Please note all individuals/organizations mentioned in the article are given pseudonyms in order to protect the identity of the individuals in the article.
A Night to Remember
As the brisk winter’s breeze brushed against the shutters of my apartment, I could feel it in the air; something just was not right about this particular evening. As I turned in for the evening, my thoughts were still uneasy, but hoping to get some rest for the following days’ Greek Life festivities, I decided to close my eyes and give it a shot. About an hour or so into my slumber, the alarming sound of my cell phone’s rotary ring tone woke up abruptly. The caller on the other end, although he did not know it, would change my life forever.
“Antonio, this is Officer Price, we have a situation at the Alpha Alpha Alpha house that needs your immediate attention, please come to the house as soon as possible”. As the primary adviser to the Greek community, I was often called as the first responder to incidents within our community. As I rushed to get dressed and headed down to the organization’s house, a thousand and one thoughts floated through my head “Was the organization hosting a party before the Greek event, was there a fight between some of the organizations? “
Unfortunately, my previous hypothesis was incorrect; the situation I walked into was quite more severe than a party or scuffle. As I walked through the crowded foyer of the house, I noticed several students huddled around consoling each other. I immediately approached the reporting police officer and campus security officers. As they explained the entire horrifying story, my stomach turned into one big knot and I could not fathom the details of this story as facts. It appears, during a pledging exercise, one new member was beaten so severely, the bruises on his legs and derriere were a shade of purple unrecognizable, the blood vessels in his legs broken from the back of his knee to the top of his lower back, his blood alcohol level was 0.38 and he suffered several seizures in the past hour.
Mortified by the thought of these actions by this group of men, I asked the organization president one question “WHY?” Without an answer he just stared at me blankly. At that moment I flashed back to my fraternity experience.
Flash Back: Hartford 2007
As a Founder of the CT Beta Chapter of Phi Delta Theta, we were dedicated to building a fraternal experience unlike any other on our campus. We were founded with the idea to break the mode of the “traditional” fraternity at the University of Hartford. Many of the other organizations represented hazing, drinking, drugs and excessive partying. As we attempted to be “different” we never quite realized just how similar we were to other organizations on our campus.
Many if not all of our pledging traditions were built off models from other organizations. Several of our founders started the pledging programs of other organizations and dropped because of extreme hazing. In opposition of their experience we vowed not to haze our new members. This did not last long; by the Gamma class hazing was embedded into our culture. Calisthenics, verbal abuse, meaningless favors, sleep deprivation and physical abuse only to name a few, plagued our chapter and what would be the future of our organization. Uncomfortable in my own skin as an immature junior in college, I was not comfortable personally hazing others, that it did not stop me from watching my friends suffer through the extensive 8 week torture. It was not until my senior year when I hazed my first pledge. The gratification and praise I received from my brothers unmatched any of my other college experiences. No one was this excited when I made the Deans List or when I was nominated to be in the Student Government Association, or even when I won the Vice President of Student Affairs Award of Excellence. Belittling someone I revered as my “brother” however showed my friends I was a “MAN”.
If you were to ask me graduation day, “what will be your legacy?” I probably would have answered with a long list of academic and co-curricular accomplishments. Lest not forget, a legacy is defined as something that is handed down or remains from a previous generation. Three years removed from my chapter experience during an annual homecoming reunion, one of our Phikeia walks up to me and introduces himself “Hello Brother Antonio Rev. Lytle, Bond number 25”, when I asked why his greeting was so formal, he made mention not to my laundry list of awards and accomplishments but to the stories he had heard about my infamous hazing experiences.
Currently, it is with great sadness that I acknowledge my faults which lead to the current state of my chapter. In the spring of 2011 the Connecticut Beta Chapter of Phi Delta Theta was closed due to issues of hazing, lack of accountability, and poor chapter management.
There is No Gray Area of Hazing
As a College Administrator I often find myself in conversations with students regarding the ambiguity of hazing. My response to this is simple “Hazing is defined as any action taken or situation created intentionally, whether on or off campus premises, to produce mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment, or ridicule.” This response is usually followed by “but according to this definition everything is hazing”. False, the outline provided by your National organization gives comprehensive guidelines and tools in order to properly educate the new members of the standards, history and responsibilities of membership. Hazing is in fact black or white, right or wrong and has NO place in our fraternal community.
Hazing stems from a battle of power and privilege. Power is addictive and those who have it often times abuse it. During a pledge program infused with hazing you feel powerless because you are forced to conform to the commands of individuals that have something you want. As an active member you now have the power you once coveted or feel a need to repay the damage you once experienced. Only this time the newer class will get it harder because you’re fueled by the anger, hurt and pain you are forced to relive every night of new member education.
I mentioned earlier, my experience of being a by stander. In the infancy stages of my membership I felt “well if I do not personally haze anyone, its okay.” False, individuals that sit back and watch while others haze are just as guilty. Bystander behavior prohibits us from speaking up when internally we know something is wrong. Remember Inaction is Action, by standing by and watching your fellow brothers haze the other members you are responsible. There is always someone in the chapter that feels the exact same way as you and choosing to speak up can cause a ripple effect within your organization.
Bystander intervention models follow four steps; recognition of an incident, interprets the incident as an emergency, assumes responsibility, and lastly attempts to help. In our chapter experiences we sometimes stop after step one. We never interpret hazing as an emergency, rationalizing our actions for various reasons, including but not limited to; at least we are not as bad as that other chapter, it’s all harmless fun, no is going to die from a little hazing. False, people have lost their lives to a “little hazing”. Many college students arrive at college with unresolved life issues. You never know what will trigger past emotions and send someone over board.
Being afraid to speak up is a natural feeling. There are several others in your chapter also afraid to speak up. Even if you do not feel comfortable addressing your entire chapter seek help from someone, either a campus professional, chapter consultant, or friend. Ask them to help you talk through the scenario/ methods of approaching the topic with the member of the organization.
There are resources available for you that will assist in putting a stop to hazing within our community. As we approach National Hazing Prevention week be sure to share the various resources available with your chapter. Include the conversation in your next chapter meeting; create anti-hazing petitions for your campus, or simply take a personal vow not to haze and hold your chapter accountable to the same expectation.
Some of the greatest leaders in our world stood up for what was right and against many odds. Be the leader that takes a stand against hazing. Vow to speak loudly in opposition to hazing and I promise you will be heard and will not have to stand alone.
Remember the noble words of our Founder Robert Morrison,“To do what ought to be done but would not have been done unless I did it, I thought to be my duty.”
Proud to be a Phi!
Brother Antonio-Phillip Lytle is currently the Assistant Director of Student Development at Iona College. Antonio-Phillip is a graduate of the University of Hartford where he earned his BA in Education and Pedagogy. He is also a former graduate student at Miami University studying in the College Student Personnel, Higher Education Masters program. Antonio-Phillip is currently an active board member for the NY Kappa chapter of Phi Delta Theta and has served as a facilitator for the Recruitment boot camp. Antonio-Phillip spends most of his time working but enjoys spending time with friends, family and significant other.