Greek Think: Pledging as a Social Contract?
Greek Think is for my random thoughts about the status of Black Greek Life. Hopefully, these discussions (Which I encourage people to post back to) can help me find story ideas for Beyond This Place. So please read and reply!
After church today, I went home and began to browse the Internet like I normally do. I was doing some searching for resources to put into my upcoming presentation and remembered a site that was full of controversy and dialogue. Juicycampus.com was introduced to me for the first time last semester and can easily be the quickest way to determine the social climate on any given campus in America AND is also the easiest way to destroy a healthy one. Because the post are anonymous people will go to great lengths to make their opinions heard under the banner of secrecy. I decided to entertain myself and read some of the post, mostly about childish things, but then came across multiple post for a specific University about Black Greek Letter Organizations and the difference between pledging vs. paper. While I refuse to personally talk about that specific topic in this online forum, It did spark some interesting dialogue on this anonymous website. Of course this underground physical and mental obstacle course had been made formally illegal in 1989 after the death of Joel Harris. Although mostly unacknowledged, the practice still continues today. What was interesting was the multiple post for this Universities Greek life openly discussed the difference between pledging and paper and included post from the general campus community and Black Greeks on the campus. “…i don’t get what ‘they went paper’ means?” one user posted. A swift response posted “it means that they just signed some damn PAPER then paid some damn PAPER!!! They don’t know s___ about the letters they wear and did not earn the right to wear em! thats what PAPER means…”. Other posted similar comments citing that somehow the persons involved had to prove themselves in the upcoming semester.
What was interesting to me was the huge stress on specific organizations on campus who pledged and who did not. I wondered to myself, Dang! People are putting out all this supposedly SECRET information out on the Internet for everyone else to read? What happened to discretion? The understanding that what ever happens in the house, stays in the house? What made it even worse was the other BGLO members were happily joining in on the dialogue. Now, I’m not claiming to be an authority in any way, shape, or form on how one should govern his/her organization, but I feel that the spirit of our BGLO founders would question this act. Are we not the SAME Greeks who took a pledge to uphold our organizations principles? I dont remember ‘slander and degradation of Black people’ being in MY oath. Unfortunately, the reality is so much dirty laundry was aired out in the open that it contributes to the NEGATIVE reinforcement that BGLO’s are NOT relevant in the 21st Century. But was the social structure around pledging always this way?
No. The picture above shows the newest pledges of the Alpha chapter of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc. (ΖΦΒ) after the first Sunday of their pledge process. These, and similar scenes like it, were the norm under legal pledge lines. There was no question about if someone was paper vs. pledged because they ALL pledged, and EVERYBODY knew it. Does this make it better? I thought about the post made on Juciy-Juice.com (a name given to the site by my Frat brother who said the site was for little children) and why the stigma of pledging was so important to a generation who had never witnessed the social responsibility of openly pledging another. The image above is one of my favorites I found at Howard University this winter. It’s honesty and openness is what has lead me to the theory that pledging, as defined prior to 1970′s, served as a social contract among the Fraternity/Sorority and it’s members. I believe that by having open pledge lines and experiences that the community was able to identify the prospective members and not only give them support publicly and privately, but also hold the current members of that Fraternity/Sorority ACCOUNTABLE for the aspirants well being and personal safety. Does this make it better? Well, when it was legal prior to 1989, there were still incidents of hazing, but I wonder now if new circumstances would allow for different outcomes. I can’t help to speculate on what would happen if those same guideline were true today.
University systems all across America have tightened their policies regarding pledging and hazing. Specifically some believe more so for BGLO’s. As one brother of mine put it, “They’re waiting for us to get caught committing suicide.” Would current cases of hazing cease to exist if the combination of University recourse and public accountability played a factor in how a current members choose to physically or mentally ‘test’ an aspirant for initiation? If guidelines were put in place that allowed for public display of potential members, bringing the old traditions of open air pledging back, what do you think would result in the new found responsibilities placed on the current members? Does this make it better? It would certainly blow up the whole paper vs. pledged conversation, and maybe that would allow us to start being responsible citizens who actually care about our aims. Regardless, the goal would be to get back to the times when our BGLO’s were never questioned, but asked.
Please Note: I am not making a suggestion on how things should or should not be done. I merly offer my thoughts for your consideration and feedback. Please process any of this WITH me: Juicy-Juice, BGLO responsibility, etc. You can reply to this post below by clicking the words “reply”.