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What Are We Trying To Do Here?

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Written by Noah Borton (Southern Utah)

We have all seen the images and videos. They show up on friends’ phones when they come back home for the summer, in movies playing up fraternity stereotypes, news stories about a tragic event, and social media accounts popularizing the outlandish. We have heard the stories, perhaps as an alumnus jokes about war stories from a bygone era, or maybe it is an accounting of a night gone wrong. The images and stories range from violent, to abusive, to disgusting, to ridiculous, and to downright silly. When we hear the word hazing, an image pops into our mind.

Seeing and hearing all this can bring up a question, what are we trying to do here?

This is a simple question with complex answers.

Something we need to recognize is that all these hazing behaviors have motivations behind them. There are real motivations driving the hazing we see within our chapters and on our college campuses. There are group motivations, the desire to have a rite of passage experience, the desire to create loyalty and affinity for the organization, and the desire to foster relationships among members.

While these are altruistic objectives, when one considers the destructive effects of the hazing, and the minimal likelihood that hazing activities actually generate the desired outcomes expressed, the case that hazing is effective starts to fall apart. Then, we must consider the alternatives that are available to achieve the desired outcomes such as the LEAD Program, mentorship from Big Brothers and advisors, brotherhood activities, and initiation through the Ritual. All of these are clearly a more effective and constructive means for achieving our desired outcomes of fostering relationships, developing connection, and helping young men learn what it means to be a member of Sigma Nu. Not only are they more effective, they accomplish these outcomes without the negative consequences that emerge from hazing experiences.

So, if the case is so clear, and the fraternity has ample resources to support positive developmental experiences for new members, why do we continue to see hazing? One explanation can be found by understanding there are also individual motivations that drive hazing behavior. Hazing thrives on a dynamic of power held by one over another. An individual can fulfill their desire to exert power over another, to have status over another, and to make someone do something to receive the gift of that status.

The motivations to support hazing on an individual level are highly self-centered. While those who are the most vigorous defenders of hazing as a necessary means to develop the group, they are advocating for practices that we know are less effective in favor of their own self-interest and ego. They will proclaim their staunch commitment to brotherhood, yet they will hurt others to meet their own interests. They will exude toughness and aggression, yet they come from a place of weakness. They will say the most important thing is the new member experience while in fact they prioritize their own experience.

So, we come back to our original question, what are we trying to do here? Are we trying to meet the needs of our newest members, who seek to be welcomed into a brotherhood that will provide guidance, support, and a new home? Or are we trying to meet the needs of our most selfish members who would ask us to sacrifice the foundational constructs of our organization in favor of their personal desires? Your chapter’s response to those questions can play a large role in determining its future.

© 2015-2020 Sigma Nu Fraternity, Inc.
9 North Lewis Street, P.O. Box 1869, Lexington, Virginia 24450
Phone: (540) 463-1869 | Fax: (540) 463-1669 | Email: headquarters@sigmanu.org

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