I joined Greek life for the wrong reasons.
It was my first day on campus. The freshman class was escorted to the south side of campus, past the football stadium, through the tailgate lot, and into the basketball arena where we sat down and listened to people on a stage talk at us. Somewhere between leaving my dorm and arriving to the arena, I met Matt.
Matt was a Senior who stood much taller than his 5’9” frame. Nick told me he “knows what it’s like being a Freshman guy here trying to find something to do.” We proceeded to talk, exchanged numbers, and he told me to shoot him a text if I was ever bored. He was in a fraternity and based on what I had heard my short time on campus, being involved in Greek Life was the only way to go.
Flash Forward: Twelve weeks later.
I’m walking into a small room with just one table and three chairs: two for the men in suits behind the table, and one reserved for me, facing them. The men in suits were representatives from the fraternity’s headquarters who flew into town to investigate the hazing accusations against the chapter I was pledging.
“Talk to us about your pledge process,” one asked.
I was told pledging was “the most fun you’ll never want to have again” when I rushed.
The details of my time as a pledge were as fresh in mind then as they are today. They included forced nights of drinking alcohol with my pledge brothers, learning names of pledge classes from years past, memorizing random fraternity facts, consuming various food concoctions, push-ups, sit ups, wall sits, and blindfolds. All for the sake of “brotherhood” and “unity.”
We would all get together in very dark rooms and the active brothers would tell us “nationals are coming down to initiate you early because you are the biggest pledge class on campus. Hell Week is canceled.” Five seconds of joy was quickly squelched by the screams of the active brothers saying “You don’t deserve our brotherhood.” Their reasoning? We didn’t go through hell week like they did. We spent the rest of that night begging and pleading with them to put us through “hell week” as soon as possible. “Because we did it” was the most common response whenever we dared to ask them why.
After a series of written interviews, video depositions, and in-person meetings with numerous pledges and brothers, the chapter was found guilty of the hazing charges. At the conclusion of the investigation the representatives from the fraternity’s headquarters decided to close the chapter and take the charter. All of the undergraduate brothers were suspended. The alumni specifically named in the investigation were suspended. And the most recent pledge class, my pledge class, were de-pledged and told we were not brothers of the fraternity.
At this point it had been six months since my pledge brothers and I accepted our bids and four months since our pledge process was halted after “pledging activities” caused the hospitalization of my pledge brother. It had been two weeks since we were told our pledge class was officially dissolved.
There were twelve of us remaining in the wake of our unusual first journey into Greek life. There were talks of our group going ‘underground’ and running our own local chapter (with none of the rights and privileges of legitimate Greek organization.) This is not what we wanted. This is not what we needed.
Meeting in a spare room of the Liberal Arts Building, the twelve of us, along with a few selected additions, discussed the merits of founding a new group on campus. Looking back, I often wonder what the heck we knew about starting a fraternity. All of us were products of a failed campus organization. It was an imposing amount of courage that propelled us into starting our own organization. One built on the idea that we could offer a better fraternal experience without hazing.
March: 12 members
May: 25 members
October: 41 members
April: 61 members
Twelve pledges who said no to hazing turned into a brotherhood of 61 in 399 days. This is the Iota Sigma chapter of Theta Chi Fraternity.
It wasn’t a scam (regardless of what other fraternities would say) and we weren’t just another fraternity. We built it from the ground up, and our foundation was based on one philosophy: we didn’t need hazing to build a great chapter. My experience taught me hazing made obedient pledges, not good brothers. Hazing was easy, but not effective. Hazing was exhausting, not energizing.
If we were to be a group that lasted a hundred years, our pathway to membership could not be built on the fragility of hazing. Hazing creates division between pledge classes. Hazing creates a culture of obedience rather than one of critical thinking. We had no interest in recruiting 18-year-old projects/liabilities. We existed to recruit good men and make them great…and it worked.
Consistency follows groups who do not haze. A chapter that does not haze consistently ranks among the top in recruitment each year. A chapter that does not haze performs well academically on a consistent basis. A chapter that does not haze consistently places in the top three in Homecoming and Greek Week every year since its founding. A chapter that does not haze is the first fraternity to win chapter of the year in a decade, several other awards on campus, and back-to-back Alter Awards.
Hazing has no place in my chapter because the Founders saw what hazing does to a group of men. You don’t build better men by breaking them down. Like a Division I football powerhouse, you build a great team by recruiting the best and developing their strengths to work for the team. We had a system that consistently won championships, so we recruited new members that would fit that system and perpetuate success. Recruitment became the easiest part of our jobs once the trophies came in and our reputation for winning got out.
Kevin Kutner, Field Executive