On Friday, March 7, 2014, Sigma Alpha Epsilon announced that it is going to discontinue its pledge program and initiate brothers immediately upon signing a bid.
For those of you who don't know, when a new prospective member signs a bid to a fraternity — in most cases — he becomes a pledge. For weeks or months (depending on the chapter), the new pledge must learn the history of his new fraternity and gain respect from the other brothers before being entrusted with fraternal secrets and membership, which in SAE's case boasts about 158 years of age.
Now, instead of pledging, the new members — of which are unbeknownst to a majority of the brotherhood other than through rush events — are immediately entrusted with secrets that previous members for more than 158 years worked hard over 8-12 weeks and sometimes more to become worthy of.
"The Dark Power of Fraternities" is an article by Caitlin Flanagan in The Atlantic, which, despite its name, is actually not a complete tirade on local chapters.
Struggling to differentiate the title's application to either the lazy "parallel to the ground" lifestyle of a stereotyped frat boy or some dark occult practice more likely to be found on a Dungeons and Dragons card, the term dark power is, to my understanding, more of a jab at the neglect of national fraternities than it is an assault on witless college dummies that gain scrupulous media attention.
After thorough reading of the article, SAE's announcement almost seems like a response to Flanagan's illustration of the fraternity world's half-hearted attempt to actually stop the hazing problem — by which I mean injuries, deaths and more potently, lawsuits.
So, without argument, these brothers are expected to trust, through a week or so of rush events, unknown new affiliates with a foundation close to their heart and immediately donate brotherly equality to — in relative time — a complete stranger.
I don't believe it takes much common sense of a national sanction officer to realize that either the fraternal organization's selectivity and secrets will diminish in meaning, or that John Doe and his pledge brothers are going to say "yes, sir," shake hands, and continue doing exactly the same thing anyways to their new "brothers."
The national organization will flourish in its renewed vows in public relations and, as Flanagan's story attests, probably abandon the inevitable dissenting chapters for fear of losing insurance.
However, my dispute isn't with the isolated local chapters' new acquisition of risk. My disagreement is against the army of mothers and fathers who honestly believe that pledging is a problem, when it is undoubtedly a necessary prerequisite present throughout all aspects of life, only packaged in another box and wrapped with a different ribbon.
Let me make myself clear – I do not support hazing. If pledging is a political ideal, hazing is the radical wing of the balance that tips the beam between rational morality and complete disobedience. It is the confused thought that mental durability and "manliness" can be tested by physical means. Hazing has led to many injuries, deaths and lawsuits; above all, it does not in any way reflect the worth of an individual.
But pledging is much different.
Pledging is an individual's opportunity to prove worthiness. It is a process to learn, to see and to become through desire. Obviously this 158-year-old process has some success, boasting a high number of Fortune 500 owners, political figures and even U.S. presidents.
It is not supposed to make a particular individual feel small, but rather provide comprehension on how much bigger the world is. A world that isn't inviting like a parent's arms, a world that needs brothers to help you through.
So, before the angry mob with pitchforks and fire charge toward me to "protect their sons' well-being," maybe consider that the pledging process is doing just that.
Don't let the media transform earning your stay into becoming their prey. Respect is never given without effort, nor should it be.
Cullen Hamelin is a junior in chemistry. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.