Regardless of the countless Hollywood stereotypes, sororities can be a great way for collegiettes to bond and create lifelong friendships and sisterhood with other driven, outgoing women. Unfortunately (although it may not exactly go down how it does in the movies), hazing does still exist within the world of sororities, rush week and finding your “forever home.”
Hazing can be a difficult and even scary experience to go through, especially if it feels like the only way you’ll be accepted into a sorority is if you endure the harsh punishments and tasks. While at the time it may seem that the end is more important than the means, please know that hazing is absolutely, 100 percent not acceptable, and you never have to do anything that you don’t want to. Period. So, we gathered up a list of a few people you can confide in, because the most important thing to do when it comes to hazing is to let someone know. You’re never alone, even when it feels like you are!
“If you’re being asked to do something as a condition of joining or staying a member of an organization that’s making you uncomfortable, then you should consider speaking up about that—to friends, family or others in the organization,” says Tracy Maxwell, a public speaker on hazing prevention and founder of HazingPrevention.Org.
If you need to vent…
1. Talk to a trustworthy friend
There’s nothing more therapeutic during a difficult time than a vent sesh with a trusted friend. Megan Maurer, a junior at Carthage College involved in Greek life, suggests confiding in a good friend if you’re unsure of who to turn to.
“I’d first turn to a friend you’re comfortable talking to about it, whether they be in or out of the sorority,” says Megan.
And because that’s way easier said than done, there is a certain kind of language you can use to better discuss the situation.
“‘I am feeling uncomfortable about this…’ is a great way to start a conversation with anyone, and I recommend that language to audiences I speak to about hazing,” says Maxwell. “It’s non-threatening, doesn’t place blame and calls for a deeper exploration of the dynamics and feelings involved.”
Whether you’re unsure if what you’re being subjected to by your potential sisters qualifies as “hazing” or the rush tasks begin turning from lighthearted to more serious, a trusted friend can best help you make sense of the initial situation before it turns ugly.
“There seems to be a lot of confusion about what is and isn’t hazing, but I often tell students that they know when they are doing something that is not right (whether or not they would label it hazing),” says Maxwell.
If you’re unsure, a trusted friend will be there to help you figure it out!
If you need to find someone to relate to…
2. Talk to a fellow pledge or sorority member
If you confide in a friend who’s not in your sorority, there’s only so much they can truly understand. Confiding in other pledges or sorority members can help you feel better heard.
“Finding allies is the best way to increase leverage around these issues,” Maxwell explains. “It’s really difficult as an individual to speak up about problems, but there is safety in numbers, almost always a silent majority who feel the same way, and more likelihood that you will be heard if there’s a group that bands together.”
Talking with a fellow pledge or trusted member who probably went through the same experience could really help you figure out a plan of action, or feel like you’re not alone, at least.
“Sometimes, someone is the sorority can assure you or stop whatever is happening or hurting you, but if it’s putting you in danger, you need to take care of yourself first and go to someone with more authority,” says Megan.
Not everyone in the sorority may have your best interests at heart when being hazed, but they aren’t all bad apples. Oftentimes, hazing continues because the women in the sorority went through the same thing and want to make it “fair” on every pledge class to follow. There are some sisters however who do have the power to speak up for you and the other pledges to prevent the hazing from continuing, so seek out those members who don’t participate in hazing in the first place.
If you need some advice on how to move forward…
3. Talk to a family member
Family will always have your back no matter what, and you aren’t just limited to confiding in your mom or dad. Sometimes, the best people to talk to and make sense of the unfortunate situation could be a sibling, aunt or cousin, because parents will always be quick to act at the first sound of harm before you’ve even had a chance to grasp the situation. Take time in explaining the problem of hazing and seek out advice. When you’re ready to move forward with ending the situation, your family will always be right behind you to back you up.
If you need to take action…
4. Talk to someone with authority
Again, hazing is never okay under any circumstance, and it can come in many forms. While alcohol is a common form of hazing, it can also be psychological, demeaning and humiliating.
“The key words to remember are humiliating, degrading, embarrassing or potentially physically or psychologically harmful,” Maxwell explains. “If they’re asked to do anything that falls into those categories, chances are it’s hazing. If it makes them uncomfortable, then it’s questionable and should be cause for concern.”
Whether the hazing is hurting you mentally or physically, taking the situation to someone with more authority should be the end goal, especially if the situation hasn’t been resolved without this type of intervention.
“If [the hazing is] really hurting you mentally and physically and pushing you to do something you don’t want to do, there’s always faculty you can turn to (Dean, someone in your office of Student Life),” Megan explains. Additionally, your chapter should have a chapter advisor who would best be able to follow the protocol when it comes to hazing in your sorority.
However, it’s important to remember that every situation is unique!
“There is no one place, position or person that will always be the best,” says Maxwell. “Every situation is different and every official will handle it differently, so I can’t, in good conscience, say to always go to this source for great support. My best advice would be to seek someone you trust and ask them to go at a pace and in a manner that feels good to you.”
Maxwell recommends seeking out a chapter advisor, campus or national organization staff member, counseling center, resident assistant, faculty member or family member. Someone you can trust!
So, when should you know to seek out the authorities?
Hazing is a difficult and scary situation, especially when considering if you should go to the authorities. There are signs, however, that this matter needs to be taken care of immediately.
“If there is potential for physical injury or dangerous levels of coerced alcohol consumption, call 911 immediately,” Maxwell advises. “When your life outside of the organization and your school work is being impacted by lack of sleep, being cut off from family or friends outside the group, seemingly meaningless and time-consuming tasks, fear or anxiety about what is coming or being asked to do things that make you extremely uncomfortable, it’s time to take action.”
Rushing a sorority or becoming a new member should never make you feel isolated or in danger.
But, what if you want to remain anonymous?
Oftentimes it may be difficult to come forward due to people you know or your sorority finding out that you’re the one who spoke up about the hazing. Luckily, there are options out there that can protect you in this situation.
“There are anonymous reporting mechanisms, including 1-888-NOT-HAZE (to report fraternity or sorority hazing), and many organizations have their own internal hotline as well,” says Maxwell. “Many people are concerned about getting their organization in trouble, but depending upon the severity level being experienced, some situations require immediate intervention from law enforcement and others can be addressed more gradually through other means. Someone that you trust can help make that determination while supporting you as a victim or bystander.”
Know that you have the power to make a difference
At the end of the day, there are plenty of wonderful sororities and sisterhoods out there where hazing is not an issue. However, if you find yourself in the worst-case scenario that is hazing, the end is never worth the means.
“I believe women will be the ones to help end hazing in the years to come,” says Maxwell. “While it’s true that there is still hazing among women’s organizations, it’s almost always less violent than that found in men’s groups and leads to serious injury and death far less frequently, though psychological harm is a more frequent outcome for women who are being hazed.”
While this entire experience can be extremely damaging, do know that you have the power to prevent hazing. At the same time, it should also be known that hazing happens outside of Greek life as well, such as within athletics or the performing arts, so speaking up about hazing at your school could make an impact that goes way beyond sororities and fraternities.
“Hank Nuwer’s latest book Hazing: Destroying Young Lives includes a chapter I wrote titled ‘Women and a Feminine Leadership Style Can Defeat Hazing’. It outlines my belief that women actually have a crucial role to play in speaking out on this issue and providing influence on the culture to change,” says Maxwell.
There’s always someone you can talk to, and you can make a difference for yourself and other pledges.