It’s taken me a while to admit that I was a victim of hazing, but given the recent tragedy that has befallen my beloved Florida A&M University I think it is time that I, and many others, speak out.
Audition. Selection. Initiation. These are the three stages that many university students know they must pass before they can consider themselves members of an organization. The excitement of the audition and selection is soon met with trepidation once once finds out that they will be tested, required to show that they truly have what it takes to belong.
The night that my “process” began I knew that I was entering murky territory when it came to my safety and security. I knew that there was a high likely hood that I would be hazed, and yet I still went. The fact that I wasn’t alone played a heavy role in my going through with it. I was, after all, one of many who had met up in the parking lot that night to prove we had what it took to truly be a member of the organization. It was clear to us all that making it pass auditions was not what granted one the right to say that they were in the organization, but rather the passage of the initiation phase, the “process.” Here we would be verbally, physically, and mentally assaulted all in our quest to belong to the organization that had appealed to us so much.
So, there in the apartment of one of the older members, we began our “process.” There was yelling, of course, lots of yelling. There was verbal abuse from every angle. Our deepest insecurities and oddities were leveled at us to expose our weaknesses. Odd shaped head, funny shaped noses, stutters, dark skin, coarse hair, male femininity, and female masculinity all became targets for our ridicule. We were expected, of course, to withstand this, to let it roll off our shoulders. Apparently, our ability to withstand this treatment was proving our worth to the organization.
The abuse did not stop there, though. On top of the verbal abuse, we were also subjected to various forms of physical abuse. Under the guise of “physical training,” our bodies were pushed to their limits. Forget a founders name? 25 push ups. Forget the name of a previous line? Hold a squat for 10 minutes. On the surface these may seem like easy tasks, but the “process” always entailed us starting and stopping at any time, so that if you did 20 pushups, but failed to execute 21, you had to start over. And this would go back and forth until someone physically couldn’t go on, and even then that wasn’t certain to get you a reprieve.
The “process” was supposed to last a little over a week, but I only made it halfway. We were knee deep in verbal and physical abuse, and two of the old members enacting this cruelty on us were keying in our our perceived weaknesses. My weakness, it was decided, was my femininity. And, so, I was repeatedly taunted and bashed in regards to my perceived sexual orientation, and lack of “masculinity.” I put up with this throughout the night, but at some point I had had enough. Me and the rest of the line were doing some physically painful activity, and, I, alone was being taunted. If their goal was to “break my back,” they did. I stood up, with tears in my eyes, and said that I can’t take anymore of this. I was tired of being verbally and physically abused all in the name of joining an organization. If I thought I would be joined by my fellow line members, I was wrong. None of them came to my side, and none came to my defense. They were concerned with making it into the organization, and they weren’t going to let their previous abuse be in vain by quitting with me now, so they remained silent. The drunken men doing the hazing didn’t seem to care about my protest, and simply told me to leave. After all, they didn’t want me in their organization anyway.
After I had left the site of the hazing, I found myself alone on a dark street. I didn’t have a car, as first year students weren’t allowed to have them, so I had no way of getting home. Fortunately, I was able to call one of my friends and they were able to pick me up off the side of the road. Over the next few days I had to deal with the cold shoulders of some of my fellow line members. I did, however, receive some support after the fact from others on the line. They admitted that I had received harsher treatment, and that they had wished that they could have stood along me, but they were scared. The thing about hazing is that it warps people’s mentalities. It’s very difficult to think straight in a climate of hazing because right/wrong becomes very blurry to the point of invisible. Is it choice? Is it force? Is it abuse? Is it exploitation? Is it will? These questions seem to linger, but never get answered. It’s as if everyone else expects someone else to answer them, but ultimately no one does.
I’ve read that victims of abuse often rationalize their abuse, and I certainly know this to be true. The days following my hazing were filled with feelings of shame, lack of self worth, and guilt. I asked myself why I, unlike the others, hadn’t had the strength to continue on? Was I weak? I felt really ashamed of the fact that I hadn’t been able to withstand the physical and emotional abuse that others had.
I never went to university officials about my hazing. I am not alone. I met many students over the course of my time at Florida A&M University, and other colleges, that had been hazed, and who had not spoke out. Who wants to be seen as the one who couldn’t take the heat? Who couldn’t prove their loyalty? We are told that it is a defeating position to not endure hazing. The culture is setup so that those who accept hazing are the majority voice, the ones considered sane, but those who reject it are considered outcast and misfit.
It’s unclear whether hazing, itself, took the life of Robert D. Champion. It is clear, however, that a culture of violence exists in higher education, and it isn’t being addressed seriously enough. I was one of the lucky ones. I was able to see the situation for what it was, and get myself out of it, but many do not. Going forward, I hope that many others are able to assess whether or not hazing is really worth it, whether it is worth losing your life? Is any organization ever that important? When people are dying to belong, we have a serious problem.