Sisters by blood or letters?

Xpress Mag Staff

Written by Farnoush Amiri & Olympia Zampathas

Illustration by Lorisa Salvatin
Illustration by Lorisa Salvatin

More than sixteen thousand undergraduate women are involved in sorority hazing annually, but when asked, it is obvious that there is more percolating behind Greek letters than the thoughts of sisterhood and bonding; hazing is like the taboo topic of the college world, and SF State is not excluded from this taboo.

With the controversy surrounding the issue of sorority hazing also comes the inevitable “code of silence,” which studies have shown, 46 percent of females in Greek organizations swear by. But since 1970 there has been one hazing-related death in a U.S. college or university each year – with North American countries having the highest rate of hazing on college campuses than any other developed country in the world, with about 40 percent of the three hundred twenty-five thousand female participants aware and turning a blind-eye to the hazing in their organizations.

The institution of Greek life has been around since the country’s birth more than two hundred years ago; 1928 was the first year that SF State had its first sign of Greek life and, as of today, has thirty active chapters on campus. “Greek organizations serve to enhance the college experience at SF State. Greek life provides a supportive community in which students can explore, grow, and learn new leadership skills, academic discipline, event planning, financial proficiency, professional aptitude and social networking skill,” according to SF State’s definition.

The most common methods of hazing reported are excessive alcohol consumption, public humiliation and isolation, sleep deprivation and numerous forms of sexual and lewd acts, often involving the opposite sex.

“Sometimes, something as simple as making a member wear a pin or participate in a scavenger hunt can be considered hazing,” shares Brian Stuart, associate dean of students at SF State.

Nine out of ten victims are often unaware of the things they are being subjected to can be considered a form of hazing.

“I remember hearing from someone who’d rushed a local that her pledge class had to carry heavy shampoo bottles around because they were ‘flaky,’” says Kate Fraser of the SF State chapter of Phi Sigma Sigma.

After varsity athletes, sororities make up 73 percent of those subjected to hazing in universities. In 25 percent of all hazing activities, students have said that both faculty, advisors, and alumni have been present or aware of the rituals.

“I am not aware of any reports or concerns of hazing within [SF State] sororities within the past four years,” says Dean of Students at SF State, Mary Ann Begley. “But I also don’t think either one of us have our heads in the sand that things probably do happen and are not reported.”

About 37 percent of females in sororities do not tell anyone about what they are being subject to in the fear of getting their fellow sisters and chapter advisors in trouble. And 46 percent of them believe that the most important thing is to keep the code of silence.

Most sororities, both national and local, have strict and transparent no-tolerance policies on hazing rituals but even with those restrictions national headlines about the cases that are reported seem to be growing.

“I feel like it still happens because [Greek organizations] are set into traditions that need to be gotten rid of. I wish I could say hazing never happens but without people coming forward you never know,” says Devika Sonmati Kumarie Botejue of Phi Sigma Sigma.

In a study, girls that took part in a sorority are more likely to have body image issues and dysfunctional eating behaviors than their peers. They were also found to be more likely to abuse prescription medication than students who are not involved in Greek life due to the high standards of appearance placed on them.

When asked why they joined a sorority or fraternity, 65 percent of Greek life members believe that the primary goal of the hazing rituals are to bond the members, according to a study done by InsideHazing.com. That may be the intention of all, certainly most, chapters of Greek life, but that is not always the result. The tradition of having an initiation process to join these clubs is something that could be fun and games, but, in other cases, can cause psychological and physical harm.

Of the fifty states in the U.S., forty-four of them have anti-hazing laws after detrimental events in their universities Greek life occurred or became national news. Some universities have banished and derecognized chapters that have abused their power through hazing. SF State disbanded its chapter of Lambda Phi Epsilon in June 2013 after Peter Tran, an eighteen-year-old member was killed after consuming excessive amounts of alcohol (a form of hazing) at a chapter party.

In October 2014, Dartmouth College’s newspaper published a front-page story titled “Abolish the Greek System” and stated, “No, Greek Life is not the root of all the College’s problems or of broader societal ills. But as a system, it amplifies student’s worst behavior. It facilitates binge drinking and sexual assault. It perpetuates unequal, gendered power dynamics and institutionalizes arbitrary exclusivity. It divides students – the system as a whole separates freshmen from upperclass, men from women. Membership draws lines among friends.”

Another statistic is of members of Greek life who have had positive and empowering experiences through their organization.

“I think a lot of people don’t understand what we stand for and why we are in a sorority,” explains Kumarie Botejue. “A lot of people tell me that I don’t seem like I should be in a sorority because I like to study and don’t go to parties all the time. They think that sorority girls are like in the movies, that we party all the time and don’t go to classes. It’s a really big misconception because in [my] sorority education comes first.”

So, if we have a large group of young adults wanting to find a way to bond with others and are willing to endure whatever it may take to create these bonds, it is easy to see that this leads to problems.

“Rushing an organization is all in good fun. If it stops being fun, something is going wrong. If the hazing is stemming from the execuive board of the organization, it should be reported. We all benefit from keeping each other safe,” says Natalie Weizman of Lambda Chi Mu.

So why does it still happen? People all seem to agree that it is awful, outdated, and illegal and can usually identify the more extreme versions of the “tradition,” but the trend stuck – when sororities on campus and those affiliated with Greek life were asked if they had any personal experiences with hazing, responses ceased.

Stories of girls pledging sororities on campus as extreme as being forced to strip, sit on tables while naked, and have members of their brother fraternity write what they believes is wrong with the girls’ bodies on their skin with markers may haunt some. It is a problem that is not being discussed and flies just under the radar enough that no one pays enough attention to it until something goes wrong.

All it takes is one voice, one person to speak up. If someone who knows this is happening steps forward, maybe the reality of what hazing really is beyond tradition, the effects of what it can do to participants would be brought to light, and lives might actually be saved in more ways than one.

There are many resources on campus available to students. If you or someone you know has had experiences with hazing, counseling and services are held in the Student Services building, the Safe Place, and the Women’s Center.

If you have an experience or story that you would like to share with Xpress and get out to a larger audience, feel free to email us at [email protected].