It’s amazing what Yalies will do to conform. Someone once told me that this University was a hub of free thinkers and those of strong moral character; I sometimes have my doubts. Over the past week and a half, much has been said about the misogyny and disrespect demonstrated by the pledge practices of the DKE fraternity. I wholeheartedly agree with the criticisms — the acts of last Wednesday were indeed beyond disgraceful. Sadly, though, they were not out of the ordinary. Wednesday was not the first night that a group of impressionable freshmen were pressured into crude and disgusting acts and I can guarantee you that it will not be the last. Offensive initiations are a theme here at Yale — a theme that desperately needs to change.
I don’t mean to excuse DKE. Those students well versed in the history of this University will know that last week was not the first time the frat was exposed for its deplorable initiation rituals. In 1967, the Yale chapter made national news when its president, George W. Bush, publically defended another one of its infamous hazing practices: branding pledges’ backsides with a half-inch high letter D. Then there are the practices that haven’t gone public, those mysteries that make up its so-called “Hell Week.” But let’s not label all DKE brothers as moral profligates. Call me charitable, but I suspect that a large percentage of brothers had deep misgivings about last week’s chants, even before the backlash began.
The real question is: Why didn’t they raise any objections?
Probably for the same reason that the pledges all agreed to their assignment: they’d been silenced by appeals to tradition, masculinity and social status. They found themselves faced with a towering wave of fraternal assent and they succumbed to its crushing force. They did what they were told to do because hundreds of their brothers had done it before.
In this, they are not alone. When it comes to hazing, DKE may be the worst offender, but it is certainly not the only one. Almost every organization with competitive admission has some form of initiation ritual: musical groups, sports teams, debate organizations and, yes, even tour guides. Gender is irrelevant. Some of the rituals are harmless, but a sizable portion of them are not. If you ask around, you’ll find that a surprisingly large number of students considered quitting at some point during initiation. Others will mention that their opinion of the older members of the group has never been the same. Still more will avow that they experienced significant mental and physical anxiety during the process. Yet, of all the people I’ve talked to, not a single one refused to comply. In fact, most have proudly accepted roles as initiators for the subsequent classes.
Anyone see an inconsistency here?
Personally, I don’t buy the rhetoric behind offensive initiations. Forcing new members to drink themselves into oblivion isn’t the best way to forge group unity; making pledges perform humiliating and demeaning tasks isn’t the best way to ensure commitment. Yes, shared challenges serve to unite those who experience them, but those challenges need not inflict emotional or physical pain on the participants. Strenuous entry tests make sense for an armed force; they don’t for an extracurricular activity at a liberal arts university. A measure of perspective and proportionality would be nice.
Initiations bring out the worst in us. They give older students the power and opportunity to exploit those younger than them, often for little more than sadistic amusement. Moral values are forsaken and destructive cycles of abuse are perpetuated. For those with any degree of conscience at any university, this state of events should be discomforting.
I don’t place much stock in tradition, not when it’s used as an argument for the continuation of practices we wouldn’t usually accept. If it was “tradition” that led the DKE brothers to defile the campus with their chants, then tradition needs to be changed. I, for one, believe that the only brotherhood worth having is one founded upon integrity. Conformity is no virtue. To give in is to sell ourselves short.
Next time you’re involved, take a moment and reconsider. It is, after all, possible to say “no.”
Rory Marsh is a sophomore in Jonathan Edwards College.