Hazing has and always will be a hot topic at all colleges and universities across the country. The most recent story in the news comes from Whitman College, a private college in the state of Washington. TKE, Tau Kappa Epsilon, is in hot water in numerous respects. A pledge ratted on the brotherhood giving unique details in a lengthy report. Sound familiar? Mandatory cooking of breakfast and a side of verbal abuse pushed this pledge over the edge. The story hit less than a week ago. Check out the article after the jump.
The last initiation activity Hart participated in, and the event that ultimately compelled him to de-initiate, took place in the TKE kitchen.
According to Hart, he and his fellow initiates were instructed to prepare breakfast for the active members in accordance with TKE initiation rule number 13—provided to Hart by the TKE Hegemon—that all pledges must “make and serve breakfast”—a task made more difficult by the trash and food that had previously been smeared on the kitchen surfaces.
Hart said that when the pledges cleaned up the trash, it was smeared back on the floor and kitchen surfaces; when they finished cooking the food, it was thrown against the wall. He said this went on for four hours.
“It was senseless and I was terrified and I was scared by what the TKEs were doing. They were purposefully intimidating me into doing what they wanted: to clean this kitchen, which in the first place had no point other than to submit to their actions,” said Hart.
Hart alleged that the TKEs employed verbal abuse to force the new members into labor similar to that in the kitchen, as well as to “dehumanize” new members in an attempt to make explicit the power dynamics between new and active members.
According to rule number five of TKE initiation, all pledges must always “wear hoodwinks but not outside.” Hart explained that a “hoodwink” is a piece of cloth adorned by a number identifying each initiate. Hart’s number was “1876.”
“I despised being called 1876. These are my friends, these are my colleagues, my peers—these are people I look up to. These are people I tutor and they are calling me 1876. It doesn’t get a whole lot more depersonalizing than that,” he said.
In 2007, former Whitman student Daniel Bachhuber also approached the administration with similar concerns. Like Hart, Bachhuber de-initiated from TKE as a result of his dissatisfaction with aspects of TKE initiation. In his three days of initiation, he experienced comparable types of food and sleep deprivation and forced cleaning.
“Initiation wasn’t anything constructive; it was destructive. If we were going to deprive ourselves of sleep but we wanted to do something constructive, we should have built a house for Habitat for Humanity or something like that,” said Bachhuber. “The way I construed the situation is that they were trying to break us down and recast us into this mold of a TKE fraternity member.”
Both Hart and Bachhuber alleged that TKE initiates were forced to take communal showers in freezing cold water. According to rule number nine of initiation, all pledges can only “shower with direction.”
“I’m told that I can’t take a shower because another rule is that pledges can only shower under the direction of an active,” said Hart. “We are all lined up. We are in our underwear; some people are naked, and we are forced to go into the shower.”
According to Cleveland, Bachhuber’s accusations were dealt with at the time by Associate Dean of Students Barbara Maxwell, the Greek advisor.
Maxwell declined to comment specifically on Bachhuber’s allegations, but said that the administration has consistently addressed complaints about conduct violations during initiation.
“When an incident gets brought forward, there’s an investigation, there’s a finding, there’s an outcome,” she said. “One [claim] wasn’t handled any differently than the other one.”
Bachhuber had problems, however, with the way the administration dealt with his claims.
“[Maxwell’s] recommendation was to express my grievances with [the fraternity presidents] and she made some sort of promise that things would be cleaned up the next time around, but I didn’t ever see the extent of what that was,” said Bachhuber. “My interpretation of the entire situation is that whoever was involved wanted to sweep the incident under the rug so they could keep on doing what they were doing.”
After de-initiating, Bachhuber struggled to connect with Whitman, especially with his friends in his residence section.
“I lived in 2-West, so everyone I knew was part of a frat house,” said Bachhuber. “To de-initiate was really hard for my social life, not necessarily because anyone made it explicitly so, but because I felt ostracized from the community that developed from [initiation].”
Hart said he did not feel the repercussions of his de-initiation as harshly as Bachhuber. According to Hart, the fact that he was a junior and had already developed a support system at the college was a primary reason for the lessened impact of his de-initiation.
“I already have my friends, whereas a lot of the freshmen are all friends with the TKEs, so they believe they would be socially ostracized,” said Hart. “I had all these other communities that were willing to welcome me.”
Maxwell agreed that the desire to be accepted as part of a group might deter some students from coming forward with allegations of misconduct.
“I think it’s hard [to come forward] if you’ve got an affiliation or attachment to a particular group, whether that’s a fraternity, sorority or an athletic team or another club on campus,” she said. “It’s human nature to want to be affiliated and want to be accepted.”
Interfraternity Council President, and member of Sigma Chi, junior Peter Olson contests the claim that participation in fraternity initiations is influenced by peer pressure.
“Not all the time are people pledging with all their best friends,” said Olson. “Theoretically you could see how that may happen, but at Sig we actively work to have an open channel of communication and really check in with them throughout pledgeship and initiation to make sure they’re comfortable with everything going on and that they’re having a good time.”
Maxwell added that national Greek organizations have been very proactive in developing communication channels for members, including toll-free 800 numbers where misconduct claims can be reported anonymously.
Bachhuber left Whitman in May 2007 after his first year, a decision which he said was influenced by his experiences both during and after initiation.
“I initially took a leave of absence and then I dropped out all together. A good 60 percent [of this decision] was because of initiation. The singular effect of de-initiating destroyed my entire community at Whitman and the community of what Whitman is supposed to be about,” he said.
It’s not hazing. It’s brotherhood.