Greek life coordinators at Illinois Wesleyan and Illinois State universities are working to prevent hazing incidents through education.
Last year was a particularly deadly year for hazing-related deaths. Four students died at universities in Pennsylvania, Florida, Louisiana and Texas. Like the high-profile hazing death of Penn State student Timothy Piazza, alcohol was involved in all the deaths.
"In the last 30-plus years there's been someone who's passed away from a fraternity or sorority incident where's there's been hazing or alcohol," said Alanna Hill, director of Fraternity and Sorority Life at Illinois Wesleyan University. "So this is not something that's brand new, which is so sad."
Illinois State University’s Fraternity and Sorority Coordinator Alex Snowden said he's not sure if there's an uptick in hazing or hazing deaths, but said the greater spotlight may be beneficial in preventing hazing.
"There's definitely a greater call to action," said Snowden. "Nationally from university presidents, universities, umbrella organizations that oversee student affairs and Greek life. I think one thing that is coming from this is stronger education from multiple ways."
Both Hill and Snowden agree that education is the key to prevention. At ISU all active members have to go through an online education process.
"We also do a program called Greek 101, which is in-person education, where we get to answer questions and get explain what hazing is and really let the students have say in is this hazing or is it not," said Snowden.
IWU has required "new member education." There are three session, according to Hill. The first session deals with alcohol and substance use along with hazing. The second session deals with bystander intervention and sexual assault. The third session includes education on alumni relations and how to be a productive member of a chapter.
The hazing definitions at ISU and IWU are identical. And broad. It ranges from "mental and physical discomfort" to "public stunts and buffoonery." Snowden said violations along the spectrum offer various education opportunities. He said house suspension for serious infractions is also a sort of education.
"When you are dressing them up and making them wear a certain tie all throughout the day, that is technically hazing," said Snowden. "Is that an educational moment? I would argue that's something you can educate them on. So I think that's what we're taking about with a scale. Is someone's life at risk, is someone being harmed, or are we at a point where can we educate them and shift the culture."
"It's doesn't matter if your willing or not willing (to be hazed)," said Hill. "Any activity that's going to cause harm, humiliate, or degrade you, even if people say 'I wanted it to happen to me,' it doesn't matter, it's still hazing."
Both Hill and Snowden disagreed with the notion that the shared experience of hazing builds lifetime bonds that are hard to achieve otherwise.
"It (hazing) breaks trust. People don't know who to trust within the organization. It breaks trust in the pledge group," said Hill. "This idea that it builds bonds that it creates this membership, that's what new member education is about, learning about the history of the organization, learning the values of organization. It hurts people."
Snowden argues it doesn't bring a chapter together, but instead fractures it.
"Usually bringing that (organization) closer together is out of fear of having to come together," said Snowden. "Then you build a bunch of resentment toward the people who are already there."
Illinois Wesleyan has nine chapters, but membership represents 33 percent of the student population. Illinois State has 39 chapters, representing 14 percent of the student body.
Snowden and Hill said the Greek system faces the same issues, such as alcohol problems, that the full student body faces. Snowden said fraternity and sorority members tend to have higher GPAs than the average student and play a large role in philanthropy dollars raised and volunteer hours in the community.
People like you value experienced, knowledgeable and award-winning journalism that covers meaningful stories in Bloomington-Normal. To support more stories and interviews like this one, please consider making a contribution.