It’s Pledge Week, which means that shirtless men are running down the street near Union College in wigs and women are marching to sex songs.
But many of them said they were horrified to read in Cosmopolitan magazine that a fellow student was humiliated and belittled when she pledged to Sigma Delta Tau three years ago.
“I was actually shocked by it,” said junior Julian Gendels, a member of Theta Delta Chi. Like every Greek member interviewed for this story, he had read the Cosmo article.
Another member of the fraternity, Nicholas Pierce, described the hazing in the Cosmo article as “a heinous side of Greek life.”
At his fraternity, pledges work together to solve challenges, he said. They aren’t allowed to drink.
“The whole point of keeping them sober is they have to work together to get something done,” he said. “We were dead sober together and I’ve never had so much fun in my life.”
In 2009, pledges of the fraternity made headlines when their brothers woke to find roadkill outside the frat house.
Union College’s newspaper, Concordiensis, reported that a member of the fraternity, who spoke under a condition of anonymity, said “pledges were sent out in a group accompanied by brothers to find things that would interest or impress the rest of the brothers.”
They chose the roadkill because it was an “impressive find,” the member said.
At Epsilon Chi, pledges are asked to divulge their deepest secrets, fears, hopes and dreams, fraternity members said. The goal is to help them bond with each other.
“They will live here next year. By the time they move here, they know each other in and out, they’re best buds. When they come to live here next year, we want it to be an amazing experience, just like it was for us,” said member Jack Moran, who is working closely with this year’s pledges.
Member Jack Newton said the point of pledging is also to help the brothers get to know the new members.
“Our pledging is about becoming friends with these guys,” he said. “They’re family now.”
Moran added that he’s clear on the rules.
“Hazing is anything that makes a pledge feel uncomfortable. I’m not talking about just emotionally, but physically too,” he said. “You can’t push people to do things. You can’t. The first rule we tell them is: There is nothing you have to do. Nothing.”
But they’ve all heard the horror stories, and they know some fraternities and sororities are still hazing, because organizations keep getting in trouble.
“We still hear stories of [organizations] being sent off campus,” he said. “Obviously, we’re trying to stay away from that.”
Much of the concern at Union College has focused on alcohol poisoning. The college bans pledges from drinking, and some members said their fraternity strictly sticks to that rule.
Gendels, who was shocked by the descriptions of hazing in Cosmopolitan, said he supported the no-drinking rule.
“It’s better for us. We don’t have peer pressure to force us to drink,” he said.
College officials have crafted a series of rules, over the last two decades, to crack down on alcohol abuse. They range from the pledging alcohol ban to requiring permits for on-campus parties to issuing wristbands at the door to those who can prove they’re old enough to drink.
But not everyone follows the rules.
Last year, a Union College student sued Chi Psi after he was punched by an intoxicated partygoer during a Pledge Week party.
Chi Psi was also suspended from 2005 to 2007 after a student had to be hospitalized with alcohol poisoning during Pledge Week 2004.
Members of the fraternity did little to hide their alcohol abuse. They posted a picture on their website showing their 2004 pledges with 40-ounce bottles of beer duct-taped to their hands.
In 2011, Delta Delta Delta sorority lost its housing and pledging privileges after four students got so drunk they had to be taken to a hospital. College officials said the students were hazed. It was the second time in recent years that the sorority was punished for hazing.
But they were just the most recent offenders. The sorority described in the Cosmopolitan article was also suspended for hazing in 1999.
Sigma Delta Tau was suspended for a year after members hazed pledges by making them wear costumes to class, which teachers said caused a distraction, and participate in a scavenger hunt to find three cans of beer. Alongside the beer was a note telling pledges to chug it.
In 1995, Delta Upsilon was expelled from Union over a hazing incident. It was the third time in 18 years that the fraternity had lost its campus housing privileges, and on this occasion, its charter and campus recognition was revoked.
A pledge reported to campus security that brothers goaded him to drink too much and then urinated on him. He walked out and took refuge in a friend’s dorm room, but the brothers came after him. Security was called to keep them from dragging him away.
Fraternity members disputed his description of the events. But the fraternity did not post a solid record after being kicked out.
In 1999, neighbors called police to report hearing gunshots at a house known to be used by Delta Epsilon.
Police found a student running from the house. He told them that members of the fraternity were shooting bottle rockets at him and other pledges.
He also said the underground fraternity was forcing pledges to drink and wrapping them in plastic wrap.
The student recanted at a campus hearing, saying that it wasn’t really hazing. But campus officials suspended one student for encouraging pledges to drink too much alcohol.