Letter to the Editor: The Freshman

By adviser Apr 20, 2021
Photo Courtesy of Savannah Davis via Facebook
Photo Courtesy of Savannah Davis via Facebook

I used to be in Greek life at IWU and on the editorial board for The Argus, so I wonder if any Greek students will read this, but I hope they do. I saw that picture of the freshman’s forehead that looked like a grade school tin ornament project and it brought me right back to college and my complicated feelings about being an Alpha Gamma Delta (AGD) at IWU. Greek houses have a weird obsession with hazing, so this may fall on deaf ears, but if my story can change one mind it’s worth spending my free time to write this. 

There’s a lot I value about my time in AGD. I learned how to plan and execute events, interview well, navigate group dynamics and more. Some of my best memories feature sorority sisters and, to this day, one of my best friends is someone who was in my pledge class. I was drawn to sorority life because I wanted to be part of a group–hello, military childhood. 

And I got that, for the most part. The friendships and routines of sorority life were reassuring, until some of the rituals went too far. The times we were yelled at for no reason felt unfair. When we were forced to close our eyes, hold hands in a line and stumble through the house in the dark it was annoying. A pledge class member was shamed in front of everyone for her behavior at a party in a skit and I felt embarrassed for her and lucky to have not been called out. 

The hazing didn’t feel dangerous, and it always ended with something sweet: a bounty of AGD gear, presents and being granted access to the next phase of my membership. Getting to the end of the ritual always made the bad parts feel worth it.

But then one time we were blindfolded, put in cars and driven to an unknown location. Stories of other sororities dropping pledges off in a corn field miles outside of town played in my head and I was terrified. It felt like things had gone too far, but I was in too deep to say no.

When the cars stopped we were led up a set of stairs and told to sit on the floor. When we took our blindfolds off, we were surrounded by presents, snacks and beaming seniors screaming “Yay, babies!” It turned out we were there for a fun sleepover as a pledge class. 

Years later, as a senior, I was the one on the other side giving the presents. This time when the freshmen took their blindfolds off one of them asked, “Why did you just do that to us?” There was a pause. Our most intrepid pledge class member spoke up and answered, “Because we love you, and we’re welcoming you into the family.” To which the freshman responded, without skipping a beat, “My family loves me, and they never treated me this way. This isn’t love.”

In that moment it felt like the bottom had dropped out from underneath me. Within seconds this near stranger had just cast three years of sorority life in a new, unflattering light. I was stunned. She was absolutely right.

The freshman went on to make a formal complaint with the school that caused some fallout for AGD. Our practices were under scrutiny by the school and headquarters. We were told not to call our little sisters “babies” anymore because it contributed to a culture of hazing. (I don’t remember if we had an anti-hazing session, though it’s entirely possible that we did). 

I thought everyone else would have the same reaction as me, and some did. But it seemed like many members were more focused on defending the rituals than reflecting on why we lost a pledge class member. A sophomore I was close with casually offered, “It was done to us, so we need to do it to them,” when the topic of hazing came up. 

It’s been almost 10 years, so it’s entirely possible that AGD has since retired the hazing rituals. I hope they have, because I believe hazing adds nothing to the experience. The rituals aren’t what helped me feel closer to my sorority sisters: It was making cookies, driving to get food, going out together and chatting about life late at night in the living room. Being yelled at just made me angry, closed off and cynical. It made me feel lesser-than and disposable.

Greek houses and their members need to consider what value hazing brings to their organization and how it supports the mission. Hazing rituals, by definition, are humiliating and dangerous. It’s a false tactic that feels meaningful in the moment but ultimately hurts people. Upperclassmen have an opportunity to break the pattern and find productive ways to help members genuinely bond.

I ended up dropping out of my sorority shortly after the hazing incident and I lost most of my relationships in the sorority as a result. That’s fair, I broke my commitment to the group, but maybe if we had all focused more on relationship-building than arbitrary rituals those relationships would have been able to withstand the break and maybe the freshman and I both would have stayed.

By adviser

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