Thoughts on TKE initiation at Whitman

On Wednesday, January 31st, 2007 at 5:30 pm, initiation began for the Alpha Theta chapter of Tau Kappa Epsilon. From what I can remember, I and a couple of friends were rounded up from Reid and taken to the house. There, according to the notes I prepared for an article I almost published in April 2007, we were told to line up in rows and columns. Rotten or foul-smelling food was flung at us. A porn film on repeat set the ambiance. One of the active members of the house dressed as a screaming baby and bounced around to break up our order while we were yelled directions to keep in line. This is how it began.

Right now, I’m diving with my friend David in Sabah, Borneo. On Thursday, the Whitman Pioneer, student newspaper at Whitman College, published an article regarding allegations brought forth by Dan Hart about TKE initiation the prior year. I was quoted several times. The quotes are from a recorded Skype/phone interview I did with Pio Editor-in-Chief, Molly Smith, Wednesday morning in my current timezone. On a tip from a current TKE member, Molly contacted me on February 28th to learn about my experiences with TKE initiation four years ago. I feel what didn’t make it into the article is now worth publishing.

According to this year’s Whitman Student Handbook (I don’t have a copy of 2006-2007′s), hazing is “any activity of a physical or psychological nature that is degrading or humiliating to another person.” Whether you like it or not, this is our working definition. The handbook also has a short list of behaviors and activities Whitman College considers to be hazing. I experienced these:

  • Excessive fatigue resulting from sleep deprivation, physical activities, or exercise.
  • Assignment of activities that would be illegal or unlawful, or might be morally offensive to new members.
  • Verbal abuse, including “line-ups” and berating of individuals.
  • Forced or required clean-up work or labor created for new members.
  • Forced or required nudity or lewd behavior.

For me, the pivotal moment was Friday evening, February 2nd, 2007, a little while after opting out of what I have in my notes as a “cult-like ritual.” Of the couple dozen rules pledges were subject to, one was the requirement they address active members of the house by whichever name they had given themselves for the hour. One of the actives named himself “Mr. God” at dinner, approached me, and demanded I address him by his name. I refused.

My friends wouldn’t consider me all that religious. I was raised and confirmed Catholic, but think myself more agnostic than anything else. Spirituality, and everyone finding their own for themselves, is more important to me than religion. I am, however, quite against people abusing religion to create and reinforce oppressive power structures.

The active scolded me for not addressing him as “Mr. God” and demanded again. I refused again. At this point, he must’ve realized he overstepped his bounds, and I was refusing for some other reason than to be defiant. All of the pledges were quickly ushered out of the TKE dining room. Actives went upstairs to, I assume, discuss what just happened. This incident was my defining moment. I made the difficult decision to leave initiation (and left a couple of hours later after debriefing with the hegemons).

As a freshman, leaving initiation was synonymous with leaving my Whitman community. All of the strong friendships I developed over the previous four months were in some way affiliated with the Greek system. Out of almost 30 people in Jewett’s 2-West, I believe only two didn’t pledge to a fraternity. By leaving initiation, I single-handedly created a chasm between me and my closest friends, put my entire social life in the lurch, and demolished the start of my foundation for a successful four years at Whitman College.

Case in point: Sam Chasan, my freshman roommate and one of my best friends at the time, said this in support of the initiation process:

I say strong because initiation requires intense commitment by the active members. To those who wish to simplify, and view as negative the initiation practices of TKE, are doing a disservice to themselves. Take a second to look at the men you denigrate: they are your PEERS!! They are your WHITMAN classmates, teammates, group and club mates, ASWC representatives, and so on. Intelligent men. Compassionate men. They are men of character. Initiation is a carefully organized and executed series of events, orchestrated as it is to draw out intense emotions not often seen in our monotonous daily lives. It is unfortunate that those who walk out on initiation believe those emotions are categorically wrong.

On a long run along the Mazatlan waterfront during spring break that year, I listened to an Amy Goodman interview with Philip Zimbardo on Democracy Now! Philip Zimbardo is professor emeritus of psychology at Stanford and famously known for the Stanford Prison Experiment. Read through both links fully. The experiment randomly assigned 24 normal, middle-class, psychologically sound males into a mock prison environment, 12 as prisoners and 12 as prison guards. Their goal was to role-play the situation for two weeks. Zimbardo stopped the experiment after only six days because it had degraded to the point where prison guards were torturing prisoners. Only one person, an outsider, questioned the experiment’s morality, and this questioning brought its end. Everyone else had fully adopted their roles.

Zimbardo argues the Stanford Prison Experiment shows two things. First, situation is a powerful motivator. It can turn normally decent human being into characters they’re not, either positive or negative. As I listened to the interview, I drew a strong connection between why the prison guards acted as they did and why active members in the TKE house acted as they did. It wasn’t so much that they were inherently bad people; rather, the situation they were in had a strong influence on what they perceived to be normal behavior. The power of the situation.

Second, cognitive dissonance is an important concept for describing how these normally decent human beings can internally justify doing things they wouldn’t normally do, or that even go against their beliefs. Here’s a good Science Friday podcast on the subject. In the case of the Stanford Prison Experiment, it helps explain why the prison guards thought it alright to psychologically and physically torture inmates. And in the case of the 2007 TKE initiation, cognitive dissonance helps explain why pledges rationalized accepting the hazing as they did.

After understanding the situation in this new light, I was set on writing a piece for the Pio. I worked as the Photo Editor during my time at Whitman and Sophie Johnson, the editor at the time, said she would run it if I would write it. Obviously, it wasn’t published. I showed an early draft to one of the last people I felt I could talk to. She initiated Delta Gamma that year, said she would side with the TKE house because of the Greek system’s importance to her social life, and recommended I talk to Barbara Maxwell, Associate Dean of Students. Growing even more disenchanted with the Whitman experience, I did this instead. She convened a meeting with the intrafraternity council and I aired my grievances. From that, I don’t know what happened. If Dan Hart, whom I’ve never met, only recently came forth with similar allegations from a later year, I suspect not much changed.

Do the ends justify the means as Greek members say they do? I don’t know, I didn’t experience the ends. I do believe the means I experienced aren’t justifiable in any context. I also believe the activities of TKE’s initiation process, not necessarily its emotions as Sam mentions, are and have been in clear violation of Whitman’s policy towards hazing, as well as the moral standards of all those involved. A healthy dose of transparency, accountability, and courage will be required for genuine change.

A note: this is my personal weblog. I publish comments with a first and last name, verifiable email address, and whose substance tries earnestly to forward the conversation. Everything else will be marked as spam. Thank you.

25 thoughts on “Thoughts on TKE initiation at Whitman

  1. Kieran says:

    Thanks for providing your story Daniel. Its unfortunate that the Pio wouldn’t publish your story when you tried to tell it the first time: I’m glad we can read it now. You should know that the Pio would not have published Dan Hart’s story without your corroborating his experience.

    • Thanks for the support, Kieran. To clarify, the Pio would have run my original story had I chosen to finish it. I decided not to at the time largely because I didn’t have the guts, didn’t want to completely destroy what was left of my friendships, and wanted to try and put it behind me. It did strongly affect my opinion on the importance of standing up for what one believes in.

  2. Lissa Erickson says:

    Hi Daniel,
    So glad that your experiences, and more importantly, your critical awareness about those experiences, have made it into the debates about the most recent set of accusations made against TKE.

    Your story here makes a very valuable contribution; particularly on two points which TKE and those apologizing for TKE have tried to ignore or distort.

    1. The allegations that Dan Hart and you made against the initiation process are primarily about the dangers and consequences of ‘groupthink’ mentality, more so than they are about whether initiation is a ‘negative’ experience for any one individual, or whether the bonds formed in the process outweigh the negativity itself, and are somehow separate from the power structures that are being used to create those bonds. If you see my comments on the online Pio article, I have argued that inherent in ‘groupthink’ in the specific context of the Greek Fraternity are ideas about masculinity and the privileged use of aggression and intimidation as a form of getting people to all “agree” with what you are doing. The fact that TKE has tried to apologize for the fact that Dan Hart or you experienced ‘anxiety’ due to their actions is incredibly offensive and completely beside the larger point.

    2. The logic that “if you don’t like it, you can just leave” does not hold, because there are a slew of negative consequences that come along with opting out of initiation, the first being that you are barred from directly participating in the fraternity, but more importantly, your experience demonstrates that you were cast out of (or at least look down upon by) any social groups associated with greek life (which, in spite of the claim that the greek system isn’t that big at Whitman, ends up being a huge number of people who no longer want to be friends with you). Your story also provides strong evidence against this claim.

    Thanks for your perspective and for your clear, concise presentation of your opinions here. I cried reading this because so few of us have the bravery and self-confidence to recognize injustices being perpetuated through everyday, supposedly ‘normal’ actions and institutions, much less to speak out as a minority opinion against what everyone else is telling you is right.

    Some have made absurd claims that debates “about greek life” are just ‘mental masturbation’ for Whitman students, that we should be focusing on “important” issues like war and global social unrest– as if those things had nothing to do with the injustices we experienced in our own lives. But your words here, and your mind, Daniel, are truly the stuff of revolution, so don’t let anyone try to convince you otherwise.

    Please keep sharing your stories. I will definitely be passing this link on to others at Whitman!

  3. Rachel Hahn says:

    Hi Dan! I haven’t seen/ talked to you in a while, but I just wanted to write here and give you a little support. I commented on the Pio article under “Alum”, and I referenced some of the psychology aspect, but I’m afraid I wanted to be brief, which wasn’t nearly as effective as the argument you made here. I wanted to send you this Ted talk that Zimbardo did, if you haven’t seen it already: http://www.ted.com/talks/philip_zimbardo_on_the_psychology_of_evil.html

    I got to here him speak at a conference a few years ago, and he talked about his new research of “Ordinary Heroes”, people who are able to break from normative pressures and see things somehow more clearly. I just wanted to say that I admire both your and Dan’s ability to do this, in spite of (clearly) how difficult it is for many in the Whitman community to, in turn, listen to your concerns clearly. So thank you for bringing these concerns up, and arguing them more clearly that I was about to.

  4. Arianna Cortesi says:

    Dan, thanks for sharing more detail about your experience. I’m sorry you didn’t get more support from those you reached out to. Even if the structure and events of initiation aren’t reformed, I hope that one thing to come out of this whole mess is better support for people with negative initiation experiences, for lack of a better term.

  5. Henry Gales says:

    This is a great article. I would encourage to contact the Pio about having it published as a guest column or letter to the editor.

  6. Kyle Born says:

    Daniel, my name is Kyle Born and i was a TKE at Whitman from 2004-2007 when i graduated. I believe i was a senior when you were a freshman pledge. Myself and a lot of alumni have been brought into the goings-on at Whitman lately, and i would like to address some of your concerns, both in your blog, and in your response to what happened at Whitman. Know that i have no hatred or ill will towards you whatsoever, and as someone who is now 4 years removed from the TKE house i feel like i have a good grasp on my own experience there.

    I have a hard time finding a starting point. I just feel like you never gave yourself a chance socially at Whitman, and maybe that is totally wrong, but i feel like people who walk out of initiation feel ashamed and create a reality where they no longer feel like they belong. Personally i would never exclude or hate someone who decided initiation is not for them. I was friends with whoever wanted to be friends, regardless of fraternity affiliation. In your case and this new person’s case your first plan of action after leaving was to betray intimate secrets to the public and college at large. Do you believe this action would somehow not create a reaction from your friends in the fraternity? I remember feeling a bitterness towards your actions when i was there, not because you left, but because you decided to plaster it all over the newspaper and administration. In most cases people will not welcome a friend back with open arms when he betrays them.

    I understand your position as doing what you think is right to prevent others from experiencing something you believe is wrong, but did you stop to think about why 99% of all initiates went through the entire process, and why 100% percent of those initiates helped implement and participate in the initiation process afterwards? It is impossible to understand the scope of initiation without going through the entire thing. Unfortunately that is not something that can be understood without doing it. Relating TKE initiation with a prison experiment is not a very good analogy. To me they are on opposite ends of the spectrum. A prison experiment is chaos. There are no rules, or structure, and everyone in that experiment was new to the experience and didn’t know what to expect. In TKE initiation EVERYTHING is planned to the minute; literally. Every single minute of every single day is planned out methodically with a purpose that eventually becomes one of the most incredible positive experiences imaginable. I will always remember what i went through during initiation. In the experiment you describe there were no rules, no boundaries, and nobody running the show. During TKE initiation only the pledges are in the dark and confused, and they are guided very carefully by mentors, hegemons, and other active members to ensure their safety.

    Personally i believe there has to be a way to create an initiation process where a bond is implemented through extremely positive experiences, but my time at Whitman was too short to help change what has been in existence for so long. I was one of those men who stood before you and acted like someone you didn’t know or respect, but i can tell you it was with a purpose, and that purpose was never forgotten for a second. The emotional and mental toll taken on by active members is just as strong as the initiates. It does not feel good being the bad guy, and i don’t think anyone from the TKE house would disagree with that.

    All i want to impress upon you is that when you are in college you can choose to do certain things. I chose to initiate. I hated every second of the first 2 days, but i chose to stay knowing full well i could leave. I did this in spite of how i was treated. Why? Because i was stubborn and trusted that there was a purpose behind it all. I stood in the face of adversity, and told myself i was stronger and better. I never felt threatened or mistreated in any real sort of way. What goes on in that house during Initiation is not reality, and in the back of my mind i knew this.

    You chose to leave Daniel, and nobody in the house faulted you for that decision. If you had come back a week later and said “hey guys, lets play some poker and hang out upstairs,” everyone would have said “great, let’s do it.” Instead you went to the school newspaper and told everybody about our initiation process. You are smart enough to understand why that creates resentment. You fabricated a situation of me vs them, unfortunately we all played our parts well.

    I am sorry you had to leave Whitman because of the situation, and i hope you found peace wherever you went afterwards. Know that there were a lot of good men in that house, and that there have been a lot of good men before and since. They can’t all be wrong can they?

    • Thanks for the lengthy comment, Kyle. I appreciate you taking the time to explain your perspective. I’d have to say I mostly disagree with it, in some part for incorrect facts and in other parts for generalizations.

      For instance, you claim:

      In your case and this new person’s case your first plan of action after leaving was to betray intimate secrets to the public and college at large. Do you believe this action would somehow not create a reaction from your friends in the fraternity? I remember feeling a bitterness towards your actions when i was there, not because you left, but because you decided to plaster it all over the newspaper and administration.
      [...]
      You chose to leave Daniel, and nobody in the house faulted you for that decision. If you had come back a week later and said “hey guys, lets play some poker and hang out upstairs,” everyone would have said “great, let’s do it.” Instead you went to the school newspaper and told everybody about our initiation process.

      This is incorrect. For the first two months, I didn’t talk to anyone about my experiences other than those already privy to what happened. I did so in hopes of respecting the houses’ wishes, as well as those of my close friends. Only after realizing the moral wrongness of initiation did I talk to the editor of the Pioneer and Barbara Maxwell. In April 2007, there was nothing published in the paper about my experience with TKE initiation.

      Furthermore, I’d now consider peer pressure not to share information about initiation with anyone outside the TKE house to be a form of intimidation, and I congratulate Dan Hart for having the balls to step forward.

      In response to this comment:

      I understand your position as doing what you think is right to prevent others from experiencing something you believe is wrong, but did you stop to think about why 99% of all initiates went through the entire process, and why 100% percent of those initiates helped implement and participate in the initiation process afterwards? It is impossible to understand the scope of initiation without going through the entire thing. Unfortunately that is not something that can be understood without doing it. Relating TKE initiation with a prison experiment is not a very good analogy. To me they are on opposite ends of the spectrum. A prison experiment is chaos. There are no rules, or structure, and everyone in that experiment was new to the experience and didn’t know what to expect. In TKE initiation EVERYTHING is planned to the minute; literally. Every single minute of every single day is planned out methodically with a purpose that eventually becomes one of the most incredible positive experiences imaginable. I will always remember what i went through during initiation. In the experiment you describe there were no rules, no boundaries, and nobody running the show. During TKE initiation only the pledges are in the dark and confused, and they are guided very carefully by mentors, hegemons, and other active members to ensure their safety.

      I believe I provided an explanation as to why people can be complicit with experiences they don’t necessarily agree with in my piece. Please re-read it. As to why they would help plan the initiation process for the next year’s class, I don’t have an exact answer. I would say this statement implies they are also complicit with and actively abetting the breaking of Whitman’s policies and Washington State’s laws towards hazing. When the active member of the house demanded I address him as “Mr. God”, are you willing to state that was planned in advance?

      Policies exist for a reason. By going to Whitman College, you agree to abide by the policies set forth by its administration. This is pretty black and white to me. This discussion is about hazing policies and whether the TKE house violated them or not. Other topics are relevant, but secondary to the primary.

      A challenge for you or any other member of the TKE house: list all of the activities for one initiation period, either 2007 or 2010, and publicly state how they are fully compliant with Whitman College’s policies and the State of Washington’s laws.

      Again, I appreciate your comment Kyle. My apologies if my response seems curt, but I think there is a significant point of disagreement between us.

  7. Chad Frisk says:

    Hi Daniel, my name is Chad Frisk and having also participated in TKE initiation at Whitman and felt many of the same things you did I thought I would reply and offer my take on the process.

    As I’m sure most Whitman students can identify with, I came into the school with a very negative view of fraternity life formed out of the nebulous haze of popular opinion, rumor, and the topic’s depiction in the social media. As you might expect becoming a frat boy and pinning upon myself all of the accompanying labels was pretty unappealing for me. However, I did the rush stuff and for the most part what I actually saw of the fraternities at Whitman bore surprisingly little resemblance to the arrogant asshole image I had built up in my mind and was so resistant towards.

    I was still pretty troubled about joining a fraternity but when the time came I made a snap decision to participate in Initiation, even though I hadn’t committed myself enough to the house to feel like I belonged there or to get a clear enough image of what the people there were really about. I went, and I really really really hated it. At the time it might have been the worst few days of my life. I had spent a semester battling violently with my preconceptions of what a fraternity was, and having made a very tenuous peace with that decided to dive in only to have that equilibrium immediately shattered as you do experience things that SEEM to be motivated by all the senseless disrespect and meaningless hazing you hear about from fraternities at big schools.

    I finished Initiation because I viewed it as a battle of will-power that I would not lose, but I did nothing to see the value behind the stress itself or to admit the really objectively positive moments embedded throughout the whole thing. My fragile trust had been broken and from that moment forth I refused to see the process for what was actually going on, and instead, in a self-righteous, never-been-through-an-actually-tough-time-in-my-life sort of way, I chose to fit it to the negative narratives I had devised in my own head.

    Years have passed and having been through it multiples times on each side, I have slowly, slowly, every so grudgingly slowly revised my opinion of the process itself and what I was once convinced was a meaningless charade of wanton disrespect and degradation now shines out as an undeniably positive moment where I overcame a challenge the likes of which I had never seen, the intensity of which I have never seen since. I’m really grateful for the guys who put me through that and gave me those references. I now believe there is no thing as an intrinsically bad experience, only intrinsically neutral ones that we paint with our own values and opinions.

    If I had never been through Initiation at the TKE house at Whitman College I would be an appreciably weaker and less complete person that I am today. I’m sorry that it hasn’t meant the same thing for you, it’s certainly not for everyone and I identify with where you’re coming from. If you’d like to talk more about I would love to share. Thank you for putting my post up and keeping the dialog open and honest.

  8. Matt says:

    The thing to keep in mind here is that Daniel Bacchuber and Dan Hart are claiming that the TKE initiation process violates Whitman College policy on hazing. To me it seems like this should be THE ONLY topic of discussion at this point. It doesn’t matter at this stage of the discussion how beneficial the initiation process ends up being, or whether it is morally okay or not okay. If current members of TKE cannot convince us that their initiation process is in line with current Whitman policy, something has to be done. If they disagree with the policy they can go through the necessary steps to attempt to change it, but until that time they have no right to continue the practices in question.

    • Kyle Born says:

      I feel strongly that such an uproar cannot simply be caused by the breaking of college rules. It is more personal and a lot deeper than that, and i feel like those were the more important issues to address. We can sit here and discuss what is right and wrong, but laws and rules are broken all the time, especially the ones written in the Whitman College handbook. Perhaps someone should write to the Whitman Pioneer about all the underage drinking that goes on around campus. If someone believes TKE initiation to be hazing, they can leave. Period. Human beings were given free will for a reason.

  9. Chad Frisk says:

    If this were merely an argument that the TKE initiation process was in violation of Whitman’s code of conduct then we could have that discussion, but because Daniel spent a few paragraphs linking it with the Stanford Prison Experiment Born and I thought we should take a moment to clarify some of the psychological aspects being hinted at. In explaining the Prison Experiment Daniel writes “Zimbardo stopped the experiment after only six days because it had degraded to the point where prison guards were torturing prisoners. Only one person, an outsider, questioned the experiment’s morality, and this questioning brought its end. Everyone else had fully adopted their roles.”

    He goes on to say that situation “can turn normally decent human beings into characters they’re not,” and that he later “drew a strong connection between why the prison guards acted as they did and why active members in the TKE house acted as they did.” Nobody likes to be implicated as a normally decent human being turned deranged prison guard if you are in fact no such thing.

    Is TKE initation in direct compliance with all the guidelines in the Whitman Handbook? Probably not. Can we talk about what that means and the ramifications thereof? Sure. However, TKE initiation is also most certainly not a psychological experiment gone wrong where upperclassmen run around in a malicious moment of insanity and inflict random psychic violence on younger guys for pleasure. I appreciate your concern, Matt and Dan and everyone else; I wouldn’t want anyone to have to endure such a process, either. That said, this process is more than that and I appreciate the chance to present myself and the others who have participated in it before me and since as more than guys who got carried away and did some awful shit.

  10. Austin says:

    Daniel,
    I graduated from Whitman in 2002 and was an active member of the TKE house for my four years in Walla Walla. First let me tell you that I feel very sorry for you. The Whitman experience has been the most rewarding experience of my life. It makes me sad when young adults like yourself preemptively leave such a wonderful environment. You obviously felt differently at the time. Whitman is not for everyone. It takes commitment, and an unprecedented amount of effort and energy to be academically successful AND socially active. There are times that are terrible when you just can’t believe how much work you have to do. Most Whitman students struggle. The reward is unprecedented. It may not become apparent until 5-10 years AFTER you graduate. It won’t make you rich and it may not even get you a job for several years. Some things in life are worth enduring suffering for, and a Whitman education is certainly one of those things. I am sorry that you never got to experience that feeling of success.

    Initiating into the TKE house at Whitman is a similar experience, but more physically and mentally challenging. I understand that you disagreed with the process, no one is faulting you for that. It is your right to say, “I disagree with this and I am leaving”. If you were assaulted, forced to do something illegal, or had any crime committed against you it is your right to bring it to the attention of the college administrators. You do not however have any right to publicly discredit a process that you did not even come close to completing. Such actions are akin to walking out of the theater mid first act then publishing a review of the play citing terrible plot development. What you did and what you have written here does not “take balls” it is the work of a coward. Too afraid to raise his concerns to the people that know the process and would be more than willing to have this discussion. I should know, I was a Hegemon my senior year and spent countless sleepless hours re-assuring pledges and discussing the process. Initiating new members is one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. As I am sure you have been told everything happens for a reason. Unfortunately, you never reached the rewarding portion of initiation. As has been mentioned the process is not for everyone, you have to trust the house and you have to be mentally and physically strong.

    For fun I climb mountains. I have never climbed a mountain I didn’t at least once think to myself, “this is miserable, I am in pain and I will suffer if I go on”. I have questioned my fitness and my self-preservation instincts, “will I survive if I continue ?” Once you stand on top, admire the view and your accomplishment all of the doubting thoughts fall by the wayside. There is only one feeling and that is jubilation. Every mountain conquered is an experience to learn from and coincidentally develop a stronger bond with your fellow climbers and nature itself.

    I thought it might help you remove your “blinders” on this topic if I related how life is full of experiences similar to initiation. Don’t be blinded by a few hours of tainted memories, you did not climb the mountain. Don’t bad mouth the mountain climbing experience because you barely made it to base camp.

    • Austin, personal attacks aren’t cool. I climbed Mt. Adams for the first time in 8th grade, have since climbed a number of others, worked full-time on not one but two startup businesses for two years straight (80+ hour weeks, 6 to 7 days a week), am a long distance runner, traveled for three months by myself in India, etc., etc. I know how to push myself, both physically and mentally. You, who don’t know me other than what you’ve read in this one blog post, are in a poor position to judge my character.

      That being said, I don’t believe the ends justify the means. You do. I believe the activities of initiation are hazing, both under Whitman College policy and under Washington State law (this is also known as being “illegal”). You don’t identify any of the activities, nor do you address whether they’re hazing or not. I challenge you to do so.

    • @Austin,

      I was in a fraternity. It’s pure nonsense to suggest that everything that goes on in a fraternity happens for a reason. To suggest teenagers and early 20-somethings with no professional background in anything are preparing a rigorous test for new members based on reason and thought is pure folly.

      People join fraternities for the social aspects. Nothing more. Fraternities aren’t the army; they’re not building people up to be anything great. What they do serve is a way for friends to get together and have fun.

      It’s stunning how seriously you take yourself and your fraternity. It takes an unprecedented amount of effort to be academically successful and socially successful in college? Have you tried anything hard in life? Undergrad is a cake walk.

      Why do boys haze other boys in fraternities? Because of a lack of maturity. Because of a lack of respect for themselves, others and humanity. Because some of them are small people and this is their first chance to be powerful over someone else.

      There are a lot of reasons hazing happens in fraternities. None of it has a good purpose in life or society. People would have a lot more respect for you if you would just admit that A) your initiation process serves no real purpose and B) you haze each other because you enjoy it or feel like it’s what your supposed to do.

      I award you zero points and advise you to stop taking yourself and your douchey fraternity so seriously.

  11. Daniel,

    I’m sorry that TKE initiation did not work out well for you. I know that sounds like a supremely scripted response, but I truly am. I’m also sorry for the way I acted afterwards. In my immaturity, I figured the best recourse would be to remain silent on the issue, as bringing it up would likely stir a nasty pot you did not want in your room – your only (somewhat) private space at a crowded school. I have only recently come to realize this course of action does not work well, ever.

    It also took me some time to wholeheartedly accept the practice of initiation, and much longer to fully understand its complexities and benefits. Like others have said and I will repeat – initiation is extremely micro-managed. Holistically planned. Heavily considered, critiqued, and amended.

    For example, you refused to say Mr. God on principle, and we recognized this as something potentially personally insulting; so it was changed. I find it ironic that TKE is under fire right now as an institution that promotes and encourages poor treatment of others, actively disregards moral and ethical boundaries, and lacks creativity, because developing within the pledge class ideas and emotions regarding respect, love, ethics, morality, commitment, strength, virtue, and ingenuity is the primary purpose of initiation.

    I don’t believe there is anyone out there who experienced TKE initiation in some form and did not have his eyes opened in some way. Initiation for me was a brutal awakening to my youthful naivety; through it I gained a more complete picture of myself, and within me it lit the fire of self-questioning. Both are hugely beneficial to my future person, and by effect, everyone around me for the rest of my life.
    I think this is the case for nearly every TKE who completes initiation. I’ll say once again that the feeling of finality was surreal. It did not make sense. My world had been toss up, thrown upside-down, emptied, filled, shaken, shut, open, tossed again and brought suddenly back to normal. And I was supposed to accept this? I did. Others didn’t so easily.

    But they learned eventually, like I assumed immediately, that the actives had a larger picture in mind. The actives act the way they do during initiation not because they enjoy seeing younger more inexperienced boys suffer, nor because of some instinctual disregard for social order – as in the case of the Stanford Prison Experiment. The power of the situation does not take over their psyche – though it does serve to amplify the planned message.

    And that’s the thing. Initiation is heavily planned. It is many things, but it is most definitely not poorly considered. Considered, from the latin considerare, means to think about carefully; and we think about initiation verrrry carefully.

    And Whitman thinks very carefully about hazing; it considers a number of activities to fall under the umbrella of hazing. And yet, it only considers them. In this, Whitman implicitly recognizes there can be no catchall rule or set of rules for hazing – everything must be considered according to context. In the context of TKE initiation, the actions are considered in light of members’ analysis and understanding of the process, as well as outsiders analysis, and finally, and I think most importantly, the character-building outcomes of initiation.

    You use cognitive dissonance as a means of understanding the actions of TKE initiators and initiates; cognitive dissonance could also be used to understand your reaction to TKE initiation – “one desires something, finds it unattainable, and reduces one’s dissonance by criticizing it” – from Wikipedia. In addition, cognitive dissonance does not explain the actions of TKE initiators or initiates because every year initiation graduates a fine group of more aware, more capable, more creative, more compassionate and more together class of fraters. Surely, this is a positive outcome for all. Is it not?

    Initiation is a process that works wonders. I have never laughed as hard as in initiation. I have nowhere else seen such feats of creativity, ingenuity, compassion, selflessness, solidarity, devotion, diligence, and devotion. I could go on.

    I understand that you believe what you experienced at initiation is not justifiable under any context, but I am urging you to reconsider. Consider that you were at one time a pledge. Consider that your close Whitman friends joined and remain loyal to TKE to this day. Consider that you once thought TKEs were pretty cool, chill, down-to-earth guys. Consider that they are Whitman students, smart individuals. Consider that we have stated again and again that initiation is micro-organized. Consider finally that the overall purpose of initiation is not to put pledges through a torturous process simply because “it sucks, and I had to do it – so do they,” but what I said before: to develop within the pledge class ideas and emotions regarding respect, love, ethics, morality, commitment, strength, virtue, and ingenuity. These ideas are so big they demand to be challenged, and initiation intensely challenges them in the minds of all involved – active and pledge.

    To conclude, I urge you to consider what role rules, laws, and definitions play in our lives. These being man-made instruments of social order, they demand adherence and constant reconsideration. We have to abide by laws so a civil society can form, but we must also interpret and apply the laws carefully so our society can be as free, fair, and just as possible.

    If you flip to page 52 of the Whitman Handbook, in the section entitled Rights and responsibilities. There are two outlines, hazing and team building. It states:

    “Hazing… humiliates and degrades; tears down individuals; creates division; is exclusive; provokes lifelong nightmares; or encourages shame and secrecy. Hazing is a power trip.

    “Team Building… promotes respect and dignity; supports and empowers individuals; creates cooperation; is inclusive; invokes lifelong memories; and encourages pride and integrity. Team Building is a shared positive experience.”

    I understand where you are coming from Daniel, what you experienced can most definitely fall into the first category. But what I, Chad, Kyle and a number of others are repeatedly stating is that initiation also heavily and wholly falls into the second category – team building. I know it’s hard to view it in that light but initiation builds a pledge-class team, forging a powerful connection sure to last a lifetime.

    So we nix what’s considered hazing and keep the rest? Well I wont be the first to say that the power of initiation lies in its overwhelming difficulty. Again, if it were easy, or predictable, it would be meaningless. Obviously, TKE initiation falls in a gray area, so what do we use to determine our final consideration of the situation? Do we use a definition, or do we use the context?

    Thanks,
    Sam

    • @Sam,

      You and others are going to need to provide concrete examples of how initiation not only provides benefits but how the process provides it. You say that initiation helps develop within a pledge class, “ideas and emotions regarding respect, love, ethics, morality, commitment, strength, virtue, and ingenuity.” How does initiation do this? How do you accomplish it?

      To buy into your theory, we need specific. Such as, we did X to pledges and it resulted in Y. All I see are meaningless platitudes. Justifications really.

      Is it something like this: We made you line up in rows and columns and threw rotten, foul-smelling food at you, while a porn film was set on repeat and a brother ran around as a screaming baby, all while we yelled at you to keep in line because that helps foster love, respect, virtue and ingenuity? Or was that dignity building part of the initiation?

  12. Just saw your post browsing your blog after your presentation today. It sounds like what you went through as part of what could only be called a hazing ritual was awful.

    At George Mason University, I was a member of a Greek organization (AEPi) and we took a strong stance against such behavior. It was our policy then, and absolutely what I continue to believe now, that the process of initiation had the end-goal of creating brothers. People with whom we felt a fraternal obligation and who were part of, what was in a sense, a family outside and in some way beyond our blood relationships, but in many ways similar to those bonds.

    If our goal was to create brothers, we believed that our process should be to treat them like the brothers we hoped they would become. Yes, our pledges had responsibilities, but they were more educational (learning the history and traditions of our organization) than anything else. We had just as much a responsibility to them. The structure of our organization is democratic and, like must be in any democracy, all are equals.

    I know we all felt that if we could not treat our brothers or potential brothers as we wished to be treated, how could we expect them to work with us and to have our backs? Any organization that provides, at its entry point, degradation is sick.

    Fraternities are about brotherhood. It’s right in the name. It’s clear that the organization you were involved in had lost sight of that, severely so. Brothers are not only equal, they also have a responsibility to help and take care of each other. Hazing is a violation of the fraternal ethics that all Fraternities, regardless of affiliation, should share. Frankly, it doesn’t matter if someone went through the experience and came out of it feeling positively, or how carefully it was considered, the behavior itself is intrinsically against our values.

    Frankly, while the violations of both your University’s code and potentially laws are both atrocious, I feel that the violation of proper morality by an organization that should be most responsible for upholding high standards of ethics is horribly offensive and should be to any member of any Greek organization that upholds the values they claim to keep. When hazing like you’ve described here is reported, the structures that Greek organizations have in place should take action immediately. They shouldn’t wait for your University to render a decision. Both the Inter-Fraternal Council on your campus and the national organization of which TKE is part should move to penalize the group, by ejection, loss of recognition and the stripping of their status as an accredited part of the larger organization.

    When it comes to hazing, I believe, and I know the organization in which I consider myself a brother agrees with me, that the only policy is one of zero tolerance.

    The simple fact is that the very act of hazing (in and of itself, stripped of any other issues, questions, or considerations) is fundamentally incompatible with fraternal values. If the situation is presented in the way it has been presented here, there shouldn’t need to be a debate. There is no justification. If a Fraternity organization hazes, it should be punished. Severely.

    As a member of AEPi I can’t help but feel that bad behavior by any fraternity reflects badly on all fraternities. I hope that the proper penalties (dissolving the organization or, at the very least, removing the leadership and revoking their status as a full chapter) are put in place and that your experience does not permanently color your perceptions of all of us who have been involved in such organizations. As far as I know, what you experienced was not the norm, but a deviation.

  13. Ian Robertson says:

    Given your self-identification as an agnostic, why was the “Mr. God” incident so stirring? The Church regards your reluctance to embrace Christ as sacrilege. Why the outrage? I’m genuinely curious. (I’m a Unitarian, so I’m beyond saving.)

    I think the Stanford Prison Experiment reference is compelling. I also think it’s valid. Initiation is a psychological experiment. However, the active members of the chapter aren’t perpetually prison guards. In this experiment, the prisoners become the guards—a strange twist. I’m not defending this particular experiment as it stands. I simply want to point out a key difference.

    I think it’s terrible others have suffered as a result of the initiation process. I take you at your word this is the case. There should clearly be more disclosure ahead of time. Young people tend to embrace challenges that are beyond their capabilities. It’s a delicate balance.

    Ultimately, there is no “code of conduct” in life. Whitman prepares you to read the New York Times and succeed in society. The TKE house helped me understand death, friendship, time, faith, music, betrayal, love and humor.

    I wish you luck.

    • Sorry for the late reply… comment moderation got lost in the queue. To this question:

      Given your self-identification as an agnostic, why was the “Mr. God” incident so stirring? The Church regards your reluctance to embrace Christ as sacrilege. Why the outrage? I’m genuinely curious. (I’m a Unitarian, so I’m beyond saving.)

      I thought I explained it with this section:

      I am, however, quite against people abusing religion to create and reinforce oppressive power structures.

      To clarify further, in the case of the “Mr. God” incident, I thought it inappropriate for the TKE house to use religious constructs to create an environment of oppression. This is less about my religious beliefs and more about my morals. Much of the initiation experience was morally bankrupt.

      I wish you luck.

      Thanks, just hit 25 hours of flight time today with 8 touch and goes at Aurora and Molalla. Beautiful day to fly :)

  14. Robert Jefferis says:

    Daniel,

    I am greatly upset to read the story you have posted as this is not the initiation of Tau Kappa Epsilon International Fraternity, but rather the immature antics of a particular chapter of that organization. TKE has a very specific ritual and initiation spelled out clearly. It involves zero hazing, mental or physical harm or intimidation, or anything remotely related to what you experienced. I must say that standing up for what is sacred to you is an important lesson in this Fraternity, and a lesson that you obviously already know well. you seem like great TKE material, much more so than the idiot bouncing around like a baby who currently wears my letters. Again, I am sorry to learn of this experience of yours, to anyone reding this who is considering joining a Greek organization, or TKE specifically, realize that it is an indication of the way things were done at one chapter at one point in time. If you experience anything like this while as a candidate member or during initiation, stand up for yourself and if need be, contact TKE headquarters for help. This is not what MY beloved Fraternity stands for, we are here to build better men, for a better world.

    Also, as an airline pilot myself, best of luck with the flying!!
    Rob Jefferis
    Grand Pylortes
    Tau Kappa Epsilon International Fraternity

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