Sorority hazing is a practice in which new members (also referred to as “PNM – Potential New Members,” “Freshmen,” or “Pledges”) of a sorority undergo ritualized tests, tasks, or humiliations to be accepted into the community. It is often considered a tradition performed by older members to test and strengthen the loyalty, commitment, and cohesion of freshmen.
Sorority hazing can take various forms, including physical, emotional, or sexual abuse; forced labor; social isolation; public humiliation; degrading rituals; drug or alcohol coercion; and other humiliating or dangerous practices. It is important to note that sorority hazing is illegal and against the rules of many universities, colleges, and sororities themselves.
There are many ethical and legal concerns associated with sorority hazing. In some cases, hazing-related activities have resulted in serious injuries or even deaths of freshmen. For this reason, many educational institutions, sororities, and legal codes have taken steps to prohibit and combat sorority hazing.
Documented forms of extreme sorority hazing
There are several documented examples of sorority hazing at American universities. Here are some known cases:
Case at the University of Virginia (2010): In 2010, a sorority called Alpha Kappa Alpha at the University of Virginia was temporarily disbanded over allegations of hazing-related activities, including physical abuse and forced labor.
Case at the University of Alabama (2012): In 2012, the Phi Mu sorority at the University of Alabama was suspended over allegations of hazing-related activities, including excessive drinking and public humiliation of freshmen.
Case at Cornell University (2018): In 2018, the Zeta Beta Tau sorority at Cornell University was suspended for hazing-related allegations. It was reported that freshmen were subjected to physical abuse, degrading rituals, and forced labor, including drinking dangerous substances.
Case at the University of Arkansas (2010): In 2010, the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority at the University of Arkansas was temporarily disbanded over allegations of hazing-related activities, including physical abuse and forced labor.
Documented cases of sexual sorority hazing.
There is also evidence of sexual hazing of sororities in which newcomers were subjected to sexual harassment, coercion, or abuse. These incidents can range from verbal or gesture-based sexual harassment to physical sexual assault. Here are some examples:
Case at the University of Virginia (2014): In 2014, a sorority called Phi Kappa Psi at the University of Virginia was suspended over allegations of sexual hazing. It was reported that freshmen were forced to engage in obscene activities and were subjected to sexual innuendo and harassment.
Wesleyan University Case (2010): In 2010, the Rho Epsilon Pi Sorority at Wesleyan University was suspended for allegations of sexual hazing. It was reported that freshmen were subjected to sexual assault and coercion, including forced sexual contact.
Case at Florida International University (2006): In 2006, the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority at Florida International University was suspended for allegations of sexual hazing. It was reported that freshmen were subjected to sexual assault and sexual coercion.
Sorority hazing resulting in death
There are also, regrettably, numerous documented cases of fatalities related to sorority hazing. I list here the documented cases of sorority hazing resulting in death that I am aware of as of 2000:
Case at Cornell University (2000): In 2000, 18-year-old Shannon L. Martin, a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon Pi sorority at Cornell University, died after participating in a hazing-related drinking ritual. Martin was forced to consume large amounts of alcohol and suffered alcohol poisoning, which led to her death.
Case at California State University, Los Angeles (2002): According to a lawsuit filed by the family, Kristin High, and Kenitha Saafir spent several hours on the beach the night they died, doing calisthenics before running backwards into the ocean. Kenitha, who could not swim, was hit by a wave and knocked over. Kristin tried to save Kenitha. Both girls drowned. A lawsuit filed by the girls’ families alleged that the women were blindfolded, had their arms tied, and were wearing clothes and shoes when they entered the water.
Case at Plymouth State University (2003): Kelly Nester was killed in a car accident in which she and ten other sorority sisters were blindfolded and crammed into an SUV that lost control and overturned. An attorney for Nester’s family said, “It is believed that this was a punishment drive because some of the sorority sisters had not done some of the things required of them. The intent was apparently to either scare them or drop them off somewhere and force them to find their way home.” New Hampshire police said the driver may have been driving erratically, rocking the Jeep back and forth and locking the brakes. The fraternity was an unrecognized local fraternity made up of members who had either dropped out of or been kicked out of Alpha Sigma Alpha.
Case at East Carolina University (2010): Victoria Carter and Briana Latrice Gather died in a traffic accident around 6:30 a.m. while on their way to a hair appointment to prepare for commencement. Gather and Carter had undergone a series of hazing activities that week, including “Delta TV,” in which the candidates were forced to assume and hold a push-up position, do “wall sits” and maintain that position for an extended period of time, and do the “Delta Chair”: standing on one leg and holding heavy bricks above their heads. They also wore “Delta Lipstick,” which is hot sauce that they smeared on their lips, and ate a “Delta Apple,” a large raw onion; they were also told to eat large amounts of cottage cheese and drink buttermilk. The driver of the vehicle, a fellow student who survived, pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter by motor vehicle. The lawsuit filed by the family says she suffered from “excessive and overwhelming fatigue, exhaustion and sleep deprivation and fell asleep at the wheel because of the exercise.”
During the night and morning hours before the accident, the pledges had practiced the “testate death march,” an aspect of the initiation ceremony. Because of the hours of practice, they had no opportunity to sleep.
Case at California State University, Chico (2018): In 2018, 22-year-old Haley Theriault, a member of Sigma Alpha Zeta sorority at California State University, Chico, died after participating in a hazing-related drinking ritual. Theriault was forced to consume large amounts of alcohol and suffered alcohol poisoning, which led to her death.
Case at California State University, Fullerton (2019): On March 17, 2019, Bea Castro was allegedly doused with dangerous amounts of alcohol, hazed while visibly incapacitated and suffering. She was dropped on her head, held up and posed for photos with a garbage bag tied around her neck to catch her vomit, and left lying on her back in a bedroom gasping for air while CSP members continued to party. Castro was found in bed and not breathing. Emergency services were not immediately summoned. Instead, friends carried her to the car and drove her to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead shortly after arrival from “acute ethanol poisoning” with a blood alcohol content of 0.352. It was determined that Castro’s blood alcohol level hours earlier, when she was alive, was likely much higher and her body struggled to process the alcohol.
Case at Emory and Henry University (2020): Gracie LeAnn Dimit and other sorority sisters participated in an Emory and Henry College “The 500,” a tradition in which students drive various roads near campus very fast and dangerously, trying to drift the cars. Dimit was in the driver’s seat when the car skidded and hit several trees.
It is deeply tragic that such incidents have taken place and that young people have lost their lives as a result of hazing-related activities. It underscores the seriousness of the problem and the potential dangers of sorotiy hazing. It is critical to take action to prevent hazing, report allegations, and advocate for the safety and well-being of all students.