Freshman year of college I went to an open informational about the black Greek organizations on campus. As I sat listening to girls talk about their various sororities, all I could think was, how am I supposed to get beaten and degraded for 10 weeks all for the sake of calling someone my sister in the end? Granted, these organizations give you national connections and lifelong friendships and other benefits I’m not aware of as an outsider, I felt like there was no group I wanted to be a part of that badly.
Hazing discussions come up every so often when a big story makes the headlines and I often wonder what members of these sororities and fraternities think about what their potential sisters and brothers are going through: have things gotten worse or should pledges just suck it up and prove their loyalty? The latest of these victims is Britteny Starling, a former pledge of the UC Berkeley chapter of Zeta Phi Beta. She’s suing members for allegedly hazing her to the point that she took a medical leave from school, and when you look at a few of the allegations, it’s hard to imagine taking a chance on pledging. She says her “big sisters:”
- Beat her and another pledge repeatedly on the head until a third pledge could finish reciting the sorority’s history.
- Poured juice on the floor and made her clean it up with her back, then tore off her shirt.
- Slammed her face into the wall, making her lip bleed profusely.
- Made her stay awake all night.
- Forbid her from going to the bathroom, causing her to pee her pants.
Again, as an outsider, I don’t know if that’s extreme behavior or typical of the pledging process, but I can’t help but question is it necessary. Brittney claimed that her sisters had a habit of offering love after pain, saying they “loved the pledges and their actions were intended to make the pledges better people” They also warned that if anyone quit, which Brittney said she planned to do, they would “become ‘eternals.’” According to the lawsuit, “Ms. Starling felt extreme pressure to remain as a pledge in ZPB because she was in fear that if she left the sorority, she would become an outcast, an ‘eternal,’ in the Greek system and the African-American community at UC Berkeley.” Now, she’s seeking punitive damages and money for lost future wages.
Obviously, on campus no one ever spoke about what they went through, but there were always rumors going around of why a certain frat was suspended or what sorts of things were going on. Even more so than the physical torment, I was concerned with why most of the people who had pledged were either in danger of failing or lost a scholarship during the process, and why some had to drop out after they crossed. What good is joining an organization if you forfeit a degree in the process?
Recently, my younger cousin called to ask my opinion on whether she should pledge a sorority or not and I didn’t know what to tell her other than make a decision based on the people in the organization and not the name of it or the popularity it might earn her. I would hate to see her endure treatment like this, but I also wouldn’t want her to miss out on something that might be greater than what it appears to be from the outside. Since I’ve only had female friends who pledged in grad chapters, I asked a male friend if he thought pledging was worth it. He said he didn’t have any regrets but if he had to do it again, knowing what he knows now, he probably wouldn’t have. I’m curious if more people than not feel that way.
If you’re in a sorority, do you think the pledging process was worth it? Did the fear of hazing prevent any of you from joining a sorority? Do you think hazing is necessary?
Brande Victorian is a blogger and culture writer in New York City. Follower her on Twitter at @be_vic.
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