An alcohol ban is not the (whole) solution
Last week, the North-American Interfraternity Conference (NIC) approved the implementation of a ban prohibiting hard alcohol from fraternity chapter facilities and events, with the new standard being implemented by September 1, 2019.
After the announcement of the ban this week, the bold move by the NIC was (deservedly) praised for being a much needed, albeit long overdue, step in the fight against hazing and other alcohol-related issues that have plagued fraternities throughout their history. In the wake of what may have been fraternities' deadliest year on record, the collective call for a significant changes was deafening.
But make no mistake: this is only a step toward a solution, not the be-all, end-all solution.
In my new book, "Building Up Without Tearing Down," I describe in detail my own experience with hazing. At the time, in order for fraternities to comply with a policy requiring first-year students to live in approved housing on campus (unless they were living with their families), the fraternity houses agreed to become alcohol free facilities. In an effort to enforce that policy, it was not uncommon to see campus security officers walking fraternities' hallways at every time of day.
In spite of a clear policy and an intrusive enforcement protocol, not only did I and others experience hazing multiple times throughout my first semester (and the early weeks of the second semester) in that organization, but almost all of it was fueled by large amounts of alcohol.
As a matter of fact, as new members we could oftentimes forecast a night of interrupted sleep as the hazers-to-be became louder and louder as they consumed mass quantities of alcohol in the basement or in the parking lot adjacent to the house in the hours preceding the hazing that would follow.
In addition to my own experience, there have been many public and private accounts of hazing at my alma mater since I joined that organization back in 1998, demonstrating that even with a 20-year implementation of a prohibition of alcohol in fraternity houses on that campus, hazing persists.
The axiom, "Where there is a will, there is a way," comes to mind, and it brings with it some extremely powerful psychology.
Think of it this way. On a campus of thousands of students, a subset of the campus population are members of a collection of organizations with comparable histories, language, missions, secrets, and structures. Evolutionary biology explains why the subset of people in those organizations share a stronger bond with each other than they do with the larger campus population, and the "Greek community" is born.
Within this collection of organizations, each individual organization has its own unique history, language, mission, secrets, and structure, which of course results in an even stronger bond among the members of each individual organization. More than that, the group's unique history, language, mission, secrets, and structure is shared with other organizations throughout the United States. When those members gather, they can immediately bond with people who would otherwise be strangers.
But what do you think would happen if an even smaller subset of that organization had a history, language, and set of secrets all its own that it kept from even the other members of its organization and its national leadership?
If you have any doubt about what would happen, look no further than the challenge campuses and national organizations face in eradicating hazing at the chapter and individual organizational level.
Our own biology as human beings works against us, based on the psychological principle referred to as the "justification of effort." In basic terms, the more energy we invest in something, the more that thing means to us and the more fiercely and stubbornly we will protect it.
When a group invests so much energy protecting its hazing secrets (obscuring them also from campus and national leadership, not to mention family, friends, and the general public), it should come as no surprise that the "will" to haze will persist through the clearest policies, the most intrusive enforcement protocols, and the strictest punishments.
But the "Where there is a will, there is a way" truism not only points us to the problem, it also guides us toward a deeper solution.
As long as we fail to address the collective will of fraternity men to engage in hazing and tear down their members, we will not win the fight against hazing.
As long as the myths and pseudo-psychology that drive hazing are not dispelled, we will continue to see deaths and serious injuries from hazing.
And as long as members of our organizations believe hazing will deliver on some very big promises about what the experience will give them, we will suffer the consequences of the destructive and dysfunctional practices those organizations employ.
The need to build up our members without tearing them down could not be more clear or more desperate after years of increasingly dangerous hazing in organizations throughout the country and world. A ban on hard alcohol, regardless of the depth of its intention or the strength of its enforcement, will not solve the problem of hazing in organizations.
The only solution is to change the desire to haze itself, and it starts with a commitment to provide the men in our organizations with a challenging, meaningful, but most importantly, positive rite of passage.