Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Hazing Season

Yes, it's back. A student is collapsed in tears on the floor of my office. This scene is all too familiar. She is watching her sorority haze the new pledges and she is disgusted. Why? Well, because she knows that what they are doing is flat out mental abuse. She remembers how much this experience scarred her. And, on top of that, she is watching the woman, who was most victimized by hazing last year, now relish in her new position as pledge master.

I am not supposed to know this stuff, by the way. If I were to unveil who told me this and what she told me, I would be setting her up for abuse from her sisters. They are already abusing her. They tell her that she is just plain crazy for complaining about hazing practices: "lighten up, relax, stop being such a whiner." And, so she sits in my office and asks me if she is crazy. No, I say. You are just in the midst of crazy behavior and you are the one sane person trying to expose it; they can't afford for you to do so; they need to neutralize you.

What am I supposed to do when I have this conversation. Do I scream at the students for doing this to each , for being so cruel? Do I take issue with College Life for allowing it to happen? Do I upbraid the Trustees and the President for allowing Greeks on campus? Whose to blame?

What bothers me, above all, is that everything that this young woman, which has been of value to her, comes crashing down upon her when she is forced, taunted, and coerced to participate in ritualized brutality of her fellow sisters. She fears staying and she fears leaving. The consequences either way are painful; she is the very definition of a double-bind. Every lecture I give about White privilege, Sexism or more generally about guilt, compassion andethical responsibility haunts her as she stands, watches, and reluctantly participates in this hazing.

There she is, a puddle of tears on my floor.

I am helpless to stop the madness. Moreover, I know that it is destroying everything we try to teach these students at my liberal arts college. Every hope that they will be good citizens, participating in a democracy, wherein coercion and fascism are anathemas, is undermined by hazing.

UPDATE: I want to point out that the faculty at my college voted--unanimously--to get rid of the Greek System. The Board of Trustees vetoed the faculty vote. If you ask administrators from College Life why they don't get rid of the Greeks, they will say because the Trustees will veto the decision. If you ask the Development office, they will tell you it would affect, negatively, donations to the college. Every office and administrator has a reason for why we cannot banish the Greeks. And, yet, the most winning strategy for getting rid of the Greek is the U.S. News and World Report Strategy: that is, if we get rid of the Greek system we will continue to rise in the rankings of U.S. News, like the institutions that we most aspire to be like. What I find ironic about that "winning strategy" is it is just like the National Academy of the Sciences strategy: it is good for the country to find untapped talent in women. So, in order to abolish institions that perpetuate inequality, violence, and serve to degrade others, we have to make a rational self-interest argument. How fucked up is that?