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Fraternity Violence: The Pledging Debate : The Greeks: There is a move afoot to do away with hazing, but the traditionalists are outraged and vow to fight.

July 24, 1990|DAVID MILLS | THE WASHINGTON POST

There are exceptions. "I have seen color photographs of bloodied, bruised, blistered behinds of young (white) men on a Texas campus who have been subjected to that physical brutality for decades," Stevens says. And a University of Illinois student, while pledging a predominantly Jewish fraternity last year, was thrown to the floor, punched and slammed against a wall. He suffered a concussion.

But observers of white and black fraternities, including black Greeks themselves, say that slapping pledges around is much more common among blacks. And nobody knows why.

"I've come to think it has to do, No. 1, with a macho attitude," says Charles Wright, an administrator at Baltimore's Coppin State College and a past national president of Phi Beta Sigma. "It's almost mystical, the kind of energy that goes into fraternity life during the pledge period."

For years, Wright has spoken out against hazing, and he welcomes the demise of pledging. But until recently, he says, the black Greek leadership has avoided the issue. (The national organizations have long prohibited hazing, and have suspended or fined chapters that got caught at it, and even expelled members. But black fraternity leaders concede there has been a need for "better monitoring" of undergraduate pledging.)

"There are alumni brothers who are worse than any undergraduates I've ever seen in wanting to hold onto that tradition," Wright says. "I've given speeches where people walked out on me."

"My outrage over the pledge process has evolved because of what I've seen happening over the last two decades to African American men in our society," Wright says. "There is enough abuse in general. For us to be abusive to one another, in order for someone to become a member of a fraternity, is absurd.

"I come across bright, committed, community-conscious young men across this country who choose not to join a fraternity because they are not going to allow themselves to be subjected to the indignities and the nonsense we subject them to," he says. "And that's the system's loss. And it's the community's loss."

Among the sororities--Alpha Kappa Alpha, Delta Sigma Theta, Zeta Phi Beta and Sigma Gamma Rho--hazing isn't nearly as violent. But Janet Ballard, national president of AKA, has heard of sisters slapping pledges, or requiring them to "take a certain position--bending over, for instance--and remain in that position for hours at a time."

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