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RULER   :  Archive   :  1997   :  US Illicit Jun 1997


Illicit (Hazing) CP - June 1997

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Black Issues in Higher Education, 12 June 1997

Pledging a Brother, Not Intaking a "Paper Brother"

The following story allegedly took place on a public historically Black college campus in Maryland last year. Because the tradition of pledging has been officially replaced by the National Pan-Hellenic Council with a "Membership Intake Process," all forms of hazing have been prohibited. The author signed a document promising not to be involved in any pledging activities. To avoid sanctions, he asked that his name not be given. The author is currently working on a master's degree. Although the name Gamma Delta is used, it is not the real name of the fraternity chapter involved.

I swing my paddle a few times, testing the air in this cramped basement. To the boy bent over in front of me, this place is a dungeon. I check his position, buttocks out, eyes forward, fist straight, trembling. Perfect. I ready my swing -- up the paddle goes, hovers in the air, gathering power as it slices down, striking his butt. The air cracks. A shock passes up my arm and I know I gave a good stroke.

The pledge winces as the pain spreads, needles of pain, nerves shrieking, raised and trembling, on fire. I send him back to his place in line, where he stands at attention with his eight brother pledges or line brothers.

Occasionally a fraternity brother of my chapter calls a boy out, usually the one who occupies the same place in line he had when he pledged. I was fifth from the front: Five was my number, so I must guide the new number Five now. I call him out again, tell him to recite the information: the history of the fraternity, the founders' names, how they lived and died and when, the philosophy of the fraternity -- all the knowledge that I gave him, he must give back to me, quickly, without a mistake. He does a good job so I toss him back into line.

I walk over to The Dean of Pledges as, frowning, he appraises them. "Do they look neat to you?" he asks.

"Tight enough," I say. "But what do I know?"

"What do you know?" we ask the pledges.

As a unit, they tell us the history. One of them stumbles, but the group tries to go on, hoping we didn't catch it.

"Three, get out here," The Dean says.

When Three, blinking nervously, veins standing out in his neck, stands before him, The Dean commands him to recite the information by himself. He starts well enough, but at the names of all our undergraduate chapters, he stumbles.

"There we go," The Dean says. "Now, Seven, come out. Assume the position."

Once Seven is in position, The Dean says, "Now look at each other. Three, if you don't get this right, I'm going to stroke Seven. Now, you don't want to let your line-brother down, do you?"

"No," Three says.

"Good, then don't."

But of course he does, and Seven gets a stroke, and gets another one as Three fumbles again. Five strokes later, Three can't meet Seven's glare.

"Enough," The Dean says. "You boys need to straighten this out. Go in the bathroom, fix Three. If you don't, all of you will pay."

The boys go in the bathroom. Ear pressed to the door, I hear their violent whispers. They won't quit now, and they won't let Three fail -- their hardships have made them brothers, a clan united against us, their makers. We are the obstacles they must overcome.

It is an old story, this pledging: something ancient, this ritual of passing through pain and hardship. All secret societies and warrior castes have these rituals, whether they are Oglala Sioux or Royal Marines. But because boys have been hazed under the guise of pledging -- and hazing is the doling out of pain for pleasure as opposed to pledging, the use of ritual discipline to instill values -- pledging has been outlawed by the old men who run our frat, because pledging sometimes degenerates into hazing. And hazing kills.

Alcohol poisoning, broken necks, broken ribs, ridiculous needless deaths caused by sadistic brothers without a plan or philosophy. But that is what happens when brothers are abused as pledges. They become abusive pledge masters. They lose sight of the philosophy of their journey. A brother guides a boy across time and across history, teaching him things as he goes and showing the boy the importance of respecting his elders and the importance of seeing the founders as role models. The founders' trial was the journey of a cadre of men of excellence who invaded elite institutions in the first days of the twentieth century.

But although the old men make the fraternity hopefuls sign papers saying they won't pledge, and make my brothers and me sign papers saying we won't conduct pledging activities, those old men do not respect anyone who doesn't pledge. So they wink at us as we go underground. If we are caught, all of us -- the pledges as well as the brothers -- will lose our membership and our charter.

But in my chapter, we are gentlemen. We endure and carry on our tradition of pledging, not hazing. If we hazed, we'd be some degenerate chapter. We would be...Gamma Delta.

"We gotta take these boys down to see Gamma Delta. The brothers asked about the pledges," the Dean says.

"No way," I say. "GD is on probation. They can't hold any activities on campus. They can't vote in the Student Government or on the Greek Council. Basically, for the rest of the semester, they don't exist on campus or anywhere." I shake my head. "That's what they get for busting that kid's eardrum."

The Dean rubs his chin and says, "I dunno. I think we gotta take the pledges to see GD. I mean, all the other chapters have seen them. If Gamma Delta doesn't, they'll think we mean to insult them and there will be repercussions."

"I don't know them, then. C'mon, you know all they want to do is haze the living sh -- out of some pledges. That's their way."

The Dean sighs at me, then he looks at the rest of the brothers and says, "Who are we? We are men. We are hard chargers. All right then, road trip. We are taking the kiddies to GD."

Seeing my expression, the Dean adds, "Don't worry. We'll keep things organized and civil. Promise."

We travel to the school that Gamma Delta calls home. They are a wayward chapter of my fraternity. They were poorly selected and ill made. They have no history, no knowledge, and they don't do service projects of any sort. Not only do they not have a philosophy, they can't spell the word.

We greet them warmly, as protocol demands, and present our pledges. GD roars and pounces on our boys swinging at them with fists and paddles. We pull GD off our pledges.

"Brothers, respect our process. We don't do things that way," the Dean says. A strong dean can guarantee the safety of his boys.

"Now, are we calm?" the Dean continues. "Good. Boys, tell these brothers what you know."

The boys, at attention, recite the information while we eye GD warily.

Homeward bound, I talk to three pledges in my car. "When you are in my care, I am responsible for you. I wouldn't let anything happen to you. It's my job to bring you across the burning sands and teach you everything I know and make you good brothers -- not like those bastards. Discipline is the key. Only after you have self-discipline can you make good brothers.

"Those guys were crazy as hell," Three says.

I nod and tell the pledges. "Guys like that don't know how to pledge anyone. All they can do is haze. They injure people, they don't teach history. No one wants to be seriously injured to be in a frat. That's not why your parents pay tuition.

"And that's why I'm proud of you runts," I continue. "You didn't have to pledge. You guys could've used the official process, signed your name to a piece of paper and taken a fraternity history test. But then you would have been a brother in name only -- a paper brother.' The documents may make you technically a member, but the brothers won't treat you like a brother. And that's the way it is."

Three speaks up. "Say, sir, what would you like us to give you after we become brothers? A gift, I mean."

"You know what I'd like -- what I'd really like? I'd like my damn information, pledge. Don't worry about becoming a brother, boy. You let me worry about that."

And I do worry. I worry about the boys who are my responsibility and I worry about myself. Am I doing the right thing? Am I a good brother? Can I guide these pledges into the brotherhood?

Then I remember the founders of the fraternity -- young and full of worry, like me -- and I know what my duty is.

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