The news of Miss America’s involvement in acts of hazing as a sorority member broke on the first day of a week the interfraternal world devotes to educating our members and spreading awareness on this matter (www.hazingprevention.org). Phi Mu is an active participant in National Hazing Prevention Week every year, because unfortunately, despite all of our efforts, hazing has not vanished from society. Sororities and fraternities unite this week on an initiative that we actively fight as individual organizations throughout the year. In light of this news, we reached out to a hazing expert to share his thoughts on the Miss America news story. His thoughts support Phi Mu’s effort this week in challenging ourselves to stop pretending and stand up to hazing if it is happening right in front of us.
Dr. Gentry McCreary is the Associate Dean of Students and an Adjunct Professor of College Student Affairs Administration at the University of West Florida. Gentry also serves as an affiliated consultant for the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management (NCHERM) and is on the board of directors for the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors and the Center for the Study of the College Fraternity. He writes and speaks on the topics of hazing, brotherhood and risk management.
Last year, I posted a story on my own blog about the myth of the rogue member. When I talk to fraternity and sorority leaders around the country, I often ask them their greatest fear when it comes to hazing. Inevitably, the most common response I get goes something like this:
“I’m afraid of a rogue member doing something that will get our chapter into trouble.”
In that blog post, I confront this logic on two grounds. First, we already know who our rogue members are, and secondly, the culture in our chapter gives these “rogue members” permission to do what they do. Check it out here if you want to read more.
I think Miss America’s past misdeeds speak directly to the second point – in the right culture, with the right environment and social norms, otherwise good people can allow themselves to do some really bad things. Kira Kazantsev was not someone who could be dismissed as a rogue member – she had been the chapter’s new member educator the year before, and was serving as recruitment chair at the time of the alleged hazing. She was a well-respected leader in the chapter, was a great student and was involved on campus. She was on the path that would eventually lead to her being crowned as Miss America – far from what I would call a rogue member. But the power of the culture of hazing on that campus was enough to lead her down a path that apparently led to her being kicked out of her sorority.
I really want to believe that Kira Kazantsev is a good person. I would hesitate to say that a mean, awful, terrible person could rise to the level of Miss America. She is no doubt an amazing young woman. But she is not perfect. She made some bad decisions that are now coming back to haunt her. She stopped being a good person for just a little while, she succumbed to the sick culture around her, and she is still reaping the consequences of that momentary lapse in judgment.
We all need to take a look around us to assess the cultures around us. What sorts of behaviors are being promoted? What kinds of things are we allowing to happen that we know aren’t good, but just seem to be an accepted part of the chapter or campus culture? And, how are those cultures affecting us? Are we getting sucked into those cultures without even knowing it?
Maybe it isn’t even in your chapter – maybe there are other organizations on campus who are hazing, and you are complicit in allowing it to happen. Letting fraternity pledges drive you around at night? Letting them clean your house? Watching them be humiliated and degraded in front of you at a party? It is easy to just chalk these things up as “the way things are here” and “no big deal,” but the culture you are allowing to be created may eventually suck you in. Because once you have convinced yourself that it is OK to treat people however you want to treat them, it becomes hard to draw a line at what is acceptable and what isn’t. If those fraternities making their pledges drive you around feel that it is OK to make the pledges do whatever they want, where will it stop? How would you feel if the fraternity pledge who gave you a ride last night was being paddled or degraded or forced to drink dangerous amounts of alcohol tonight? Have you ever stopped to think about your role in promoting the culture that allowed those things to happen?
We have to stop pretending that hazing is only something that rogue members do, and that most hazing is “no big deal.” It is a big deal, and in a sick culture, it affects everyone. Just ask Miss America.