Have you read my disclaimer? If not, now’s a good time.
Note: I actually wrote this post about 2 months ago and never published it; however, in reflecting on the horrendous stories about Greek organizations currently in the spotlight, I revisited it and decided to go ahead and post it. Because, obviously, it’s still relevant. Just insert “OSU and Penn State” alongside Clemson University as necessary.
Tucker Hipps’s parents have every right to speak out and warn other parents “of college students who want to pledge a fraternity.” After all, what happened to Tucker is completely unacceptable. While it’s important to note that the official investigation is not yet complete, I personally accept the consistent stories of the students from whom I’ve heard on the matter. As anyone who went to college knows, there’s the official story, and there’s what all the students know to be true. In addition, it is well-known amongst those close to Clemson University and its student population that Greek life at Clemson is out of control–and has been for some time. Between alcohol-related injuries and deaths and accusations (often founded) of sexual assault and misconduct, it’s clear there’s a problem. With that said, I feel compelled to point out that what’s happening at Clemson is not indicative of what happens in Greek life across the country. Hazing is bad. Hazing can lead to death. That much is indisputable. However, that’s not the way it is in every fraternity or every sorority. It certainly wasn’t my experience as part of the Greek system. I pledged a sorority. And at no time was my life in jeopardy. At no time did someone ask me to do something that compromised my values, my integrity, or my safety. I did not experience the sort of peer pressure that Tucker reportedly did. Rather, I found in my sorority a support system of women who helped me navigate the college experience. As someone without a solid familial support system, this was incredibly important not only to my survival in college but also to my ability to thrive in college. In my sorority I also learned the value of giving back to the community and to those in need. I learned to speak up for myself and for the things I believe in. I learned not to settle for less than my best or less than what I deserved. Certainly, I experienced growing pains as I matured into adulthood; my sorority affiliation did not protect me from that. Rather, it nurtured my development. It helped me become who I am today. The women I met helped form the woman I am today. Some of them are still my strongest supporters, my closest confidantes, and the people upon whom I call in difficult and/or challenging times. I learned to accept that kind of love and support and to give it back. “To give much is to receive much” was our motto. And I learned to live by those words of wisdom during my time in my sorority. I was not just a part of my own sorority while in college; I was also part of the larger Panhellenic organization that governed all sororities and fraternities at my school. Our sorority worked closely with the fraternities within that organization, and we socialized with the men in those fraternities regularly. We dated those men, befriended those men. We pledged in the same semesters as them. We shared our experiences. Later, we shared in welcoming new members to our organizations. To say that hazing did not occur at all would be a lie, but to say that it happened in the ways it does within Clemson’s fraternal organizations today would also be a lie. I hear what my students and their friends do to join those organizations–the risks they take, and I advise them that compromising their principles or safety is never worth the friendships they may earn in so doing. That’s not just part of my job; it’s a part of who I am–based on what I believe. And that is a direct result of my own experience with Greek life. What happened on that bridge–and the subsequent cover-up by members of his fraternity–is not ok. There should be serious repercussions for all those involved–especially for the upperclassmen who forced a young man-via peer pressure–to do something that could potentially (and ultimately did) endanger his life. Fraternities at Clemson should be held accountable for their actions and their consistent and flagrant acts that violate the very principles of the organizations to which they belong. Because what they are doing is not what Greek life is about. It’s not what my sorority was (and is today) about; it’s not what the fraternities of my day/time/place were about. What happened to Tucker Hipps was unacceptable. But it is not representative of Greek life overall.