According to a recent investigation by the Hofstra Chronicle, Sigma Pi pledges were allegedly forced to vomit on other members and pour hot sauce on their genitals. We talked to a hazing expert to understand why these rituals happen.
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A student paper at Hofstra University in New York recently uncovered evidence of an alleged violent hazing ritual that took place between Fall pledges in 2014 and 2015. According to the Hofstra Chronicle, pledges of the now shutdown Sigma Pi fraternity underwent hazing rituals that involved chugging milk, vomiting, hot sauce, and swastikas.
The Chronicle reports that in March, 2016, the Grand Council of Sigma Pi Fraternity International disbanded the Hofstra chapter "upon receiving evidence of violations of both Fraternity and FIPG [Fraternal Information and Programming Group] risk management policies." Former member Syed Ali John Mehdi allegedly sent school administration examples of what he called "extreme hazing," including images of members locked in cages, rolling in flower naked, and having ghost pepper hot sauce poured onto their genitals. In one photo, a person is blindfolded with a Sigma Pi bandana with a swastika made from duct tape attached to the wall. The newspaper also obtained videos of members allegedly being forced to drink milk and then vomiting on one another. The university issued a statement to the Chronicle, saying, "Prior to the suspension, there were no complaints of hazing against the organization in recent years."
According to the leaked email obtained by the Chronicle, the fraternity brothers were allegedly forced to do favors for their superiors, including laundry, cleaning, and cooking. The pledges were also put on a point system for tasks, so the more favors they did the more points they received. Those who failed to do favors were demerited.
Shortly after the suspension of the Sigma Pi chapter, the school continued to investigate other hazing plots within the fraternity but found no additional information, the Chronicle reports.
According to psychologist Dr. Susan Lipkins, author of Preventing Hazing, what happened at Hofstra isn't uncommon. Speaking to Broadly, she said she believes it's all a part of the "blueprint" of hazing.
"What that means is you come in, you basically just want to be part of the group and you're a victim," she said. Once the hazing ritual is complete, the role of the "victim" changes. "You're a part of the group and then you become a bystander and eventually a member of the group." From there, the person who was once a victim then feels they have a right and duty to inflict what they've had done upon themselves to others. "When you do that, you leave your own mark."
While it may sound surreal, this process can become normalized quickly. "They think, 'it happened to me so it'll happen to them,'" said Lipkins. According to her, even parents fall into this trap. "They think, 'I went through it you can go through it too.'" What many don't take into account is how much more intense hazing rituals can become over time.
However, when hazing rituals do become exposed, it's not typically from a whistleblower within the fraternity. In Lipkins' experience, "Usually the victim tells a friend and then it comes out in the open." Only rarely do parents come forward, as they fear their child will get in trouble along with other members.
Lipkins believes hazing won't go away; rather, she says it's only getting worse. According to Hazing in View: Students at Risk, hazing that includes sexual intimidation, nudity, and abuse has only increased since 1995. "There's much more hazing that happens, it's much more intense and sexualized." Explains Lipkins. "Students in college will be familiarized with hazing rituals in their high school athletic teams making the rituals more normal than not." A University of Maine study estimates that 47 percent of college students come to college having experienced some form of hazing. Additionally, 25 percent believed coaches and organization advisors were aware of hazing rituals.
In Hazing and Gender: Analyzing the Obvious, professor of human development at the University of Maine, Elizabeth J. Allan, explains that in order to combat hazing, schools must tackle masculinity and homophobia, which "work in tandem to create a climate in which violent and demeaning hazing practices are more likely to be tolerated and even considered beneficial."
Because hazing is also an issue in sororities, Lipkins argues the issue comes down to power dynamics and tradition. "I believe it has to do with maintaining order and discipline," she said. "It's more about belonging and being elite and feeling like you're special."
While it may seem to outsiders like participating in hazing rituals is a choice, Lipkins argues this is rarely the case. A part of why hazing continues is the amount of pressure and threat of isolation. Lipkins explains that for many students, dropping out of hazing rituals means facing the threat of total isolation from their peers. "They get stuck. They signed up for it and they believe that's it," said Lipkins.