The goldfish hovers soundlessly against the curved wall of its shrunken new prison, its mouth cyclically contracting and expanding into a perfect, comical O. Its shimmering gills flap gently and its tiny fins flutter in the clear liquid, which stings the air with the acrid tang of vodka.
The pledge’s fingers suddenly curl around the shot glass, casting the goldfish within into obscurity. In one swift motion, he throws his head back as he downs the shot, goldfish and all. Then, he forces himself to vomit the concoction back up into the glass. He hands it off to the next pledge, who repeats the procedure.
The process will continue until both glass and goldfish make their way around the circle of twenty or so pledges. If they don’t reach the end within a specified period of time, the group will start over.
If the fish dies, they’ll start over.
And if they refuse to partake, they’re out.
Such goes one instance of fraternity pledging lore. Whether culturally embellished or not, it’s both disgusting and disturbing — and not even the most disgusting nor disturbing instance of hazing among institutions of higher education.
Lehigh itself is no stranger to hazing rites. On Feb. 21, Delta Phi fraternity lost its chapter recognition at Lehigh for hazing- and alcohol-related charges, sparked by the university’s discovery of a new member educator notebook from 2011. Among the allegations against the chapter, as noted in the Lehigh Greeks blog, are coerced consumption of alcohol; lineups; servitude; restrictions on sleep, contact and behavior; and degrading actions taken toward new members. Delta Phi will be permitted to apply to have its university recognition reinstated, but only after 2019.
As defined by Lehigh’s Office of Fraternity and Sorority Affairs, hazing entails causing or permitting a person incident to initiation or membership into an organized group to participate in any activity that subjects that person or others to risks of physical injury, mental distress or personal indignities, regardless of whether that person has issued consent on the matter.
Thus, the alleged actions of Delta Phi’s members are in no way trivial or permissible. But we would need far starrier eyes to believe that Delta Phi is, or was, the only organization on campus to have engaged in such rituals.
As legend dictates, one Lehigh organization used to roll kegs down the slope of the campus and force its incoming members to hurdle over them à la Nintendo’s Donkey Kong. Another made its new members raise ferrets as house pets – only to subsequently kill them.
Then there are the more common tales of forcing members to drink themselves into oblivion; trashing homes and making pledges clean up the filth; instigating “gym quotas” that require certain newcomers to exercise at any given time; and forcing members to contort themselves into sexual positions before members of the opposite gender. Of course, there’s the classic “fat-fixing” story, where women are forced to strip naked and sit on operating washing machines. Their peers then circle “whatever jiggles” on their bodies in black permanent marker.
While often associated with Greek life, these rituals do not exclusively or universally apply to Greek organizations, nor do they apply solely to collegiate culture. But the fact remains that hazing is an indisputable facet of many university organizations. According to a 2008 National Study of Student Hazing, 55 percent of college students involved in clubs, teams and organizations were found to have experienced hazing. 69 percent of students who belonged to a student activity reported they were aware of hazing activities occurring in student organizations other than their own. Likewise, in 95 percent of the cases where students identified their experiences as “hazing,” they did not report the events to campus officials.
For those involved, hazing is often seen as a rite of passage that makes its victims closer to one another. Many new members feel obligated to make it through hazing to prove their worth. Similarly, those in charge of hazing rites often adopt the mentality that, if they themselves were forced to engage in certain activities, others should have to earn their place with just as much difficulty.
It’s a humiliating, toxic cycle.
Sure, certain hazing practices, such as scavenger hunts or performing karate moves while going through crosswalks, are typically harmless. But overzealous groupthink often prompts members to bring such practices to an increasingly intense level, proving that hazing is a superficial and unproductive way to display dedication or closeness.
How many more suspensions will it take for us to realize this? How many more hospitalizations?
How many more deaths?
Much of the conversation surrounding Delta Phi’s investigation has revolved around the idea that the fraternity was foolish enough to record its hazing tactics in a notebook and leave it lying around. But the more unnerving notion should be that these activities were actually happening.
Stop the recording? No. Stop hazing.
And leave the goldfish at the pet store.