It has been a long time since I had anything to do with a long-standing ritual called hazing, mostly known as something pledges, or new members, must endure when joining a college fraternity or sorority, but also not uncommon for new members of athletic teams and so forth.
When the Times-Gazette received an email this week saying that the Ohio Department of Higher Education had launched a statewide plan for preventing hazing at colleges and universities across the state, there was a part of me that felt a twinge of sadness, probably only because it is part of my past from four decades ago when I becoming a member of the Tau Kappa Epsilon fraternity at Morehead State University.
While I would not say my hazing experience was enjoyable, it was memorable, caused me no harm or put me in danger, and I can’t help but grin when my mind drifts back to those years long ago.
If everyone’s experience was like mine, there would be no need for a statewide plan prohibiting hazing. But that’s not the case. Because lots of people seem to have a propensity these days to take all kinds of activities much too far to the extreme, causing deaths and other injuries, it is time to try to curb hazing activity.
Stone Foltz, a 20-year-old student at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, died in a hazing incident just thing spring from consuming too much alcohol. Collin Wiant, an 18-year-old student at Ohio University, died after a 2018 hazing incident that involved alcohol and other morbid activities. And in 2014 at nearby Wilmington College, 14 men were arrested on charges of hazing after an initiation left a student pledging to a fraternity short a testicle.
The charges came seven months after members of the fraternity allegedly led blindfolded students into a basement and forced them to strip naked and perform demeaning sexual and violent acts.
Look the stories up online. It’s hard to believe people would participate in such activity — whether they are doing the inducting and being the inductee. Who would want to be part of a group of such demented people? Evidently though, there are plenty of them. So, since so many can’t tell the difference between ornery fun and morbid stupidity, it is past time slow the rituals down.
Hazing was never meant to be pleasant experience. But I was not meant to maim and kill people either.
My dad can tell stories from his college days in the 1950s when he had to endure like 20 whacks with a paddle, until his backside was literally bleeding, to join some athletic group he wanted to be part of. He was also blindfolded and had to eat things like spaghetti that he was told was worms.
While the guys in the fraternity I joined were more than a little ornery, they had some common sense.
Probably the most embarrassing thing I had to do was obtain a pair women’s panties — autographed by the owner — from one of the coeds on campus. And not just any coed, but one of the very best-looking ones on campus. I doubt she had a clue who I was, but I knew who she was. I was fairly shy at the time and didn’t like the assignment much, but I also wanted to be part of the fraternity. So one afternoon I looked up her number and gave her a timid call. Thankfully, she understood the process and a few hours later the panties were delivered to me, complete with an autograph.
Another time I was told I had to clean the fraternity house bathroom with a toothbrush. And let me tell you, cleaning a bathroom where a bunch of college-age guys live is not a real pleasant experience. But after I scrubbed for an hour or less the guys must have felt sorry for me and told me I could stop.
There were a couple other trials that were required and would make good story telling. But they caused me no harm or put me in much danger, so they will remain between myself and the few who know.
Four decades later I look back on those hazing adventures with a smile on my face and a chuckle in my belly, sometimes wishing I was that young and dumb again. But I’m not. So the memories that I can still see vividly in my mind’s eye will have to do.
I would say it’s too bad that future generations will not be able to experience things like I did in my college days. But if you think some new laws are going to keep college kids from hazing, well, you must not have spent much time on a college campus. But they might make absurd hazing behavior less prevalent, and that might be enough to save a few lives.
Jeff Gilliland is the editor of The Times-Gazette. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 937-402-2522.