This fall, millions of students will be entering college campuses to begin the next four years of their lives. To one degree or another, all of these students will seek to form social ties, enter (or create) friend groups, and find belonging. These are vital needs—human beings are social by nature. Many of these students will seek social fulfillment in Greek life, and most will have an enriching, rewarding time. However, a few will have their desire for social connection warped, manipulated, and ultimately abused in the name of ‘tradition.’
Research shows that 50% of college students in clubs or organizations experience hazing; that number spikes to 73% for students who join fraternities or varsity sports. But hazing occurs in all kinds of organizations in the U.S. and worldwide. According to a recent GAO report, hazing is a growing problem in the military. Part of what makes hazing difficult to stop is what makes it dangerous: a culture of secrecy that facilitates coercion.
But answering how to stop hazing will require understanding where hazing comes from.
The ‘Reason’ for Hazing
Some believe that hazing serves a specific purpose in membership organizations: creating social cohesion, establishing a strict hierarchy, and forming a group identity. These things aren’t bad in and of themselves—it’s how hazing accomplishes these things that becomes dangerous. Fraternity hazing uses humiliation, artificial physical or psychological risks, and coercion to create social bonds that establish a hierarchy and a sense of group identity. The introduction of increasingly stressful or humiliating situations creates cohesion within new groups of pledges while establishing cohesion between pledges and senior members who experienced the same treatment. At the same time, hazing abuse establishes a power differential in visceral and dangerous ways.
If hazing never killed or harmed anyone physically, it would still cause deep and lasting trauma for countless unnamed pledges. Where hazing becomes life-threatening is when the facilitators have no limits on what they require of their pledges—subjecting them to dangerous harm without consideration for their safety or well-being. That happened to Daniel Santulli when he lost his ability to see and walk due to a well-worn fraternity tradition. It also happened to Andrew Coffey, Chad Meredith, and countless other young people.
It needs to end, which is why Hazing Prevention Week was founded.
Hazing prevention campaigns often aim educational literature at fraternity leaders, but the leaders are the ones who commit hazing. Hazing prevention can’t be solely education or awareness. Neither is stopping hazing about preventing the actions of a few bad actors. It’s about changing an entire culture of coercion and secrecy.
Prevention requires a different tactic.
David Bianchi, America’s leading hazing attorney and trial lawyer at STFBC, believes universities need to incentivize fraternities to be their own watchdogs. “Universities need to send an unmistakable message to all of the fraternity members that if you haze and someone gets seriously injured or dies, you will be immediately expelled from the university,” David said in an interview with ABC17 News. “And it’s not just the person that does the hazing, but the entire network of fraternity members that made the hazing possible.”
Preventing hazing requires making it in the fraternity members’ self-interest to forbid hazing at their events. Threatening expulsion for the entire fraternity for hazing at an official event will compel every member to police themselves, saving lives. In states with anti-hazing statutes on the books, universities can prevent hazing off-campus by tying expulsion to any hazing charge involving an official fraternity event.
Incentivizing good behavior was the philosophy behind the groundbreaking anti-hazing statute written by David Bianchi and Michael Levine: Andrew’s Law. Aside from toughening Florida’s existing anti-hazing law (also drafted by David), it added a new condition: the first person to seek emergency aid for a hazing victim and cooperate with any subsequent police investigation would be immune from prosecution. This new condition was written to ensure fraternities would be less likely to cover up hazing crimes or delay calling 911.
David Bianchi Discusses Hazing on Dr. Phil & Inside Edition
On September 20, David will appear on the Dr. Phil show with Daniel Santulli’s father, mother, and brother to discuss hazing prevention. The segment will cover how fraternity hazing is harmful, what some fraternities are doing to avoid accountability, and how fraternity hazing ruined the life of Daniel Santulli last year. Later this month, Inside Edition will be airing a complete story about hazing featuring the parents of 6 fraternity pledges who either died or were seriously injured due to hazing and including an interview with David discussing what can be done to prevent hazing.
Hazing is not inevitable. All traditions are capable of change.
Fraternities have been enriching, meaningful organizations in the past. They were more than capable of building community without brutal humiliation, psychological manipulation, and alcohol abuse masquerading as “tests of character.” That’s why our firm has committed so much of our time and energy to holding these organizations accountable. Contrary to what some of our adversaries in court might think, our firm believes in Greek life, which is why we believe it must rise above the reputation it has recently earned.
Good luck to all incoming freshmen this year—we wish you the best in creating healthy, vibrant friendships that offer you dignity and safety.