by Helen Olson
Many people associate Greek life with drinking and partying. Although that is definitely a substantial part of sororities and fraternities, there is so much more than keg-stands and shots. Members of Greek organizations often have higher GPA’s, hold more leadership positions, and have an expansive alumni network usually resulting in successful job searches. However, the negative stigma surrounding Greek life often clouds the benefits. In recent years, the media has investigated fraternity hazing incidents that are not aiding in remediating the stereotype. These accidents are a parent’s worst nightmare, but universities have responded by creating Greek Task Forces as well as enforcing new rules and regulations with regard to Greek life. It is important that incoming freshmen are aware of these accidents in order to do their part in hazing prevention, but also are assured that Georgia Tech Greek life is in fact a positive addition to a resume and is seen as a foundation for careers and lifelong friendships.
Perhaps the accident that started it all was the death of Tim Piazza, a newly inducted member of Beta Theta Pi at Pennsylvania State University. Tim was forced to participate in a hazing event involving chugging hard liquor and ended up falling down the basement stairs in his drunken state. Unfortunately, his brothers were not aware of his worsening conditions and neglected to call the police until the next morning at 10:48 a.m., almost 12 hours after the accident itself. Fourteen Beta brothers faced a total of 328 criminal charges; however, the court decided to drop involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault charges against the accused. Kordel Davis, a fellow freshman brother, realized the danger due to his previous experience, sustaining the same injuries, but was told that “keeping that incident secret was one of the costs of memberships.” In an interview with Piazza’s parents, it is evident that they are frustrated with the boys who were supposed to be their son’s best friends, and partially blame Penn State for lack of control within the Greek community. In response to Piazza’s death, Penn State released new restrictions on Greek life to strive to remedy its reputation on campus. The committee cancelled rush for the 2017-2018 school year with the possibility of a deferral to 2019, and implemented new social restrictions including a liquor ban, limiting fraternities to 10 social events with alcohol from the former 45 allowed events, as well as capping parties at legal fire limits. In addition, new programming was developed by student leadership and staff to educate students about hazing prevention as well as monitoring Greek organizations’ progress regarding the new protocol. Fourteen new positions were formed with Student Affairs with eight dedicated strictly to Greek life in the hopes of strengthening the relationships between students and administration in order to promote the original values of fraternities and sororities.
A case that hits close to home is that of Maxwell Gruver, a freshman student at Louisiana State University. Gruver attended the same high school as some of my friends, enabling me to see the direct effect of a hazing accident. A pledge of Phi Delta Theta, Gruver was sent a text about a “Bible Study” occuring at the fraternity house, most likely knowing that the ensuing events were nothing close to a bible study. The pledges were forced to recite the Greek alphabet while hot sauce and mustard were poured on their clothes. A mistake in the alphabet meant a pull from a bottle of Diesel, a 190 proof liquor. Testimonials from those present that evening note that Gruver was being targeted and had taken close to 12 pulls of Diesel, while others were sitting at a mere 4 or 5 pulls. Gruver passed out that night and was taken to the hospital at 11 AM the next morning, only to be pronounced dead with a blood alcohol content of 0.495, over six times the legal limit. Police say that Gruver’s death was an accident but also attributed to alcohol poisoning and suffocation from his own vomit. Like Penn State, LSU responded quickly with a similar Greek Life Task Force including random drug testing, amnesty policies, and a focus on personal accountability. With personal accountability, bystanders would be able to aid in dangerous situations without fear of ridicule from their brothers. Personal accountability plays a vital role in Greek life itself; these men and women are your sworn brothers and sisters and members have a duty to ensure their well-being. LSU created an advisory board with a 4-year review cycle to monitor the progress of the Greek community, as well as a Greek Alumni Unity Council meant to serve as a voice for defeating hazing and substance abuse on the Baton Rouge campus.
The psychology behind hazing is not easy to understand. Aldo Cimino, an Anthropology professor at UC Santa Barbara, suggests that hazing is a form of protection of veteran members from possible threats from newcomers, attempting to explain the traditional hazing of fraternity pledges. Hazing could potentially weed out uncommitted pledges who are not truly interested in pursuing membership. Cimino conducted a study involving participants who imagined themselves to be part of hypothetical organizations and found that the organizations with more benefits also inspired more hazing. Cimino states that his research has proven that “automatic benefits predict people’s desire to haze.”
Hearing these stories probably doesn’t make Greek life sound like all it’s cracked up to be. I can say that the sorority rush process made me nervous and I did wonder if I would ever have to endure the dreaded “washing machine test,” a popular sorority hazing method in which a new member sits on top of a washing machine while girls circle the parts of their bodies that shake. However, as a member of a sorority here at Georgia Tech, I have never felt unsafe nor threatened by anyone older than me. I do not believe that Georgia Tech students have a tolerance for hazing due to the high standards we uphold. Power is achieved through successes and accomplishments and having an understanding of personal morals rather than physical damage to another person. Drawing upon Georgia Tech’s mission statement, “students will realize our motto of ‘Progress and Service’ through effectiveness and innovation,” I believe that hazing does not fit in those words. In no way is hazing effective or innovative, and from my first year at Tech I have seen these words taken seriously by students in classes and in social lives. To reiterate, Georgia Tech students are too focused on success throughout their time as a student and beyond.
From the beginning of rush, I have found that the upperclassmen have qualities that I strive for each and every day, whether that is in leadership, scholarship, or their social lives. Each time I walk in to my sorority house, I am greeted with smiling faces and encouragement. Georgia Tech fraternities are the same way; their “pledgeship” is conducted to ensure their commitment to the organization as a brother through values and morals, not through physical torture and danger. Unfortunately, the hazing accidents from other schools have made Georgia Tech administration look down upon Greek life in certain ways. To mitigate this problem, a Task Force was initiated to assess the current situation of Georgia Tech Greek Life. The Task Force recognizes the foundation that fraternity and sorority life creates for Georgia Tech students to find “connections, friendships, a social outlet, academic support, and a sense of belonging.” There is a focus on mutual respect and the maturation process from freshman to senior year. When alumni were asked how their organization affected their lives, they noted that the academic support was irreplaceable and their chapter made enduring a rigorous curriculum bearable
. Many recognized the Greek community as campus leaders and praised their focus on philanthropy and mentorship. A unique aspect of Georgia Tech Greek Life is our chapters within the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) and the Multicultural Greek Council (MCG) which focus on including minority groups in a traditionally white Greek community. With the addition of these sectors of the Greek community, there is truly a spot for everyone to experience the treasures found within sorority and fraternity life.