Fraternity and sorority hazing recently arose in nationwide news once again with another tragic passing of someone who was pledging a fraternity where alcohol was the cause. In this case, it was a young man named Stone Foltz, a 20-year-old attending Bowling Green State University and also pledging the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity there. Since 2000, there have been more than 50 hazing-related deaths like Foltz’s in the United States. While that number may seem insignificant, there are countless hazing-related incidents that never get reported, many of which end up causing PTSD to the one hazed. I should know, as I went through it myself during my freshman year at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT).
I’m thankful I can start this article out with at least one positive statement about hazing in that my fraternity at RIT, Phi Kappa Psi, has strong policies in place today to prevent hazing from ever happening. But back during my fraternity days, hazing happened all the time and it was just an acceptable thing. On some level, I think the movie “Animal House” made hazing seem cool. That’s probably why I saw so many incidents of it not only in my own chapter, but also in many others on campus as well.
Over the years whenever major hazing incidents would surface in the news, like in Foltz’s recent case, people tend to ask what the purpose of hazing actually is. Originally, hazing was seen as an effective way to teach respect and develop discipline and loyalty within the group, quite like what many branches of the military still employ to this day. But is it really effective? From my experience, it wasn’t and only created more pain in my life instead.
One of the biggest incidents of hazing I went through that to this day I still remember quite vividly was the night I and my five pledge brothers were blindfolded and guided onto a sand volleyball court that was near our chapter house at the time. There we were told to dig. Eventually we discovered five very warm cans of the cheapest beer you could buy locally, deep in the sand. The brand was one called Golden Anniversary. After the five were unearthed, we were instructed to each take one and down it as quickly as possible. It was nasty and felt as if it had baked in the sun all day. After plenty of dry heaves, I finished the task and thought, “Thank God that’s over!” But it wasn’t, because after silently being guided back into our chapter house, we saw on the bar there, five nicely organized rows of five cans of the same brand of warm beer. We were instructed to each choose one of the rows to stand in front of and once we did, informed we needed to finish all 25 cans of warm beer before they all finished their one can of cold Coors Light they held in their hands. Oh, and we were also told to make use of the garbage can in the center of the room if needed during the task, but not to stop until the warm beer was all gone, even if that meant throwing up repeatedly. With none of my pledge brothers being big guys with high alcohol tolerances, and with mine only being about three beers before I started to black out, I wasn’t all too keen on doing the task. But I wanted the acceptance of those brothers so bad! So, I didn’t question the task. Once they counted back from 3 to 1 and said “Go!”, I began to chug as fast as I could. I hurled along with my brothers and even took over some of the slack when some of my pledge brothers gave up. We finished the task and were all miserably drunk and sick to our stomachs because of it, but then we then got to celebrate with more drinking. I don’t remember the rest of that night, like I didn’t on most nights I drank back then. But unlike Stone Foltz, I’m alive today to live and tell a true story of the horrors of hazing. Sadly, that was just one of many others I could speak of, which regrettably, became a sad rite of passage that continued on for a while longer in my chapter until ramifications from it finally led us to thankfully put an end to it, once and for all.
Hazing never made me a better brother, a better person, or a better anything. If anything, what it did do was lower my self-esteem, increase my PTSD, and make me an angrier and more mentally imbalanced individual. While I don’t know anything about the life Stone Foltz once lived, I wonder if he was like me, a shy, nerdy kid that was always overlooked for much of his younger years, who just wanted for once in his life to find acceptance and love, and was willing to do whatever he had to, to get it, even at his own expense. Regardless, hazing is stupid and toxic to the health of everyone involved. Earning respect, learning discipline, and garnering loyalty have come in my life today through acts of service, unconditional love, and kindness. They come naturally from my heart and not from someone shouting in my face during line-ups done in 90-degree rooms where people called me a total piece of shit because I didn’t remember some trivial piece of information in my pledge book about one of the brothers. Yes, that did happen, and yes, a lot more even worse than that too.
The bottom line is that all forms of hazing need to stop, immediately! Because people like Stone Foltz deserved to live a far longer life, one where people got to love him for just being himself. Not because he was willing to drink to excess for acceptance, not because he was willing to do anything for acceptance, but just because he was good enough for just being himself. I am thankful my Phi Kappa Psi chapter at RIT today believes in this and I hope that I may somehow have helped in sharing my experiences with hazing.
So, if you happen to be someone who is currently being hazed or suffering from PTSD from it being done to you at some point in your life, know you’re not alone. Please, find someone safe to talk to about it because it will help, and if you can remember one thing from all this, you truly are fully worthy and deserving of being loved and accepted just as you are.
Peace, love, light, and joy,
Andrew Arthur Dawson