The Grio / By Ronda Racha Penrice — Black sororities and fraternities are back in the news for hazing. Yesterday, The New York Times ran a story about the hazing accusations against Sigma Gamma Rho at several institutions. Six Sigma Gamma Rho members at Rutgers University were arrested in January when a pledge went to the hospital covered in welts and bruises that she claimed were a direct result of hazing — paddling to be exact. At the end of August, former San Jose State University student Courtney Howard filed a civil suit alleging that she was subjected to violent hazing, including paddling, being shoved against the wall and threatened that “snitches get stitches” during her pledging process in 2008.
Although all the direct parties have been disciplined, with chapters at both universities being suspended for lengthy periods of time, hazing incidents have become slightly more frequent in the last two decades. The 2002 drowning deaths of two young women, Kristin High and Kenitha Saafir, both students at Cal State Los Angeles, while pledging Alpha Kappa Alpha ignited a vigorous debate with the black Greek community especially. It also stood out because, previously, most reported incidents had involved fraternities and not sororities. On top of that, the families of both girls filed a $100 million suit against Alpha Kappa Alpha, which is the nation’s oldest African-American sorority, as well as those who were with the young ladies on that fateful night.
Officially, hazing of any form is not permitted by any fraternity and sorority. Unofficially, as these incidents show, it remains pervasive. And, while worst case scenario incidents like the ones listed above are relatively small when compared to the scores of young men and women who actually pledge a fraternity or sorority, they understandably warrant serious concern and debate. Author and journalist Hank Nuwer, who maintains a blog through the website, stophazing.org, and has written several books on hazing, including Broken Pledges and The Wrongs of Passage, as well as black professor Ricky L. Jones, who wrote Black Haze, for example, have detailed disturbing hazing incidents where ribs were broken and other physical abuse suffered.
Particularly disturbing are pledges’ claims that they were subjected to violence to give them an appreciation of what their enslaved ancestors endured. So, quite frequently, these experiences included beatings, with paddling, as noted in the most recent incidents, showing up most often. To the non-initiated, paddling seems particularly consistent, especially given the numbers of paddles for both sororities and fraternities that are readily available at Greek shows and other places that sell black Greek paraphernalia.