A History of Hazing

Every year from August 3-12, the rising ninth grade class of my alma mater, St. Mark’s School of Texas, leave their meticulously manicured campus on large Greyhound buses. Accompanied by professors and upperclassmen volunteers, the soon-to-be upperclassmen travel over six hundred miles west into New Mexico’s Pecos wilderness.

Over the next eight days, the boys will hike as many as forty miles, carrying their tools, cloths, and sustenance on their backs. The three-page PDF posted on the St. Mark’s website offers a lengthy description of the mandatory trip. Here’s an excerpt:

“’The Pecos,’ as it is affectionately known, is a unique experience, one of the school’s most honored traditions. Distilled to its essence, the mission is to help boys grow into good men through outdoor experiences. However, the trip also bonds all Marksmen, past and present, as a community of courageous, responsible leaders. It is a period of intense reflection at a critical juncture of the boys’ lives, a time to evaluate who they are and who they want to be.”

Does this mandatory excursion constitute a form of hazing?

The answer is unequivocally no, but the trip would certainly qualify in the eyes of Dartmouth’s administration. Certainly, words like “tradition” and “rite of passage” would set off the alarm bells in Parkhurst. Further, St. Mark’s frames the trip as an admission-ticket into the Upper School, violating Dartmouth’s definition of hazing: “a condition of initiation into, admission into, continued membership in or association with any organization.”

Phil Hanlon’s determined effort to address Dartmouth’s bad press problem has resulted in what amounts to social regulation. Identifying the influential power of fraternities on campus—and labeling them with what amounts to social capital—the Dartmouth hazing policy specifically withholds the consent of the victims. Employing broad definitions and stringent punishments for hazing, Hanlon seeks to quiet the horror stories of Andrew Lohse and Ravital Sengal.

However, like all regulations, these overarching policies have unintended consequences. A large portion of social life on campus is conducted within the Greek scene, and Hanlon’s unwelcoming meddling subtly affects the conduct of hundreds of students. So how did the College arrive at these policies?

It is only logical to begin with a definition of hazing, courtesy of the New Hampshire Hazing Law: “any act directed toward a student…when (1) such act is likely…to cause physical or psychological injury…and (2) such act is a condition of…admission into…any organization.” More colloquially, nearly anything that new members are obligated to do that senior members don’t have to do constitutes hazing. Violation of the law qualifies as a misdemeanor.

There are several driving factors behind hazing. The first, and most obvious, is the sense of tradition. For many Greek associations, it feels wrong to allow pledges to ascend into brotherhood or sisterhood without having to jump over a few hurdles first; the alumni wouldn’t deem it just if they were hazed while newer members were not. Furthermore, hazing serves as a source of fun and humor for senior members, fosters brotherhood and comradeship among the pledges experiencing it side-by-side, and, finally, it offers an early opportunity to demonstrate loyalty.

The Rauner files are kept in manila envelopes. The hazing file’s earliest document is a letter written in 1918 describing how the “Sophomores delighted in demanding whenever they met a freshman to bow and give the sophomore his favorite brand of cigarette.” The letter is intriguing not only because of its author’s belief that “the college did away with [hazing] many years ago,” but also because of the total absence of any mention of fraternity involvement in the act. Much like St. Mark’s Pecos Trip, this hazing was not confined to an initiation into any specific club.

Continuing through the file, we encounter several official-looking e-mails from the College’s deans and policy implementers. These regulatory memos detail changes in the College’s hazing policy. In 1991, Dean of the College Edward Shanahan distributed a blitz to all undergraduates clearing up a few aspects after the end of a hazing incident’s trial. He assures students that “the timing of the hearing was not related in any way to the publication schedules of The Dartmouth,” and reaffirms the fairness of the punishment for the convicted students.

The “Alpha Delta” file is much thicker than the “Hazing” folder. Of course, there is far more material irrelevant to our purposes. Among the archived banquet invitations and nostalgic photographs is a yellow slip: “Freshman! Read and Obey!” is proclaimed beneath a skull and crossbones.

The instructions are written with intentional strictness. Alpha Delta’s brothers of Richardson Hall are instructed to visit the rooms of the older boys every evening at 7:30 to receive instructions. They are told not to wear hats, not to use profanity, and made to perform several other tedious or cumbersome tasks for the amusement of the older members.

Although the tasks seem arduous and silly, one can’t shake the feeling that there was a tremendous amount of fun experienced by both parties during these official rituals. Other similar instructional memos are included in a variety of colors. Freshman are commanded to walk backwards to their rooms once they enter the buildings and wear pieces of twine as neckties.

The brothers of Alpha Delta clearly took a unique delight in crafting absurd abuses for their incoming brothers. The introductory lines of said booklets from various fraternities provide insight on the manner in which brothers treated their pledges:

“Oh ye unknown, untried, insignificant parasites obey the following precepts” (year unknown)

“Scum of the earth—read and falter.” (1915)

“Hear ye, ye miserable worms and bow ye before superior intellect.” (year unknown)

“Attention ye fresh, insignificant reptiles of the worthless class of 1910” (1910)

Now, if we examine the rules themselves, the booklets only become more interesting. Here are some excerpts:

“Initiates, when meeting upperclassmen in the corridors, shall back up against the right hand wall and salute respectfully” (1903)

“All 1915 hemlocks will walk backwards when ascending or descending the stairs” (1915)

“Appear ye clothed as becomes thy station each morning at six hundred seconds before the stroke of seven on our spacious front veranda. Late sleeping is detrimental to children of your age. We would not have thee ruin thy youth while yet of such tender years.” (year unknown)

“Violation of these rules will be severely punished…for very serious offenses the ‘Triple Kibosh’ will be inflicted.” (1916)

Skip forward to the end of the twentieth century to examine more examples of hazing. Indeed, an article published by The Dartmouth from March 6th, 1991 details how ten Beta Theta Pi pledges and one brother were found guilty of kidnapping and harrowing a brother from Chi Gamma Epsilon. The abducted, Rich Nelson ‘92, pressed charges since he “wanted to make sure that no one else would have to go through this.” Nelson had been kidnapped by different Beta pledges during his freshman year, and remarked that “it happens to someone every pledge period.”

After several hours of deliberation, Dartmouth’s Committee on Standards (COS) ruled that all ten pledges, who, interestingly, were all members of the football team, were guilty of, “reckless conduct, disorderly conduct and violent and potentially injurious conduct.” The pledges were each placed on probation for one to six terms and were compelled to create a “program to teach all rush classes about the dangers of hazing.”

A newspaper article from the same period describes the suspension of two Dartmouth seniors. The boys’ transgression is described as encouraging an aspiring brother to “consume liquor as a condition of initiation into the Beta Theta Pi Fraternity by giving him four double shots of 80 proof J&B Scotch Liquor for failing to answer trivia questions about the upcoming national exam into said Fraternity.” Included in the article are quotes by the convicted students which interpret their punishment as unjust: “The college wanted to make a stand and sort of drive home the idea that they’re serious about the hazing policy with the severity of our punishment.” These regulatory memos and newspaper clippings do not construct a satisfactory image of the tradition of hazing at the College.

In an article from the winter of 1996, the author Scott Straus describes some of the horrors he experienced as a pledge of Alpha Delta Epsilon (AD). Indeed, each week, two of the pledges had to imbibe the “Rack of Gnarl,” a 100-ounce, stomach-turning, vomitous mixture (one favorite was a concoction of Listerine, blue cheese, and Diet Coke). During the entire first two months of their initiation, pledges were not allowed chairs during meetings and instead sat on the floor, they endured constant disparagements, and were forced to act as beer lackeys for the senior brothers. All pledges also suffered through initiation ceremonies in the “Sex Room,” where they performed fellatio on a phallic object. Straus was told that the fraternity strove to, “let [him] experience what a girl goes through when she sucks [his] d–k.”

Pledges go for a walk.

Pledges go for a walk.

Gazing into the future, where will hazing practices lie? President Hanlon, who began his tenure in June 2013, has initiated a war against fraternities and hazing culture. In his speech delivered on January 29th, 2015, the foul Hanlon introduced his “Moving Dartmouth Forward” campaign. He affirmed that, “Dartmouth will take a lead among colleges in banning hard alcohol on campus” and that “Greek organizations…must and will be held to much higher standards and a far greater level of accountability than they have been before.” Hanlon proceeded to declare that, “no student organization will engage in pledging of any kind.”

His sentiments, most unfortunately, have already begun to manifest themselves. The fraternities Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Alpha Delta (interestingly enough, Hanlon himself graduated from Dartmouth as a member of AD) have recently been suspended due to hazing complaints.

The future of hazing at Dartmouth may seem bleak today. However, one mustn’t forget that the notion of hazing embodies a large element of pushback against authority; while Hanlon may succeed in shutting fraternity doors one at a time, the practice of hazing is necessarily rebellious. It occurs in secret and the participants work to keep the traditions a secret. No amount of carefully defined and forcefully implemented regulation will extinguish what the members of the College desire to keep alive.  

As for now, we command you to read all further articles of The Dartmouth Review while ascending the stairs backwards.                                             

  • Gary Teekay

    What a crock of a well-known substance.