in college and university student
groups. HPO’s board of directors and numerous volunteers and
small staff provide antihazing education through conferences,
Webinars, and training sessions. HPO sponsors its annual
Hazing in Fraternities and Sororities 559
Hank Nuwer Anti-Hazing Hero Award, which to date has
honored mainly fraternity and sorority undergraduates who
effected positive changes in their own chapters to curb hazing
practices. The award was named for the author of this article
to commemorate his research on hazing that has resulted in
four scholarly books on the topic through 2012 (Broken
Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs
of Passage, The Hazing Reader). In January 2014, Nuwer
published Sons of the Dawn: A Basque Odyssey, a novel that
Kirkus Reviews praised online (10 January 2014) for its
treatment of hazing and bullying in the Old West.
In addition to these two antihazing groups, there is a college
archive that attempts to put all hazing scholarship under a single
collection. Buffalo State College’s (BSC) Butler Library has since
2006 sponsored an extensive Hazing Collection available
without charge to hazing researchers and undergraduate
students alike (http://bsclib01.buffalostate.edu/library/
archives/). Under the direction of archivist Daniel Di Landro
and BSC Vice President Maryruth Glogowski, the Hazing
Collection in Buffalo, New York, has endeavored to house every
hazing-related scholarly article, doctoral dissertation, master’s
thesis, book, and miscellaneous research items for free use by
researchers. Before the collection was established, one
difﬁculty that researchers face was that the relatively small
literature related to hazing scattered at widely separated
libraries and institutions, making research an expensive, time-
consuming challenge for researchers, according to author John
Nicoletti in Violence Goes to College (2009: p. 200).
While a number of best practices to curtail hazing have been
championed by a number of educators, no single solution has
been found to stamp out hazing. Nuwer, in Broken Pledges
(1990), along with other authors, has argued that bystander
intervention might have prevented speciﬁc hazing incidents
from leading to serious injuries and deaths in a number of
fraternity tragedies. Bystander intervention refers to the practice
of emboldening those who witness crimes or potential criminal
behavior to step in and take action to halt the behavior before it
escalates, according to The New York Times of 9 February 2014.
The writings and seminars by hazing intervention expert Alan
Berkowitz very speciﬁcally target bystander intervention as an
important means of intervention before a hazing activity gets to
the point of no return. In addition, a great many U.S. educa-
tional institutions use social norms data in an attempt to
discourage binge drinking and hazing by stressing to under-
graduates that such unacceptable practices are anything but
normal in an attempt to sway behavior changes through
marketing campaigns such as posters in college classroom
buildings and residence halls.
Many other education experts, including Christopher Bol-
linger, coauthor of Violence Goes to College, have argued for the
value of substituting useful, benign group-building activities in
place of hazing practices. HPO seminar leader Kim Novak
offers Greek life professionals hands-on suggestions for
activities such as ropes courses that encourage group unity to
achieve a common goal.
In 2013, the VTV Family Outreach Foundation, founded by
the surviving families of a 2007 Virginia Tech (Virginia Poly-
technic Institute and State University) school shooting
massacre, brought together nine experts (including in hazing
prevention) to create a new project termed the 32 National
Campus Safety Initiative that has identiﬁed best practices for
institutions to employ that counter violent campus behaviors
such as hazing and sexual assault. A pilot program was initiated
with a number of institutions to provide a voluntary rating
system so that an individual institution not only can judge how
it measures up in terms of combating hazing and other
behavioral maladies, but also take steps to shore up areas
where deﬁciencies appear to occur.
As the number of deaths associated with hazing continues
to climb, a trend of late has been the zero tolerance toward the
practice practiced by a number of institutions. In addition to
the expulsion of chapters caught hazing, a number of univer-
sities also have created hazing task forces composed of faculty,
staff and, in some cases, outside experts.
For example, following the hazing death of George Des-
dunes, 19, Cornell University President David Skorton not only
wrote a widely quoted Op-Ed article for The New York Times
(23 August 2011) titled ‘A Pledge to End Fraternity Hazing,’but
his Greek Affairs staff at the venerable New York institution
issued a clear warning to fraternal groups that the new hazing
policy was zero tolerance. The no-nonsense new policy resulted
in nine fraternities cited and/or punished by Cornell for hazing
from 2012 to March 2014, according to that institution’sWeb
site. In addition, Cornell established the Recruitment-
Acceptance-Retention-Education Task Force with one of its
main agenda items being to ﬁnd and to research best practices
for curtailing hazing in fraternities and other student groups.
In California, following the alcohol-related birthday death
of a Chico State University pledge, which its President Paul
Zingg termed hazing-related, all campus fraternities and
sororities were suspended in November 2012. The
unprecedented step was taken because of a rash of nonhazing-
related deaths of late, as well as the fact that this was at least
the fourth hazing death at Chico State. Likewise, Central
Florida University, which had a near fatality during pledging
for Kappa Alpha Psi, put an end to all pledging and fraternal
social activities in 2013, concerned by reports that pledging
activities had in some cases escalated into hazing. The
University of Virginia ordered all pledging to cease
immediately in 2013 or the offending chapters would be shut
down. The University also started the antihazing activist group
called Hoos Against Hazing (http://www.virginia.edu/hazing/).
If these hard-line steps fail to work, no doubt a small
number of universities will follow the example of Alfred
University. In 2002, following a number of hazing deaths in
local and national fraternities, the Alfred Board of Trustees
decided regulation of Greek groups was not working.
Consequently, the Board moved to shut down all Greek
houses permanently. However, even though media outlets
such as the Bloomberg News (Editorial, 7 January 2014)
clamor for colleges to shut down permanently all fraternal
systems, Alfred was the last to end a long-standing Greek
system, and it unlikely many more colleges will risk alumni
outrage by banning fraternities and sororities. National
fraternities and sororities vociferously defend the right of
public universities to maintain a freedom of association,
making it unlikely that any educational institutions (besides
the occasional private college) will ever ban an entire Greek
system. At present, besides Alfred, the handful of private
colleges in the historic past to close their Greek systems
560 Hazing in Fraternities and Sororities
included Middlebury College (1990) (1990: p. 147), Williams
College (1962) (1990: p. 242), and Colby College (1983)
(1990: p. 242). A few private colleges such as Bates College
in Maine never have permitted fraternities. The last public
university to ban pledging for a semester was the University
of Alabama in November 2012, according to Fraternal Law
Newsletter (Box 1).
See also: Adolescence, Sociology of; Conﬂict: Education and
Youth; Disposable Youth in America in the Age of Neoliberalism;
Gender Differences in Personality and Social Behavior;
Masculinity, Scripts of; Personal Identity: Philosophical
Aspects; Responsibility: Philosophical Aspects; Social
Competence During Adolescence Across Cultures; Social
Identity in Sociology; Teens, Gender, and Self-Presentation in
Social Media; Transition to Adulthood; Youth Culture,
Anthropology of; Youth Culture, Sociology of.
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http://stophazing.org –Stop Hazing.
http://hazingprevention.org –Hazing Prevention.
http://hanknuwer.com/blog –Hank Nuwer Blog.
http://hanknuwer.com –Hank Nuwer.
http://umaine.edu/hazingresearch/ –The University of Maine Hazing Research and
Box 1 Chronology of fraternity and sorority hazing in the
1873 Cornell ﬁrst-year student Mortimer N. Leggett died in a fall into
a gorge while members were taking him on a traditional walk in the country.
1928 National Interfraternity Conference leaders voted to end all hazing.
1940 The ﬁrst alcohol-related fraternity hazing death occurred in the
United States. It was at the University of Missouri.
1970 A female Eastern Illinois sorority member died in a vehicle
accident as pledges tried to abandon her in the country. There would be
a death every year after (and some years many deaths) in Greek life until
1978 A death of a pledge named Chuck Stenzel at Alfred University
marked the beginning of the antihazing movement in the United States led
by Eileen Stevens, a New York housewife and the pledge’s mother. She
called her organization CHUCK, the Committee to Halt Useless College
1978 The movie Animal House was released, mocking the practice of
1994 The beating death of Michael Davis for a Southeast Missouri State
black fraternity chapter created outrage over physical hazing. He died in the
back seat of a member’s car after being beaten by members who had
abducted him from the library.
2000 As deaths mount, the National Interfraternity Conference and
National Panhellenic Conference plan measures to control hazing and binge
drinking. Phi Delta Theta ofﬁcially ordered its chapter houses to become
alcohol-free in an attempt to end hazing and binge drinking deaths.
2002 Hank Nuwer, the author of Wrongs of Passage, issues a challenge
to fraternity and sorority leaders to begin a hazing task force to address the
issue nationally. Subsequently, a fraternity antihazing activist named Dan
Bureau takes the challenge and convenes the ﬁrst-ever task force on hazing.
2013 A hazing death in December at Baruch College in New York
extended the unbroken stretch of hazing deaths 43 years from 1970 to
2014 Following the deaths of 10 pledges, the largest national fraternity
in the world, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, bans all pledging.
Hazing in Fraternities and Sororities 561