Imagine with me for a moment: How would you handle the following scenario?
You are running and there are a pack of wild wolves coming at you. They are chasing you out of a forest. They have no intention to kill you; they are just going to bite you. They are just going to let leave a “permanent mark”, something for you to remember the pain.
Although the mark will be with you for your entire life and the bite will cause extreme discomfort; you know without a doubt you will survive the attack. But you are running anyway.
Now suppose rather than get bite you have two choices. You have come to a cliff. On the other side is “safe land”. If you jump and land on the other side everything will be alright and you never have to worry about the wolves again. Indeed the whole purpose of the wolves chasing you is to induce you to attempt (off your own free will) a jump over the cliff.
Now, most people make it over the cliff; some do not, but most do.
Some other force that shall remain nameless for the moment does not want you to jump off the cliff.
They do not think you should be pursued by the wolves either, but they cannot (or choose not) to concentrate on that. Their sole focus currently is to make sure that you not don’t attempt to jump over the cliff.
So in order to force you to not attempt a jump, they put all sorts of things in the pit between the cliff and the other side. All but ensuring “death” if you are one of the few “poor souls” that attempts a jump, but for some reason does not make it into the other side.
So you are being perused by wolves that are chasing you like they are out for your blood, but really only want you to attempt to make the leap off the cliff. You know some people make it and some people don’t. You know that if you don’t make it you most certainly will “die” because of the contraptions but into the pit to discourage you from even jumping.
The wolves are at your back, the cliff is in front of you, and you have to make a choice. What do you do?
Perhaps that is an easy decision for some, perhaps it is not. The better question for all is: if you really don’t want someone to attempt a jump off the cliff in that situation wouldn’t the best thing to do be to get rid of the wolves, not put more things in the pit?
Such a choice as described above is the kind of choice that will face numerous young, college young men and women during the upcoming school year.
Instead of a cliff they will be faced with the choice of whether to join a Black Greek Letter Organization (BGLO) or not. In many cases, they will have to decide whether or not to “pledge” (a process that is basically banned by all BGLO). Instead of wolves, it will be there peers who will be pressuring them to make sure they come in “the right way” and not “skate”.
The other side is the end of their process as a “full member” and not simply a “paper” one. The “powers that be” are there National Organizations (D9), who want them not to attempt to make the leap to the other side (or not to even try and pledge) all cost. They have created an alternative to the “leap of faith” called MIP (Membership Intake Process), but “the wolves” will have none of that.
However, instead of attacking “the wolves” the “powers that be” would rather increase the certainty of “death” if you fail to make it to the other side and fall into the pit. Meaning that instead of tackling why their own members continue to insist that new prospective pledge to join, the national organizations have instead increase the penalties for being caught pledging. They have instituted fines and suspensions and in some cases even increased the certainty of “Fraternal Death” (revocation of chapter charter and expulsion from the organization).
But “Fraternal Death” while it may sound like a nice and easy way to satisfy an insurance company that is getting wearing about paying out all this money for your hazing cases is not a solution to the problem of hazing.
The fact of the matter is, when the possibility of being expelled from the organization because of getting caught hazing and/or participating by being hazed is weighed against the perceptional certainty of being disrespected by their peers for “skating” into the organization; certainty beats possibility most of the time.
There are many things that could potentially curtail BGLO organizational legal liability for the actions of their members. Some of which I have wrote about in the past.
Arbitration agreements have often been a way to avoid going to trail and being in front of a jury, as William C. Terrell recently wrote about in the University of Memphis Law Review. (See Pledging to Stay Viable, 43 U. Mem. L. Rev. 511)
I have advocated for “individual member indemnification”, in which individual members and individual chapters would have to agree to indemnify their national organizations for any cost that is generated by adverse action during initiation, as a prerequisite for being allowed to conduct MIP.
I have also written that something as simple as sending a letter to the perspective members parents altering family members that their son or daughter is going through an initiation process, that the organization has an anti-hazing policy, and what to look for as signs of hazing (such as change in home call patterns, excessive spending, etc) and a number to call would go very far in spreading the burden of responsibility for preventing tragic events.
These policies, if instituted, could go a long way is stopping hazing incidents, but expulsion will not and here is why.
For the most part expulsion as a method to handle and solve the problem of BLGO hazing issues is not a self-generated or self-regulating solution.
Putting aside the fact there is not one study that has been done that shows any correlation at all between the amounts of members suspended and/or expelled in a BGLO and a marked decrease in hazing incidents involving the organization conducting the suspension or expulsions.
Expulsion has a remedy (for the most part) is a way for BGLO to satisfy the needs of their insurance company that is covering them, not something that they would do otherwise. The idea of expulsion in particular or “Fraternal Death” in general remains widely unpopular among the rank and file members of BGLO for numerous reasons. Only a solution that is generated by and has the backing of the majority of a BGLO’s members will be able to properly solve the current issue. As long as that solution remains in contention or in direct conflict with the preferred solution of BGLO leaders (which in reality is the prescribed solution of their insurance company) we will have a problem.
Furthermore, whether BGLO like to admit it or not, many of their most serious cases are perpetrated by members who have long since ceased to be financial and to whom the concept of expulsion means very little if anything at all.
What is the purpose of suspending someone accused of habitual truancy from school when they probably are not going to come to school either way?
BGLO’s fail to acknowledge that while they intend expulsion to be a serious act that is reserved for a serious crime, the only real difference between those being expelled and those doing the expulsions are that one made it to the other side of the cliff while another did not. When the only difference between the judge and the convicted is that one got away with the “crime” and one did not, the former had lost all the moral high ground to the latter. I would estimate that we are maybe still 30-40 years away from having a leader of any D9 organization that would fall under the label of “paper”.
Furthermore, this is the decade in which many organizations will see ascend to their ranks of local, intermediate, and national leadership members who were inducted after 1990 and indeed “pledged” at that time as illegally as those members being expelled for doing it today.
I have always said if an organization really wanted to show that they were 100% against “hazing” (as the laws define it now, which in many cases makes it synonymous with pledging) they would adopt a policy requiring anyone who wanted a leadership role in the organization to prove that they never pledged and never took part in any form of pledging at all. The major problem with a policy like that is in some cases there wouldn’t be enough people left to lead the organization if that policy was enacted.
Another reason why expulsion will not work to solve the BGLO hazing puzzle is that many BGLO’s have failed to establish the value of their financial membership as something that is worth so much it cannot be lost. The reason the death penalty is considered by some to be such a good deterrent to certain crimes, is the concept that one’s life is of uttermost importance to them.
For expulsion to be as strong a deterrent against hazing, financial membership in a BLGO (which is what expulsion in effect ends) must be as import to the person being specifically deterred and the population being generally deterred as one’s actual life is. To the vast majority of members of BGLO it is not, that is why over 2/3 of them who join their organization during their undergraduate years do not continue financial membership afterwards, even when not suspended or expelled.
Furthermore, the reality is that while the vast majority of members of D9 orgs deviate in some (small or large) form or fashion from their prescribed MIP process only a small fraction of those who do ever get caught.
To go back to the cliff analogy, if you are running from wolves, and you have already seen 10 or so people make a successful leap in to the other side ahead of you, why wouldn’t you do it as well?
What BGLO’s really want prospects to do is not say I would rather get bit than take the chance and jump, but rather they want them to care so little about being “bit by the wolves” that they don’t feel the need to jump at all.
However, again, this is a problem with “the wolves” not a problem with “the cliff” or “the jump”. In order to make “the jump” less attractive you have to make “the fall” more likely, and that is very unlikely for BGLO to do because “the fall” hurts them as much if not more than (considering most individual members are “judgment proof”) it hurts the members that cause it.
Finally, expulsion from organizations as a solution to curve and/or eliminate the BGLO hazing problem is more likely to cause more hazing than it is to prevent.
The general deterrence factor of expulsion in the BGLO context when it comes to hazing is overstated by BGLO leadership, overestimated by the insurance companies that cover these BGLO, and non-existent if you are looking for its substance based on the results of any empirical research.
There is currently no research data which shows that expelling members from a BGLO fraternity or sorority decreases the number of hazing cases that BGLO has to deal with.
In fact, I would argue the opposite effect is possible. What you are in fact doing when you “expel” members who were already initiated into a BGLO (this is different from baring perspective members from hazing membership) is that you telling that 18-25 year old young man or woman that from now on the only way you can participate actively in your organization is through the very thing that got you where you are at: participation in an underground pledge process.
Unlike a probationary suspension period (in which members would have to refrain from any hazing activity in order to get off) expulsion offers no incentive for an expelled member not to haze again. The hazing laws of our land don’t treat anyone who is expelled differently from someone who is not.
There is nothing in the ligation history of BGLO hazing cases that is (yet) to suggest that national organizations are any less liable for the actions of expelled members than non-expelled ones. I would admit that if someone were to have been accused of hazing and the fraternity did nothing about it that could speak toward a theory of negligence. But I fail to see how expelling someone can be used as a method to eliminate an already established duty of care.
Instead what you are doing is creating for yourself a sort of lost generation, which will be like a fraternity in the fraternity. Those that are just “members” will exist along sides those that are “martyrs”, and the perspectives members (those with the real power to stop hazing forever) will be helpless to tell the difference.
Via expulsion the national organizations are fighting a war with a strategy of providing “the other side” fresh “ammunition” every two years in the form of martyred expelled members.
Rather than reformers that have seen the error of their ways (and therefore spread the philosophy that the national organization is hoping to promote), the policy of expulsion produces scapegoats who have a simple choice: abandon their organization forever or embrace with even more varicosity the practices that engaged them in their current said predicament. Expulsion may say something about how an organization feels about people caught pledging, but it does little to nothing to try and convince perspective members not to pledge.
Again, when the possibility of being expelled is weighed against the “certainty” of being disrespected by their peers for “skating”; certainty beats possibility most of the time. This problem will never be solved until that “certainty” becomes more of a possibility or is non-existent.
Every problem has a solution, but it’s up to the problem solver to do its due diligence to find it. If the problem solver gets lazy and succumbs to the pressure to produce a “quick fix”, they often end up causing more of a problem than fixing one. This is exactly what happened in 1990, when the D9 orgs hastily and frantically installed MIP, without any study of the far reaching repercussions or results.
It is time these organizations show some real courage and deal with the real problem. You want to stop people from “jumping off the cliff” deal with “the wolves”.
Deal with the attitude among your members that membership gained exclusively via MIP is brought and not earned.
Deal with the deficiencies in the Membership Intake Process that create that perception.
Deal with the fact that you are trying to bury a practice that produced most of your members today.
Deal with the fact that vast majority of your victims are willing participants in the acts in which they are hurt, and start educating them earlier.
Take responsibility for the Frankenstein you created, and do what needs to be done to change the mindset of the membership not the perception of the public.