Fraternity Hazing & Drinking – A Glimpse Into the Sometimes Deadly College Tradition

  • The term “hazing” relates to initiation rituals, often both humiliating and dangerous, inflicted on college freshman that hope to join or are “pledging” a particular fraternity.

    In practice, “pledging” can last weeks or months, and it’s all too common for copious amounts of alcohol to be part of the process. Sadly, too many young people lose their lives because of these traditions.

    • Students that attend schools with an extensive Greek Fraternity system are particularly susceptible.

    Greek Fraternity organizations have a long history of extreme-hazing rituals, and students at these schools, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAA), tend to drink more than students at other schools.

    In general, college-aged drinking is statistically dangerous. The NIAA reports that an estimated 1,825 college students between the ages of 18 to 24 die from unintentional, alcohol-related injuries every year.

    The University of Maryland lists several hazing statistics:

    • 82 percent of hazing-related deaths involve alcohol
    • Since 1970, there has been at least one hazing death every year
    • Students who know an adult are more likely to submit to the hazing process
    • 95 percent of students do not report it
    • Incidents of sexually motivated hazing have increased since 1995
    • More than half of college students are involved in some campus hazing

    Fraternity Hazing Dates Back to the Civil War

    Fraternity hazing has roots that date back hundreds of years. In the book “True Gentlemen: The Broken Pledge of America’s Fraternities,” John Hechinger explains history. Soldiers returning from the Civil War “brought military-style hazing to college campuses…the pledge period soon grew to weeks or months, devolving into the orgy of abuses so familiar today,” Hechinger wrote.

    • Although laws in 44 states outlaw college hazing and school policies that prohibit the practice, it is difficult for academic officials and law enforcement to stop every incident.

    Greater public awareness, however, might be leading to a change in the culture.

    An investigation by the Daily Trojan, the University of Southern California’s campus newspaper, reports that U.S.C. is “cracking down on misconduct among Greek Organizations.”

    • “There have been at least six organizations suspended over the past three years, and it’s a five-to-six year suspension,” Ainsley Carry, former V.P. for student affairs, told the paper. “What has changed is that more students are reporting these incidents now.”

    Some of the recent reforms on college campuses have come as a result of several high-profile hazing-related deaths, including;

    • In 2017, at Louisiana State University, Pennsylvania State University, and Florida State University. In the wake of Maxwell Gruver’s death at L.S.U., the governor signed a bill that includes felony charges for anyone involved in the hazing-death, penalties that could send fraternity leaders to jail for up to five years.
    • For others, like Julia and Scott Starkey, who lost their son, Carson, to a 2008 hazing incident consuming Everclear – a 190 proof spirit – and other hard alcohol, the path to reform has been different. “Following [Carson’s] death, we founded Aware, Awake and Alive, a national nonprofit dedicated to alcohol poisoning prevention, particularly on college and high school campuses,” the couple wrote in the U.S.A. Today op-ed.

    Unfortunately, the list of hazing deaths is unlikely to stop growing until the appeal of these fraternities, along with their pledge initiation traditions, many of them shrouded in secrecy, are willing to change or at least police their behavior. According to some experts, education, rather than an outright ban, will likely be more effective in the long run.

    • “Realistically, the answer is regulation and reform,” Hechinger told attendees at a Chicago conference with representatives from 31 colleges and universities. “That is the only possibility.

    More Resources About Fraternity Hazing and Drinking