Learning about brutal fraternity initiations leaves one in a haze
Earlier last week, JPMorgan Chase made the news when it stopped managing an investment account for the charitable foundation of Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE). SAE is an American fraternity that has acquired a nasty reputation for having 10 hazing-related deaths in the past eight years and the firm probably thought it could do without the negative publicity.
Hazing is the most barbaric and senseless university tradition I have heard of. This is essentially senior students bullying freshmen into doing humiliating and, often painful, things as entertainment, and has led to deaths or students committing suicide.
Many fraternity groups in the United States have all sorts of initiation rites for new members. Some of these might be amusing but many tend towards the cruel.
The website of an Ivy League university offers support to victims and gives an excerpt from a student’s account of his hazing, which involved standing blindfolded in the freezing cold in the woods, being prodded with sticks and pushed into the snow, being verbally abused and slapped.
Call me soft or lacking a sense of humour, but I simply don’t fathom how students could be so brutal.
Thankfully, I haven’t come across incidences of hazing at Cambridge and neither have friends in other universities in the UK. Frats don’t exist here and therefore neither do extreme initiation ceremonies. It is possible that bullying takes place everywhere, but all the people I’ve met so far seem mature enough to conduct themselves kindly towards other people. My seniors have been extraordinarily supportive, regularly checking up on how we’ve been getting along and whether we need any help settling in.
Friends in the US and India, though, have described rituals that make me wonder what humanity is coming to. Abuse can be physical, emotional and sexual. Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t make it acceptable.
In India, this form of bullying is called ragging and is a widespread problem. In its milder form, it can even be entertaining with students being made to sing, dance or imitate celebrities. But more often than not, it is a traumatising experience.
There’s a scene in the 2009 Hindi movie 3 Idiots where freshmen at an engineering college are bullied into taking off their clothes. Happily, the hero, Aamir Khan, uses his physics prowess to electrocute the odious senior urinating on his door. Not all ragging incidents have such a satisfying ending, though – students might be too intimidated to seek help and be driven to drastic ways out of horrific and humiliating situations.
It is the students themselves who must end this vicious cycle of violence: if they’ve been bullied, it’s high time they draw on experience to speak up and stop the terror. The argument that freshmen need to go through a “rite of passage” is simply preposterous.
The writer is an 18-year-old student at Cambridge who grew up in Dubai
Updated: April 5, 2014 04:00 AM