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​Our dangerous, silent acceptance

Earlier this week, members of the Interfraternity Council conferred bids to potential new members, culminating the anxiety-ridden recruitment process and ushering in the infamous pledging period--a prerequisite for initiation into fraternity brotherhood. For first-years and sophomores seeking the approval of their new affiliated groups and for others in the Duke community, it is no secret that for many of the IFC fraternities, pledging is synonymous with hazing of new members. Officially, the IFC leadership, fraternities and other students on campus deny the ubiquity of new-member hazing. Unofficially, however, our community recognizes and tacitly accepts hazing rituals that precede fraternity initiations.

Our University’s stance on hazing clearly condemns the practice as “a serious infraction of university regulations” which results in a harmful exercise of power over new members. Although hazing for fraternities may be veiled as voluntary or “not strictly hazing,” the foundation of the toxic practice still remains, and many first-years and sophomores are pressured to abide by certain behaviors to be deemed proper members, or brothers, of their fraternities.

Denying the existence of hazing during fraternity pledging is not productive. It simply stymies any deliberate, tangible movement toward reform for the current system. At Duke, there exists a dangerous mindset that because there are few cases of fraternities being sanctioned or found guilty of hazing, the problem is small-scale. However, insufficient sanctioning speaks most to the incongruity between the rate with which hazing occurs and the rate at which fraternities are punished. The lack of sufficient oversight for fraternity pledging practices and the lack of consequences for violating Duke’s stance on hazing only motivates hazing to continue as a general standard for the majority. It may be possible that not all fraternities indulge in hazing. However, even if one fraternity continues this practice, it reflects poorly on the IFC as a whole and indicates that stricter action must be taken to prevent hazing. Simply moving fraternity involvement off campus does not provide a safe community for IFC members or for others. Further, the notion that even sanctions do not always effectively deter this harmful behavior speaks to a bigger problem that IFC should address more actively.

Despite the toxic nature of pledging, first-year students, especially, deem it necessary to fit into the somewhat hierarchical social structure at Duke. Pledging is often considered a natural step to brotherhood or a closer bond, yet it serves as no more than a perverted paradigm of friendship, signaling the continued pressure beyond recruitment to satisfy the conditions of membership. Due the underhanded manner in which fraternities treat pledging, new members find the process difficult to escape.

The IFC must push its fraternities to hold themselves to higher standards and to adopt safer practices when forging a new pledge class. There should be an end to the continual allowance of this behavior and a breaking of the silence on the matter.For members of the Duke community who vehemently deny their participation or acceptance of fraternity hazing, do not be so quick to distance yourself from the problem and push the blame on those who have been directly sanctioned. Rather, recognize that the responsibility to challenge the perceived normality of hazing as a tradition lies with each and every member of the IFC and those who interact with the community. IFC, make way for reform.

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