A volatile mix of pop culture, new affluence, old traditions and evolving heritage over the last 25 years has brought the culture of student Greek, band and social fellowship organizations at HBCUs to a silently roaring standstill. Letters still spell out respectability, favor and social collateral at HBCUs, particularly in student-administration relationships and initiatives, but don’t equate to advancement of student culture.
The belief that shared triumph over collective tribulations still resonates with fraternal hopefuls, years after the most honorable aims of their missions last dominated their social agendas.
But the last great remnant of the HBCU undergraduate organizational experience remains as strong and alluring as it did in the days of its infancy, through to civil rights activism and progressive social influence. Pledging, and its most controversial, worst-kept-secret of hazing, continue to be but blips on the radars of those students seeking bonds of brother and sisterhood, networking and elite places within the campus social hierarchy.
The objective of training strong minds, strong bodies and strong hearts to serve humanity’s greater good have devolved into nearly impossible challenges of endurance for the same. Mental and physical assault are the prerequisite order for a miniscule number of members and pledges of the organizations; with all involved far too willing to carry on a tradition that greatly hampers the great purpose of these organizations, and would make the harshest slave breakers and owners far too proud.
HBCUs, from an institutional perspective, can’t and shouldn’t claim responsibility for work done under the off-campus cover of anonymity and with the cooperation of eager alumni members. Even with the most stringent rules, explicit waiver forms and legalese, little can conquer the opportunity and associated emotions with joining an organization that boasts legendary members, throws the best parties, and steps like no other. Accepting this reality is the first step, and countering with an institutional form of corrective hazing would be the next logical step.
Given that institutions have the right to know who plans to join an organization, and when the organization intends to start and complete its intake process, would it be a stretch for those organizational hopefuls to adhere to a few required institutional mandates? If there’s no law against curfew for student athletes, would an HBCU be so bold as to demand the same from future members? If there are GPA standards that scholarship students must maintain, would regular campus community service from pledges and members be a far cry from normal?
If violations of campus law go before a judicial panel, would participants in a pledging process be willing to regularly appear before an independent review panel of intake processes to spot-check physical and mental well-being, along with academic performance?
There’s nothing that says pledges of an organization can’t get mauled before a curfew, or hazed in other innovative ways within campus rules set to curb destructive pledging patterns. College students don’t get by and get out without being able to bend the rules. However, if HBCUs were to take a more proactive role in reducing off-campus hazing patterns by replacing it with reasonable orders of discipline, community engagement and accountability, they further distance themselves from culpability of bad behavior, while simultaneously endorsing a healthy process to find organizational loyalists.
All with very little sacrifice of the history, vigor and value of the pledging process.
It’s difficult in any setting to advocate for the rights of the collective good to be pursued at the sacrifice of the rights of the individual, but hazing on and off the HBCU campus has reached a point where the best qualities of joining and membership have been reduced to pitiful classifications of who ‘goes the hardest’ and who had no process. Our current social, political and financial climate requires that these organizations produce leaders who will emerge to fight harder for the common good through the resources of their organization and not the advancement of the organization’s appeal.
Fraternities and sororities of all classifications need to emerge as the leading voices of philanthropy, political mobilization and social programming for minority communities around the world. Violence and degradation, up to this point, haven’t achieved that goal, despite the intent of their founders and the outlay of their mission statements.
HBCUs may have a harder time moderating pledging than by what here has been prescribed, but we can’t continue to live with the effects of improper pre-planning.