Changing a Culture of Hazing, My Story

By Phi Mu Fraternity Staff Member, Abigail Holtzhouser

Screenshot of National Hazing Prevention Week 2019 Video.

I joined Phi Mu as a freshman and was initiated that fall. On the day of Initiation, I didn’t really know that what was happening was considered hazing – now, I know that it definitely was hazing and was completely inappropriate. I think that can happen to a lot of new members; we all want to assume that what the chapter is doing is for our benefit. My pledge class sisters and I assumed that this must be how it works. We thought that we can do it if other Phi Mus have done it – if it’s happening before the Initiation Service, it must be okay. Although, it was very awkward. I have to think that in the back of our minds, we knew something wasn’t right, but no one, including me, had the courage to confront the older sisters in the chapter. Afterwards, I tried to not think about it, but it was a very negative memory of my overall Initiation experience. Initiation continued the same way for the next two years.

Then, in the fall of my junior year, I was serving on the Executive Committee as Philanthropy Chairman. The week following Initiation, the Executive Committee learned that a newly-initiated member approached our Ritual Chairman afterward and shared how upset she was. The Ritual Chairman felt horribly because she, along with many of us, had mistakenly assumed that our chapter tradition was a legitimate part of Ritual. Realizing that it wasn’t, we contacted the National Headquarters to discuss the best way to make positive change, ensure all members felt heard as we worked through this and, although it was hard, for our chapter to be held accountable. It was very important that we learned from this and did not do it again out of habit. Once we realized it was wrong, we didn’t want any future members to go through what we had. If only we had followed the Ritual of Phi Mu and asked the staff and officers who worked with our chapter for help, we would have done this sooner.

The whole chapter served as leaders during this time. With something like this, changing a chapter culture, you need everyone on board. Lucky for us, we had a very supportive Chapter Adviser and Advisory Council. I think that some chapters can struggle with older members demanding that “I had to do it so the Phis should have to do it, too” but we did not hear that from our sisters – I’m very proud of them.

This resulted in us drastically changing how we handled Initiation, and following Phi Mu Ritual exactly as prescribed. These changes allowed our Phis to have a purely positive experience. I believe that it made our new members feel more comfortable going into our chapter as a newly-initiated sister. Presiding over Initiation as Chapter President, the following year, and seeing it performed how it truly should be, was an amazing experience for me and my chapter sisters. That Phi class holds a special place in my heart, and they don’t even know why!

After graduating, I worked for Phi Mu as a Chapter Consultant. While on the road, my own experience definitely made me more cautious when I met with chapter officers. I asked them for lots of details about what they considered “okay” or “traditional” regarding the treatment of their members, especially with Ritual services. Just like I had, some chapters, even with very dedicated and well-intentioned leaders, don’t realize that some chapter traditions may not be okay until someone points it out to them and they are forced to think of the bigger picture. As a Chapter Consultant, I asked them a lot of questions to help them understand why any form of hazing makes Phis have a negative experience and doesn’t actually improve a sense of sisterhood.

My collegiate experience definitely affects my work with Phi Mu. As an Enrichment Chapter Strategist, I work primarily with our new chapters. It is extremely important for me to help them create worthwhile “traditions” versus them ever having their members go through what I did. New chapters can start with positive traditions and established chapters do have the power to make positive change! I’m forever grateful to that newly-initiated member for bringing her concerns to my attention. 

Who else could I have listened to, earlier in my chapter experience? Who should you be listening to? It may even be yourself!