Sorority Hazing: What's Really Going On

Before some girls head to college, they dream of being in a sorority. After all, doesn’t everyone secretly want to be Elle Woods? But behind the insignias and fun mixers lies a dark and dangerous reality—sorority hazing. I know what some of you may be thinking: “Doing menial tasks to be a sister? It happens, whatever.” What many of you don’t know is how dangerous hazing can be. Not only is hazing emotionally, physically, and mentally degrading, it can also be fatal. Do I have your attention now? While every chapter differs, we’re here to give you the low-down on the dangers of hazing.

What is Hazing?

Let’s start at the very beginning, shall we? You may think you know what hazing encompasses, but only the National Panhellenic Council’s definition matters when it comes to Greek life:

“Any action or situation with or without consent which recklessly, intentionally or unintentionally endangers the mental or physical health or safety of a student, or creates a risk of injury, or causes discomfort, embarrassment, harassment or ridicule or initiation or admission into or affiliation with, or as a condition for continued membership in a chapter or colony of an NPC member fraternity.”

Translation? Hazing is when your sisters pressure you to do something that is potentially dangerous or can damage your mental, physical, or emotional health.

Contrary to popular belief, hazing is more than the cruel and unusual stories you hear from “a friend of a friend.” Sometimes, hazing isn’t as obvious as you’d think! According to the University of Rochester, even mundane tasks can be considered hazing, like:

  • Testing new members on meaningless information
  • Socially isolating new members
  • Expecting certain items to always be in one’s possession
  • Requiring new members to perform duties not required of existing members
  • Denying privileges that are granted to existing members

But these seem harmless! How could they be considered hazing? Whether you feel like these examples are coercive or not, the bottom line is that if you’re pressured to do it, it’s probably hazing.
Sure, you’ve heard about all the gross things frat pledges have to do, but the ugly truth is that hazing happens in sororities even more often. According to the National Study of Student Hazing, 64% of hazing victims are girls.

Why Do Sororities Haze?

If hazing is so bad, why do sororities still do it? Harvard University studied the psychology behind hazing. Though their findings don’t suddenly deem hazing acceptable, they do give insight as to why sororities haze and why pledges tolerate it.

  • Shared Coping: Think of hazing as the pain that brings pledges together. Since the pledge class experienced all the trials and tribulations of hazing as a group, they’re likely to bond over it.
  • Evolutionary psychology: It’s an evolutionary fact that humans have this need to connect with others. Ergo, hazing strengthen these ties.
  • Identification with the aggressor: You know that saying, “Start from the bottom and work your way up?” Well, that’s basically what hazing is. According to this principle, the cruel and unusual activities break pledges down and remolds them to uphold the structures of the sororities. Creepy! 
  • Need for esteem: While hazing seems to be a very degrading process, surviving the grueling tasks can makes sisters feel as if they deserve the sorority’s respect.
  • Need for intimacy: A lot of girls rush sororities to make long-lasting friendships. What could make a bunch of pledges closer than hazing? We can think of a lot of things…
  • Conformity and obedience to authority: We’ve seen this kind of behavior before with Zimbardo’s Stanford Prison Experiment and Milgram’s study—some social situations make people more willing to inflict harm on others. Hazing is one of them.
  • Fear of reprisal: Some pledges go through with these bizarre events because they don’t want to be rejected by the group. Also, some pledges might even feel the tasks are not that embarrassing because they’re in a group.
  • Cycles of abuse: Though it doesn’t make hazing okay, many people forget that those who are hazing used to be hazed. These previous hazing experiences drive the haze-ers to seek revenge and subject pledges to even worse activities.

For the full list of the psychological roots for hazing, be sure to check out Harvard’s research.

Now that we know the what and why, it’s name to learn what exactly happens during hazing...

Hazing Horror Stories

If you think that hazing is just like an episode of Greek, you’re in for a rude awakening.  Some hazing traditions are embarrassing, degrading, and just inappropriate.

Sorority hazing is not always a “girls only” event: frat bros are sometimes thrown into the mix. “We had one night of hazing in the process of finding out who our Bigs were,” says one anonymous collegiette. “It involved a lot of drinking and activities led by frat brothers, including sexual quizzes and beer pong.” So much for sisterly bonding.

While most pledges are ordered to remain mum about hazing, some real life stories slip out. Ready to be mildly traumatized? Cornell University took the initiative to post hazing incidents online. Though some of these incidents are just plain weird, others show how terrible hazing can be.

  • “Members told new members to bring bathing suits and magic markers and falsely told them that sisters would circle the body fat on new members.”
  • “Members pressured new members of the same sex to ‘make out’ with each other.”
  • “New members were required to dress up to look like prostitutes or homeless people and parade around Collegetown.”
  • “Members required new members to perform extensive calisthenics, at times to the point of collapse.”
  • “Members pressured new members to simulate oral sex with cucumbers.”
  • “Members restricted new members’ sleep by frequently waking them or requiring them to perform menial tasks or exercises in the middle of the night.”
  • “New members were seated together at a table in a completely dark room. The surface of the table was covered with ketchup, mustard and hot sauce. The new members were required to press their faces against the top of the table and remain in the position for four hours.”
  • “Members mixed together a combination of unpalatable leftover food and required the new members to eat it.”
  • “Members verbally abused new members at meals by calling them derogatory names, not allowing them to speak, and requiring them to eat while standing in a corner.” 

Pretty cringe-worthy, right? It’s only the beginning, collegiettes.

Two years ago, a Sigma Gamma Rho pledge from Rutgers University ended up in the hospital. According to New York Daily News, Sigma Gamma Rho’s sorority sisters “paddled” pledges as a humbling and trust building exercise. The hospitalized pledge was struck with the paddle more than 200 times, leaving her with blood clots and welts. She was in so much pain that she couldn’t even sit.

Recently, Dartmouth College graduate Ravital Segal blogged about her near-death experience when she was being hazed:
“I was content with my decision until, one night during the rush process, I was blindfolded with two of my fellow pledges. We were guided into the back seat of a car and one of our future sisters commanded us to chug the alcoholic punch that had been pre-prepared for each of us in individual 64-ounce water bottles. Simultaneously, I was handed numerous vodka shots from the older sister sitting in the front seat. After what couldn't have been more than a fifteen-minute drive, I was told to get out of the car. I did -- but then I lost all consciousness. To this day, I have no idea what happened that night .I woke up the following morning in the ICU. I wasn't alone. I later learned that three other girls had also been admitted, each having overdosed on alcohol due to hazing rituals. The doctor informed me that I had entered the hospital with a .399 blood alcohol content. I soon learned that a .4 BAC is coma and death. I was literally one sip of alcohol away from dying.”
To protect her sorority, Segal took the blame for the alcohol overdose and the sorority was off the hook. Though nobody was holding a bottle to her mouth, the pressure to adhere to sorority’s wishes was almost deadly.

Though Segal dodged a bullet, some hazing activities are fatal. In 2002, two pledges from Cal State Los Angeles’s Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority were blindfolded, tied up, taken to the water, and eventually drowned because of the high tide.  According to the Los Angeles Times, the sisters of Alpha Kappa Alpha tried to cover up whatever happened by taking a code of silence.

Though Greek Life is a prevalent part of many colleges, you have to ask yourself if hazing is even worth it.