I’m a Black Greek – having pledged one of the big Black Fraternities almost 30 years ago as a sophomore in college. I loved it and have fond memories of my fraternity time to this day. I loved the brotherhood, the camaraderie, the step shows, the parties (and yes, the honeys). It was a great experience and made my undergraduate years better – and a whole lot more fun.
But I also remember my pledge process. The fifteen weeks of sleep deprivation, hazing, physical abuse and abject subservience. I ended up with a chipped tooth and weeks of head to toe bruising. My time “On Line” spanned the better part of two quarters and the late nights (and many times “all nights”) and hazing associated with the pledge process caused me to drop several classes and to muster barely passing grades in others. My GPA dropped, I had many days where I could not sit down, and my time On Line definitely delayed my graduation and limited my graduate school options to some degree.
Therein lies the conflict.
It’s a conflict that I had personally resolved years ago. I deemed the physical punishment and negative academic impact to be part of the price of admission into the Fraternity – of the lifelong fun and brotherhood that results. After crossing, I wore my paraphernalia proudly, got branded, became the president of my undergraduate chapter. I also then subjected the next two Lines to much of the same type of punishment I endured.
But setting my personal peace aside, I am having a harder time reconciling this dichotomy now that my oldest son – MY child – heads off to college next year. It’s made me question whether I would want him to make the same tradeoff. Certainly his own priorities and decision-making will factor in, but do I want to encourage him to go through the pledge process? With the experience, wisdom and “eyes” that come with the passage of 30 years I have greater clarity about both the benefits and the risks.
I’ve seen the news stories (and internal Fraternity reports) about young men being permanently injured – and in a few instances killed – by hazing gone wrong. I am clear that testosterone-fueled 19, 20 and 21 year olds are not the best decision-makers generally, and that those limited abilities only get worse when alcohol, ego and mob mentalities get involved. I recognize that while I want my son to enjoy brotherhood and to have friends in college – my first and highest priorities are for him to: 1) be safe; and 2) graduate with the broadest array of future options open to him.
But I loved being in my Frat. I truly loved it. I loved my line brothers. I loved hanging on the yard in my gear. I loved the recognition that came within the campus community. I love giving back to the community. I loved the feeling apart of a large family. I loved the parties. I loved knowing I had folks who always had my back. I loved stepping. I loved it all. I still love my Brothers. I don’t want to deprive my son of any of this – but I want him to be happy and to come back home from college safely.
I don’t know where I will ultimately land. I have less than a year to figure it out – and then will need to have a candid conversation with him. I love many things about being a Black Greek. I just want to avoid a Black Greek Tragedy at all costs.