What you don’t know about Greek life


Two weeks ago, hazing was sort of an enigma; students outside the Greek system knew little about it, and campus officials were comfortable with their hazing policy and its effectiveness.

Out of sight, out of mind.

Suddenly, now it seems everyone fancies themselves experts on the topic, and people have grown panicked.

But as the Greek system remains staggered by the occurrence of an alleged hazing a fortnight ago, I think the best recipe for recovery requires a sound understanding of exactly what goes on behind closed fraternity doors.

Because the rituals of any Greek organization are considered sacred, however, that is not entirely possible.

There are things about the Greek system that most people don’t fully understand, mostly because local media organizations, despite how often they have covered it, don’t understand it either.

As former president of Alpha Phi Delta and co-chair for Greek Campus Life, I know a thing or two about the impact of hazing.

I would be lying to my readership and myself if I neglected to  answer this: With the exception of Kappa Alpha Psi, which is currently under investigation due to a possible hazing, do the fraternities that remain a part of Youngstown State violently haze? No. 

Does that mean entrance into a fraternity is typically a cakewalk that is always pleasant? Absolutely not.

Jack Fahey, vice president for student affairs, said he thinks Kappa Alpha Psi  has outlier in terms of hazing at YSU, which I agree with wholeheartedly.

Nationally, Fahey said Kappa Alpha Psi has been notorious for violence.

“Frankly, I didn’t know this kind of thing was still occurring in this day and age,” he said. “It’s an underground, secret kind of thing, and I was shocked that this sort of thing could happen at YSU.”

Most people who have never experienced it directly have little to no idea what hazing even means. In contemporary fraternity life, it is much milder than what was reflected through the alleged actions of Kappa Alpha Psi and typically has nothing at all to do with physical violence.

O.J. Thomas was a member of Alpha Phi Delta from 1967 to 1971. Although we like to think of those days as the “Thank you, sir. May I have another?” days, Thomas said the worst thing they ever did was make pledges smoke smelly Italian cigars.

“The things we used to do were bothersome things,” he said. “It was kind of like harassment, but more or less it was supposed to be an inconvenience, and you build camaraderie while you’re running around finishing tasks.”

He added that, today, no one should ever be subject to something detrimental to his or her well-being.

“A few weeks after they start pledging, they’re brothers,” he said. “You certainly don’t want to harm them or make them hate you.”

Today, hazing is similar to the way high school senior athletes treat freshmen. Though violence has no place, the idea is to test one’s mental strength and ability to work as a team, help them learn about the fraternity’s history and its brothers, and make sure they balance it all with school as the most important thing.

This kind of hazing exists as a right of passage and an intense learning process.

As you struggle through the process, you not only form an unbreakable bond with your pledge brothers, but you simultaneously prove through and through your loyalty to the letters you wish to someday wear.

I don’t believe this kind of hazing will ever go away, and not just because of the fraternalism it helps create, but because no campus will ever be able to target such a well-kept secret without discontinuing its entire Greek system.

That doesn’t mean the perception of hazing and the practice of it won’t change; it certainly has. If a fraternity member at Kent State University calls an interested student a “pledge,” that is considered hazing and is punishable by suspension.

At a press conference two weeks ago, YSU President Cynthia Anderson spoke of YSU’s “Animal House” days and said they were over. That may be true as far as hazing, but those were the days where membership in a fraternity often meant you were ambitious and destined for success.

That, unfortunately, isn’t always true anymore. And the perception people now have of YSU fraternities as violent and wild certainly won’t help attract the bright minds we need.

The other thing the media, and even the campus itself, fails to recognize is that there are actually two separate Greek systems: one traditionally white and one traditionally black.

It is not a matter of race, but instead, a matter of structure; while all of the white fraternities and sororities meet each week through a committee called Greek Campus Life, the black fraternities and sororities meet through the National Pan-Hellenic Council, Inc. 

But NPHC hasn’t been meeting as consistently as it has in the past, and that has left the black fraternities and sororities lacking a bit of structure during a time when they need it the most.

This great divide in the Greek system has existed for some time, and there really hasn’t been enough of an attempt to squash that disconnect and bring everyone together.

I believe Greek Campus Life meetings should be inclusive and should meet weekly, and I think white and black fraternities and sororities should work to incorporate each other into their philanthropic events, mixers and rush weeks.

But things like hazing tend to bring this racial disconnect to the forefront, and at the press conference, the Greek system expressed its support for an eclectic Greek life with no racial separation.

There is an all-Greek mixer on campus Tuesday at 5 p.m. — the first of its kind. 

I think that’s a good start, but if it doesn’t unite the entire Greek system like it should, I hope the local media digs a bit deeper into YSU’s Greek life and makes the necessary distinctions. Without it, an incident on one side of the system will end up branding the other half and stunting its growth.

If we all could meet as one and discuss things like hazing collectively, I wonder if the situation the Greek system is currently facing would have been different, or perhaps, would not have happened at all.

There now seems to be great potential for a totally united Greek system on our campus, but Carrie Anderson, Pan-Hellenic adviser, said she believes there is much work to be done by the students themselves.

“I want it to happen,” she said. “But I can’t want it more than the students.

1 2 2 comments Eboni W Thu Feb 23 2012 11:45 Let me clarify, this is by no means an attack on the writer. He makes many valid points. Eboni W Thu Feb 23 2012 11:23 The article is entitled “What you don’t know about Greek life”, but I’m not convinced that the author knows much about Greek life either. As a YSU alum and a Greek I am all but too aware of the “two separate Greek systems” at YSU. While I applaud the efforts to cultivate Greek unity on campus, the first step is understanding the differences. Simply asking the NPHC Greeks to participate in Greek Sing or to come to mixers, which is what it has always boiled down to, is not unity in a real sense. The expectation has always been for black Greeks to fit into what the perceived idea of Greek life is instead of everyone coming to a level of mutual respect and understanding of the others customs and practices. The statement “…NPHC hasn’t been meeting as consistently as it has in the past, and that has left the black fraternities and sororities lacking a bit of structure during a time when they need it the most” shows that many don’t understand the structure of black fraternities and sororities. NPHC does not operate like IFC or Pan-Hel, etc. It doesn’t even serve the same function. They operate differently, but since when did different equate with wrong? This also lends itself to the thought that the “two separate systems” of YSU Greeks as a whole don’t get along. That’s not true. There has always been a level of mutual respect, but the programs and projects that each group focuses on are not always the same. There is also little mention of the times when the groups do work together. Not until some real dialogue about the campus Greek climate and those differences occur will there be any real cohesiveness. I am a person who is proud to have come through YSU and its Greek system but it is disheartening when the efforts and accomplishments of one group are heralded over another. This alleged hazing incident is all over every station and has been in the Jambar for weeks, (yes I still read the Jambar), where is the positive news? Did anyone take notice of Kappa Alpha Psi when they held multiple fundraisers to collect funds for local shooting victim Joe Kalooza? Or Omega Psi Phi’s annual talent hunt that benefits their scholarship fund that is held on YSU’s campus? or Delta Sigma Theta who held multiple supply drives to benefit the victims of last year’s devastating tornadoes in the south , has operated a mentoring program that services area High school students since 2007, also on YSU’s campus, and for several years before that they ran a peer mentoring group (D.R.E.A.M.) for YSU students? or Zeta Phi Beta who has been honored for their steadfast commitment to public service? There is no way I could list all of the positive contributions of YSUs black Greeks on campus and most certainly not in the community as a whole, but I do ask that there is a more concerted effort to recognize the positive aspects of what black Greek life is. I’m not making any excuses for the current allegations, but why so much focus on an isolated incident? Barring the recent hazing allegations, not since the death of our dear brother Jamail has there been so much attention given to these groups. Let’s bring honor back to YSUs Greek community and shine the light on the many positive things it does and has done. This can only be done through the sincere efforts of the whole body. Many different letters, but the mission of each is one of a positive nature.