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Tradition of Pledging for Students Nowadays Essay

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Updated: Mar 27th, 2021

Pledging is a very important part of the tradition, bonding, and initiation in the Greek system. The practice of going through a ritual to initiate a new group member has been occurring for thousands of years and is intended to allow the initiate to emerge from the process knowing they have trying everything possible to be accepted as a member. Modern pledging has taken a wrong turn, moving away from ritual and tradition to psychological and physical abuse. Since 1990, more deaths have occurred on college and university campuses as a result of pledging accidents than all recorded history of college-related deaths. So, what can be done to ensure pledging fraternities and sororities is a safe process?

What is it about pledging that threatens every student who approaches the event? Every person, article, and journal agrees that the problem with the pledging process is simple—hazing. This is fairly clear, as stories of alcohol poisoning and terrible accidents surrounding fraternities and sororities have been front-page news for years.

For such a horrible and publicized issue, why is hazing still a problem? The situation has reached its extreme with more deaths due to hazing accidents occurring in the last 15 years on college and university campuses than in the history of all college-related deaths. (Schmalzer 3) Pledging has been around for decades yet is suddenly getting more dangerous. Modern pledging has become increasingly cruel and abusive. New and effective preventative measures are needed to prevent past and future maltreatment during the pledging process.

To go about solving the problem, one needs to understand the problem; what is hazing? Different sources have different definitions for hazing, especially in the context of fraternities and sororities. Even though 42 states and most universities have rules against hazing, one journal points out that “the authorities have not established common ground about hazing.” (Ellsworth 40) A clear, specific, and universal explanation needs to be created for what does and does not qualify as hazing. Once the definition of what classifies as hazing is established, students will know exactly what is acceptable, and what is unacceptable.

To gather an idea of what might fit the classification, one study went about defining acts of physical hazing, “consume alcoholic beverages, deprived of beverages or food by others, do calisthenics for excessive amounts of time or to excessive levels, forces to consume excessive amounts of alcoholic beverages, and march, walk, or run for excessive amounts of time or excessive distances.” (Ellsworth 57) The same study also defined acts of psychological hazing, “reviewers indicated two items, perform in public, such as dancing or singing and subjected to verbal abuse or harassment.” (Ellsworth 58)

To many objective people the answer to this problem seems quite simple; remove pledging completely. Though this solution has been suggested, and even put into action at many universities, it is not an ideal solution. Fraternities and Sororities see pledging as an innate custom, the removal of which is comparable to eliminating the application process to a university. Fraternities as we know them, along with the enduring tradition of pledging, were created in the United States sometime in the 1800s. While pledging was happening in fraternity houses in the United States, something similar was happening in cotton mills in Shanghai.

One woman employee described the process, “When we swore sisterhood we would go to the temple and burn incense. Everyone would have to pledge. We pledged to be loyal through life and death. And if someone was halfhearted in their loyalty, then we prayed that when they got on a boat, that boat would turn over.” (Weiss 59) Two different continents, different cultures, and completely different people, yet both have similar rituals of initiation.

What does this tell us? Pledging brings a group of people together, bonds them, and they emerge as one. Historians use the accounts from this factory to attribute the change of the women from Shanghai as “passive, ever-suffering victims of industrial poverty to heroines of the organized labor movement and, in some cases, to class-conscious revolutionaries.” (Weiss 60)

The act of performing a ritual and being a part of a tradition is a rite of passage. For the women of Shanghai, this provided friendship, loyalty, and, eventually, the strength to become warriors. For fraternities this allowed the men a bond to all of their brothers, to finally be accepted by their peers. These are all characteristics fraternities and sororities are based on. This common experience gives organization continuity and structure. Through this continuity, a fraternity brother from one part of the world should be able to meet a brother from anywhere else and instantly have a connection, solidifying their bond of brotherhood. (Jones 14)

It is clear pledging needs to stay. Why, then, hasn’t the process changed based on the mistakes made and bad press it has received? The basic principles of sororities and fraternities are very similar: loyalty, trust, and confidentiality. When one goes through the pledge process these values are engraved in one’s brain. Even though these are the values that make a good woman or man, these are the main issues that prevent change in the pledging process.

The pressure to be loyal to one’s fellow pledges and the current members is overwhelming. If a pledge was to tell anyone a pledge ritual, whether an authority figure or a friend, the act is against the pledging oath and is seen as a betrayal. The pledge will be immediately removed from pledging, and in some cases ostracized, bullied, and physically harmed. This immense pressure and fear stop pledges and members from protesting against or reporting things they do not agree with, even if these things cause them physical or emotional harm. Everyone is too afraid of the potential repercussions to try and change the rituals.

To be able to penetrate this iron wall of secrecy fraternities and sororities have created around themselves, tradition needs to be tweaked a little bit. Instead of putting so much focus on secrecy and loyalty, pledges need to be taught to respect one another as well as their fellow students. If a fraternity or sorority member feels free to speak about issues, knowing they have the respect of their fellow members, those issues can start to be fixed.

One of the other major setbacks in trying to change the Greek system is the alumnus. On an average college campus, alumni of fraternities and sororities donate up to 75% of all contributions. Without these generous donations, the university will suffer or, in some cases, cease to exist. With money comes power. If a fraternity or sorority has a problem, the alumni of that organization simply have to threaten to pull their funding from the university. The university will do all in its power to see that the problem is solved. This can put the fraternities and sororities in a position above their peers, school policies, and even the law.

We have seen what will not work, why they will not, and why this is such a difficult issue to solve. The question is, though, what ideas will be effective in creating a safe pledging process? The best ideas are those centered on taking action. Facts about hazing have been made public for centuries. Yet, kids are still dying and students continue to haze. An expert proposed a solution, “First, hazing education should not be limited to members of Greek and other university organizations.

All members of the university community must be educated about what constitutes hazing and its dangerous outcomes especially when considering the wide variety of relevant others who may influence observers of hazing and their decisions to report.” (Richardson 188) The administrations of universities and colleges need to make this topic a priority, perhaps by making every student take an informative session online. It needs to be very clear that if a student breaks these hazing rules, they will receive a harsh punishment. If the administration wants the students to take this seriously, they need to make it clear that they are taking this seriously.

As discussed earlier, activities that count as hazing need to be clearly defined. When this list is established, a list of activities that do not count as hazing also needs to be established. The study referenced earlier defined such activities, “There were eight activities that were non-hazing activities. Those activities included: attend educational presentations or programs, attend mandatory study halls, complete a specific number of community service hours, learn historical facts about one’s organizations, maintain a minimum grade point average, memorize and recite facts about one’s organization, study a specific amount of time, and wear a specific clothing item or color of clothing item.” (Ellsworth 65) Knowing exactly what they can do allows fraternities and sororities to have fun pledge activities, without worrying if they are appropriate.

By pushing the rush to the Spring semester of the first year an organization can make it clear that they are focused on learning, not drinking. (Nuwer 202)

For fraternities and sororities to keep the important tradition of pledging, hazing needs to be eliminated. Past attempts at eradicating the issue have proven unsuccessful. Different, drastic steps need to be taken to ensure the pledging process is safe for every student involved. A clear, universal list of what qualifies as hazing needs to be created. The idea of pledging needs to be rethought, focusing less on secrecy and loyalty, but sister or brotherhood.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Tradition of Pledging for Students Nowadays." March 27, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/tradition-of-pledging-for-students-nowadays/.


IvyPanda. (2021) 'Tradition of Pledging for Students Nowadays'. 27 March.

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