Hazing is overrated

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Monday, July 7, 2014


FRATERNITIES are once again fair game after the recent death of De La Salle-College of St. Benilde student Guillo Servando in a Tau Gamma Phi initiation rite. Even the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) has chimed in, with its president, Lingayen-Dagupan archbishop Socrates Villegas telling Catholic schools to expel teachers who recruit students into groups that practice initiation rites he describes as violent.

Before flogging Villegas, I would ask frat-lovers to consider that he isn’t after all “secret societies” existing in the campuses but only those that engage in violent initiation rites. So “secret societies,” which generally refer to frats, can still have initiation rites, also called hazing, as long as these are not violent. The term “violent,” though, has to be defined.

Which brings me to the point that Greek-letter groups are not bad per se. For one, they promote camaraderie and initiate socio-civic activities. Also, their existence is guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. What should be fought against is hazing, an activity that is a remnant of our barbaric and feudal past and should not have a part in a democratic setting.

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On that, I mean hazing in all its forms, including the seemingly harmless ones that serve the same purpose, which is to make membership or entry into a group or institution difficult--not really a democratic practice. And I also mean hazing that is practiced not only by fraternities but also by other organizations and institutions, like the Philippine Military Academy.

When I was in college, one big fraternity included in its initiation rites what is called in Europe as fagging. Neophytes were made slaves of their masters and forced to do menial tasks, sometimes in public. The master-slave dynamic is again a remnant of the slave system that was largely abolished with the ascendance of the feudal setup.

One study noted that hazing stems from the human tendency wherein a person would want to make it difficult for others to get to the level that he or she has reached. Hazing, therefore, is a matter of ego and not about strengthening camaraderie of a neophyte’s loyalty to a fraternity.

And death in hazing is usually the result of bullies being given a chance to do their thing to a neophyte.

When I asked many questions during an orientation for a frat in college, some of the frat members resented it. As a result, my decision not to join the frat’s initiation rites turned out to be the best one I made. The “bullies” were eager to inflict physical harm on me had I joined that barbaric ritual.

I ended up becoming a member of another “secret” organization that did not require me to undergo hazing to feel “in.” That group merely asked me for my commitment to “serve the people” even to the point of sacrificing my life for that service. The starting point of our unity was selfless dedication to our cause.

It was in that organization that I realized that a strong bond can be had if the members are working for noble things. And that bond can be strengthened even more when tested by adversities. By then, that bond ends up being as strong as or even stronger than the ties that bind you to the other members of your family.

I therefore think that the “benefits” of hazing are actually a mirage, especially in our practice of democracy. Thus it can be abolished without the bond that links members of an organization to one another being weakened. The strength of groups like fraternities or institutions like the PMA is not derived from hazing.

(khanwens@gmail.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on July 08, 2014.

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