On college and university campuses across the nation, a phenomenon that has been going on for a tremendously long time persists: hazing. While hazing happens in non-Black Greek-lettered fraternities and sororities, the particular focus of this article is on the hazing that takes place in Black fraternities and sororities. The reason that I am electing to focus on Black fraternities and sororities is I am seriously concerned about how dangerous practices engaged in by some chapters of Black fraternities and sororities may not only be putting the emergence of new Black leadership at risk, but also continuing to put the lives of young Black men and women at risk. Dr. Walter M. Kimbrough, President of Philander Smith College, a historically Black college in Arkansas, has penned a book that does a fairly decent job of highlighting the problems with hazing and other problematic behavior of some chapters of Black fraternities and sororities across the nation: Black Greek 101: The Culture, Customs, and Challenges of Black Fraternities and Sororities.
During the Civil Rights Movement, Black fraternities and sororities played a significant role in participating in the struggles for justice and equality. After all, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is a member of the first Black fraternity to be assembled, Alpha Phi Alpha. Even during the 1970s, Black fraternities and sororities were playing instrumental roles in positive dimensions of the Black Power Movement. While hazing was taking place during the 1950s and 1960s (and even before the 1950s and 1960s), the constant occurrence of such egregious hazing was not as serious as it is in our contemporary moment. As a strong supporter of Black fraternities and supporters, I want to see them abandon hazing. I have many friends and family, including my father who is a member of Omega Psi Phi, who are members of Black fraternities and sororities.
Meaningful relationships can take place without engaging in hazing. Hazing is a violation of criminal law and is grounds for immediate expulsion from the academic institution in which the violators are situated. Black men and women have been murdered, made permanently handicapped, placed in comas, rushed to emergency rooms, taken to intensive care units, and etc. because they have been hazed in such brutal ways. Each Black fraternity and sorority has policies that forbid hazing. The reason why so many people have been victimized by egregious acts of hazing is many of the leaders in these organizations are allowing hazing to take place. Many of these leaders will say in public that they are against hazing and will punish those found guilty of hazing, but many of them are the main ones who participate in hazing.
Higher education institutions and state legislatures are going to have to place harsher penalties on fraternities and sororities and the individuals involved in hazing. People are dying and/or having their lives severely altered by being victimized by hazing. For those who were tricked into being hazed, I feel sorry for them. I do not feel sorry for the individuals who already knew that they were going to be hazed and ended up having something terrible happen to them. We have to assume greater individual responsibility.
I call for national and local leaders of Black fraternities and sororities to become more active in supervising and monitoring the activities of your membership. If you are really serious about being against hazing, then you will take serious actions to help to dramatically decrease hazing incidents. We are losing some of our potentially great American leaders because we are allowing hazing to continue to take place. To those who are involved in hazing people, stop beating your fellow brothers and sisters! Stop trying to alienate those members and new members who refuse to be hazed! I think that it is really crazy that many members of Black fraternities and sororities would not have the same respect for members who refused to be hazed. I know that the founders of your organizations would be ashamed of the egregious acts of hazing that have taken place in the last 10 years.
Antonio Maurice Daniels
University of Wisconsin-Madison