Back at my alma mater, the University of Michigan (UM), parties and pledging activities at most of the school’s fraternities have been temporarily suspended, joining other colleges across the U.S. who are seeking to put a halt on frat excesses that have led to sexual misconduct, alcohol and drug abuse and yes, even deaths.
UM’s Interfraternity Council, the overseer of 27 chapters on the campus, has put a hold on all social events including parties and mixers, as well as pledging activities for an indefinite period. The suspension falls on the heels of the recent deaths of two pledges at Florida State University and Penn State University, respectively. However, UM’s four predominantly Black fraternities remain free to continue hosting social events as they are part of a different overseer, the National Pan-Hellenic Council.
I guess I have to say I’m glad since I pledged and crossed the burning sands of Alpha Phi Alpha on April 7, 1979, becoming a proud member of the nation’s oldest Greek letter organization in my freshman year. Did hazing go on during my 93 days on line? It most certainly did. In fact, after one particularly “strenuous session,” I remember calling home to speak to my father because I had had enough.
Ironically, my dad, who had never pledged, told me that if they’d put their hands on me, I had better see things through to the end. “Don’t give them the satisfaction of abusing you and then give up, getting nothing more for your troubles than a bruised behind,” he told me.
And so, I stuck it out, losing a few pounds, suffering from sleep deprivation, being forced to cut off my beard and mustache and yielding my treasured freedom for three long months. But when I put that black and gold T-shirt on and was taught the secret handshake and other brothers-only rituals, I believed then, and now, that it was worth the struggle.
Of course, many of the antics and expectations of the pledge process have changed since then and for the better. Pledge periods are required to be much shorter, striking young men with paddles has been banned and forcing the excessive consumption of alcohol is strictly prohibited. Still, brothers can become a bit overzealous when new pledges are under their control. But after facing lawsuits and suspensions in the past because of injuries or deaths that occurred during the pledge process, the Alphas, as well as the nation’s other Black fraternities and sororities, have realized that brotherhood and sisterhood should not include potentially life-threatening activities. We used to look at some of the white frats on the yard in total astonishment, unable to fathom why getting drunk to the point of passing out seemed to be such a routine activity. But the beat went on — for the white frats at least. Perhaps we’re finally seeing a day where white privilege can no longer be invoked to excuse stupidity. To that, all I can say is, it’s about time.