Verbum Ultimum: Pledging to Change

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 9/25/14 5:36pm

The time has passed for symbolic gestures. On Sunday, the Interfraternity Council announced the formal end of the traditional pledge term. While we commend this move to address hazing, one of the biggest perceived problems of the fraternity system, we urge the presidential steering committee to assume that no meaningful change results from the announcement when the committee recommends further reform. With no means to enforce the proclamation, and no added incentive for new or older members to stop hazing, announcing the abolition of pledge term is not an all-encompassing solution.

The move to end pledge term is brave but ultimately unenforceable. No formal measures are in place to punish members for treating new members differently. And no practical solutions to this problem exist. New members will not risk jeopardizing their new and longed-for community; asking them to report infractions, anonymously or otherwise, is unrealistic. Even if the punishment was lenient enough that new members could report harmful incidents without threatening the existence of their fraternity, it would also be lenient enough for fraternities to ignore the reports. We must assume that harmful new member practices are still happening, even if these new members are no longer publicly known as “pledges.”

Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity created a “Balanced Man” program to replace pledging in 1991. New members become full brothers immediately, and embark on a Sig Ep-sponsored development program. More than 85 percent of Sig Ep chapters nationwide have traded pledging for the Balanced Man program in the past 23 years. But a pledge ban is meaningless if members do not endorse it — as recently as last year, Sig Ep chapters have been embroiled in hazing scandals.

In Dartmouth’s case, neither new members nor fraternity chapters have an incentive to report hazing. This differs from the 2013 decision to block freshmen from Greek houses serving alcohol — both first-year students and Greek houses feel obligated to follow the rules. Protecting the personal well being of each new member seems like an obvious incentive against allowing harmful behaviors. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. For some, the allure of brotherhood and community outweighs any potential physical or psychological damage. We urge fraternity members, both new and old, to remember that community does not have to come with a price. Bonds are formed through shared experiences, but there is no reason for those experiences to include horror and humiliation — tradition can never be an excuse for abuse.

Fines and suspensions have not stopped hazing in the past, and they will not stop it now. Pledge term or no, there has to be something more at stake if a fraternity is found guilty of harmful practices.

Any actual progress from the IFC ban has to come from all involved parties. Fraternity members (both new and old), administrators, women and unaffiliated men must all pressure the system to change and evolve. No rule from on high or cosmetic change alone will eradicate hazing — top-down measures only push such behaviors underground. Hazing will not stop without pledge term, it will not cease with harder and heavier punishments and it will not end if the student body at large rests happily in complacency. IFC’s announcement was by no means a step backward, but it cannot be an effective step forward if it is only a facade of change.