Hazing in Black Greek Lettered Organizations: A Symbolic Interactionist Study


Black Greek Lettered Organizations have provided many opportunities for students since their inception.  They have been integral in the lives of many cultural icons such as Martin Luther King Jr., Maya Angelou, and Shaquille O’Neal.  Hazing is slowly but surely ripping these organizations apart as their relevancy and purpose on college campus around the country is being questioned more and more.  This is due to a string of deaths and charges in related to the membership intake process of these organizations.  The purpose of this study was to understand hazing and the meanings members of BGLOs attribute to it through the eyes of a symbolic interactionist.  Results showed hazing is not integral to validating membership into a BGLO and no different meanings were associated to those who were and were not hazed.  Results also showed a positive trend towards discussing hazing amongst members of BGLOs, whom are known for their secretive nature.


The purpose of this study is to examine what meanings members of Black Greek Lettered Organizations (BGLOs) associated with hazing and if it is considered to be an important tool towards the socialization of “real” members, whom are considered members whom have had to earn their place within their organization and whom garner a higher amount of respect from other, or “paper” members, whom are members whom where brought into the organization in accordance to national guidelines and are considered to have not earned their letters and garner less respect from other members.  Literature regarding how effective hazing is at building a bond is reviewed and summarized as well as literature regarding how important the socialization of new members is in regards to how they make meaning of the intake process.  Finally literature regarding how overarching organizational beliefs can affect individual member’s perceptions of certain topics is also reviewed.

Research Problem

Hazing in BGLOs

Black Greek-lettered Organizations or BGLOs are currently fighting a battle against the hazing culture that has plagued these organizations for decades, and with new lawsuits and hazing incidents against these various organizations coming up every semester it is now time for these organizations to make a real effort at eliminating hazing from their culture and background.  Fox News has reported the efforts made by National Action Network and Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. in their joint campaign to stop hazing.  These efforts are highlighted by a media campaign “that will include radio ads on ESPN, print advertising, an Aug. 11 town hall on hazing at the Marriott Executive Center in Charlotte, N.C., and a National Anti-Hazing Day on Sept. 6.”  Kimbrough (2005) made the suggestion of the abolishment of undergraduate chapters of BGLOs because of the threats that hazing presents to the organizations.  He cites the fact that since pledging was outlawed in 1990 there has been an average of 4 media reports on hazing per year, and since 1999 that number has risen to 7 per year.  The idea of the abolishment of undergraduate chapters of these organizations has been brought up by the national leaders of these organizations (Kimbrough 2005).

The history of hazing in BGLOs is very deep as explained by Parks (2012). Parks explains the deaths of multiple students who were attempting to join a Black Greek Fraternity and the causes of these deaths which ranged from being beaten, forced to do a plethora of physically demanding exercises, and the overconsumption of alcohol.  Parks also cites the response to these deaths by the National Pan Hellenic Council (NPHC), the governing body of 9 BGLOs, in which they collectively put a stop to pledging and hazing.   However, even after this ban was placed into effect students were still being hazed and the effects of these actions were still being felt with the deaths of multiple students across the nation (Parks 2012).  With the continued reports of hazing in these organizations and the continued deaths of students many have tried to come up with a solution for this current issue with some of them being the destruction of undergraduate chapters of these organizations.

Kimbrough (2005) proposes that intake for these organizations be stopped for five years and these organizations order task forces to understand the pledging and intake processes to make a new system that will work in creating a pledging that is hazing free.  After this is created the undergraduate chapters must follow this new intake guide or have their chapters taken away permanently.  If this does not work then undergraduate chapters must be abolished in his opinion.  Jones (2004), a professor at the University of Louisville and member of a Black Greek Letter Organization(BGLO) has written in his book, Black Haze: Violence, Sacrifice, and Manhood in Black Greek-Letter Fraternities, , “Violence of this type has become integral in BGFs because it is now regarded as an important tool in the construction of black male identity and manhood.”


My communication phenomenon is important to study because, as Kimbrough (2003) pointed out, without a solution to the issue of hazing there will be continued “harm, injury, and death to students, as well the continued lawsuits against black fraternal organizations.”  These organizations were all founded on the betterment of the African American population and its members were and are important figures in our society, without these organizations present on college campuses, great leadership skills and opportunities will be denied to those whom would have become members of BGLOs.

Literature Review

The Effectiveness of Hazing at Building a Strong Bond

Researchers have studied the effectiveness of hazing at building a strong sense of cohesion among those being hazed and at creating dedicated members to the organizations in which they are joining (Raatle, Cornelius, Linder, & Brewer, 2007; Rogers, S., Rogers, C., and Anderson 2012).  These researchers have found that hazing is not an effective tool for building a strong sense of unity and camaraderie amongst members and that it has no bearing on continued organizational commitment beyond the undergraduate experience.  Hazing has proven to be ineffective at fostering a strong interpersonal relationship between those being hazed and it has proven to be ineffective at creating members who will stay active in BGLOs past the undergraduate level.  Raatle, Cornelius, Linder, Brewer (2007) attempted to examine whether or not hazing was an effective tool at building team cohesion by testing various athletes by having them take several questionnaires that measured the cohesiveness of a team, the means by which new members are initiated, the social desirability of a group or team, and finally to collect information about who participated in the study. What was found was when athletes were socialized using activities that are permitted and are acceptable by law, they were shown to have more team cohesion than when athletes were hazed.  The researchers found, “Hazing is associated with less, not more, team cohesion.” (Raatle, et. al. 2007)  This shows that hazing is an ineffective tool at building cohesion and camaraderie within a group.

The ineffectiveness of hazing was also reported by Rogers, S., Rogers, C., and Anderson (2012) who examined whether “pledging”, a term that carries the negative or positive connotation of hazing, could be linked to continued membership among members of organizations who had graduated from their respective institutions.  They conducted this research by analyzing graduated members of BGLO fraternities’ responses to a survey about membership trends in fraternities.   The researchers found that there were no links between pledging and alumni level organizational membership among members of BGLOs.

These studies show that hazing is not an effective tool at building a strong sense of group cohesion and it is does not have any effect on organizational commitment pass the undergraduate level.  It shows that hazing is not a very important tool in the socialization of new members of BGLOs.

Organizational Socialization of New Members

The importance of the socialization of new members into organizational cultures has yielded similar results in terms of determining the importance of the socialization of new members and how it will predict their organizations once in an organization (Bach, 1990; MacLean, 2008).  These researchers have found that organizational behavior is dependent on how members are socialized into the organizations.  Bach (1990) studied a particular Greek-lettered organization and how they socialized their new members in accordance with that organization’s rules, values and preferred patterns of behavior.  What was found was there is a need to expand the socialization model that had been previously framed with how new members socialize into an organization.  Bach (1990) proposes that a validation feature, in which newcomers validate their commitment to the organization by creating ideas about how they should act in the organization and using these actions when around older members and people whom aren’t in the organization, be added into the model based off of what she observed.  This research shows the importance of how new members are brought into their organizations and how it will shape their actions within the organization after the older members depart.  Members whom were hazed will continue to haze to validate to the older members of the organization that these “traditions” will live on in their specific chapters.

MacLean (2008) also researched how important the socialization of new members is and how it determines their actions once in an organization when he examined how organizational misconduct occurs using the symbolic interactionist point of view.  This was done by analyzing data using qualitative methods and theory grounding techniques.  This data came from previously recorded data and documents gathered by law enforcement for the investigation that resulted from the investigation of illegal practices used by the Acme Insurance Company.  Interviews with former employees of the company and a report created by a team of insurance regulators investigating the issues were also collected and analyzed.  The results found that organizational misconduct among members of a large insurance company that was found to have employees practicing unethical means of selling insurance were caused by the definitions of the situations that were shared by the employees of the company and this is what lead to the employees having a view of the environment that promoted the use of unethical tactics as the norm.  Hazing is not allowed by any BGLO but it is still continued and this could be because it has been established as the norm code of conduct and perpetuated by those who experienced it when they were socialized into the organizations.

These two studies have shown us that what members’ perceptions of organizational norms and their actions within an organization are based upon how members are socialized into the organization.  In relation to this study it shows that hazing will be perpetuated by members of the organization as a means to “validate” their organizational commitment to their older brothers or sisters and that they will see it as the normal way of conducting the intake process.

Organizational Effects on Members

Research shows organizational thinking and beliefs will often have effects on how individual members feel about issues, behavioral patterns, and how they view the world as a whole (Drout & Corsoro, 2003; Hall & LaFrance, 2007;).  Drout and Corsoro (2003) examined whether or not Greek affiliated students had different perceptions of hazing then non-Greek students.  This study was conducted by having male and female students who come from both Greek and non-Greek backgrounds take part in an experiment in which the participants examined a hazing incident that included an alcohol overdose.  The experiment had four conditions that involved whether the alcohol was consumed voluntarily or involuntarily and whether it was forced by a “regular” fraternity brother or the president of the fraternity.  They found students who are in Greek letter organizations have shown to have higher levels of authoritarianism, or compliance with power structures, then students who aren’t in Greek-letter organizations.  Drout and Corsoro (2005) also found that when those being hazed did so voluntarily more responsibility was assigned to the victim.   This study shows the differences in the perceptions of hazing between Greek and non-Greek students.  The shift in the mindset after becoming Greek could be examined.

How Greek affiliation affects individual member’s beliefs was also studied by Hall and La France (2007), who studied how members of fraternities viewed homosexual members using the social adjustment function, which states that individuals in an organization will align their personal beliefs and outlooks with that of the organization as a whole.  This study was conducted through the use of questionnaires given to fraternity men who align their personal characteristics to that of the fraternity as a whole, to measure how they felt about homosexual fraternity members. What they found that was that the social adjustment function does play a role in how members of a fraternity feel about homosexual members of a fraternity.  This proves that members of an organization will align their beliefs with that of the organization as a whole so that if everybody else in a chapter is for hazing then those whom aren’t will still align their beliefs and actions with the rest of the organization.  The social adjustment function could be applied to hazing by examining whether individual undergraduate chapters as a whole have a pro or anti hazing stance and how this affects the individual members of the chapters and how they feel about hazing.  If the chapter has a pro hazing mindset then individuals within the chapter could adopt those beliefs to better align themselves within the chapter.

These studies show how organizational beliefs can effect individual member’s beliefs.  If a majority of members within an organization make a stand against or for hazing then it will likely play a role in how other members of the organization internalize their feelings about hazing.

Justification of the Research

Research shows that hazing is an ineffective tool in terms of socializing members into the organizations and building a close sense of brotherhood/sisterhood and cohesion.

Research also shows how members interpret what they are doing and how they act is based in part on how they are socialized into the organizations.  They will act and think in accordance with the norms that are established while they are being socialized and the overall view of the group and if these are both for hazing then individuals will also align their belief system and actions in line with a pro hazing stance.

Research has yet to be done on how being hazed is viewed among members of BGLOs, which is important because of their effect on African American student involvement on college campuses.  Patton, Bridges, and Flowers (2011) examined whether or not membership in BGLO’s had any effect on undergraduate African American student involvement by using data collected by the NSSE, an organization that collects data from students at institutes of higher learning, that selected 350, and found Greek affiliation does have a positive effect on African American students and how integrated they are in their campuses.

Also, a study on why people shift their viewpoints on hazing after they enter into Greek letter organizations has yet to be done.

My research will focus on how members of BGLOs view different forms of hazing and if hazing and being hazed plays a factor in the validation of membership into a BGLO.

Research Questions

Research on hazing in BGLOs is still in its infant stages as there is not a lot of research as to why members of BGLOs haze and the effects it has on its members.  While doing research many of the studies I came across viewed hazing from a non-BGLO point of view and viewed hazing as the forced over consumption of alcohol.  Alcohol is very rarely a factor in BGLO hazing cases and paddling, physical assault and being forced to do physical exercises are more common place within these organizations. This study can be considered an expansion on the work of MacLean (2008) and Rogers, S., Rogers, C., and Anderson (2012).  The rest of the literature reviewed was to frame the effectiveness of hazing and how organizational beliefs can effect individual beliefs on topics.  The purpose of this study was to find out if the current culture of BGLOs promotes a shared definition of hazing among its members, the meanings and importance members of BGLOs place on different types of hazing, and finally if being hazed validates membership into a BGLO and if others view members differently based on if they were hazed or not.

RQ 1: Does hazing validate membership into a BGLO?

RQ 2: Does the culture and membership intake process of BGLOs promote hazing among its members?

RQ 3: Do members of BGLOs use different forms of hazing to validate membership into BGLO?


The participants of this study were 12 members of BGLOs.  They were recruited to participate in this study through links placed in Facebook groups exclusive to members of BGLOs and through an email sent out to members at a small south eastern Predominantly White Institution (PWI).  The targeted population at this university totaled 26 eligible participants.  The only qualification to participate in this study was membership in a BGLO.  The unit of analysis was the meanings and importance members of BGLOs placed on different forms of hazing and if hazing effected how they viewed other members of BGLOs.  Participants consisted of both male and female due to BGLOs consisting of both fraternities and sororities.

I used an online anonymous survey created on SurveyMonkey.com to gather the data needed for this research.  This survey consisted of 16 questions and the survey took no longer than 20 minutes for any participant to complete.  This method was appropriate for the research questions I investigated because the anonymity online surveys provide allow for more open and honest answers.  Members of BGLOs are notoriously secretive with their new member intake process, it is common place for nobody on the campus to know who is joining an organization until they have a probate or new member show, and this makes gaining information about a topic such as hazing very difficult.  This survey allowed for respondents to answer more openly and honestly to the questions provided.  Questions were developed based off of previous conversations and sessions about hazing as well as notable hazing cases from the past years.  Respondents were asked about the importance of paddling, physical exercises, and alcohol and the membership intake process.  Respondents were also asked questions which measured the importance of hazing in the validation of membership.

Data was analyzed by downloading the responses into a spreadsheet and then creating graphs based off of how participants responded to the survey.  These graphs were then studied to identify trends in how participants responded and conclusions were drawn based off of the results of these graphs.  Responses were also compared and ranked based on how many participants responded to a question in that manner.  When looking at the data, the researcher viewed the responses through the lens of the symbolic interactionism theory to see how the data can be used to help understand the meaning hazing and being hazed have assigned with them.


Hazing in Black Greek Letter Organizations is a controversial topic but this research shows that many individuals whom are members of these organizations have similar beliefs and ideas when it comes to hazing and its role in the socialization and validation of membership into a BGLO.


















Paddling has been a part of the mainstream media’s interpretation of hazing as well as apart of nearly every hazing allegation, which has been brought forth in the past couple of years, however, over half of survey respondents did not believe this action was an important part of the socialization of new members into BGLOs. Over 90% of the survey takers also disagreed with the statement, “Being paddled validates membership into a BGLO.” These responses also extended into hazing which involved alcohol in which 100% of respondents either disagreed or strongly disagreed with the idea of alcohol being important in the socialization of new members and the validation of membership into BGLOs.

These results were more varied when respondents were asked about the role of physical exercises such as pushups and wall sits and how they relate to the socialization and validation of membership; 41.7% of respondents agreed with the statement, “Being asked to perform physical exercises such as pushups and wall sits is an important aspect of the socialization of new members into a BGLO”, and 16.7% felt these actions do validate membership into BGLOs.
The ability to recite information and poems about an organization at a rapid pace, also known as “spitting information”, was found to be the most important aspect of the socialization of new members into BGLOs according to these studies with a third of respondents strongly agreeing with the statement, “Being required to recite poems and information about an organization at a rapid pace is an important aspect of the socialization of new members into a BGLO.” Over 50% of respondents also believed “spitting information” is a tool which can be used to validate membership into a BGLO.

















Respondents felt hazing isn’t an important tool in the education of new members into BGLOs with 75% feeling it is not an important tool.  The secretive nature of BGLOs and the new member education process and if it promotes hazing within BGLOs was indecisive as there was parity in the responses, but more than half of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, “The current culture of BGLOs promotes hazing.”  Parity was also found in responses to the statement, “Hazing instills a greater sense of organizational commitment and pride into new members of BGLOs.”

The respondents also didn’t seem to be influenced by hazing and how they perceive others whom were or were not hazed during their new member education process with a majority agreeing to the statement “This person has earned full membership into their organization”, regardless of whether this person disclosed they were hazed or not.  In contrast 66% of respondents felt those who were hazed didn’t deserve more respect from others due to the fact they were hazed.


The results of this study were unexpected and a number of conclusions can be drawn from it if one keeps in mind the multiple limitation associated with this study, which will be discussed later in this section.

Paddling and Other Forms of Hazing

With paddling being mentioned in nearly every hazing lawsuit being filled recently one would think members of BGLOs think it is an important aspect of the socialization of new members into these organizations but the results show many members of BGLOs do not believe in its importance.  Drawing from these results it is safe to assume members of BGLOs do not place a high importance on hazing when it involves paddling or alcohol.

Members of BGLOs reaction to alcohol and hazing did not surprise me but shows a huge difference between the hazing practices of BGLOs and non-minority Greeks.   Members of BGLOs completely rejected the concept of hazing involving the consumption of dangerous amounts of alcohol with 100% of the participants either disagreeing or strongly disagreeing with its practicality in the socialization of new members into their organizations and its role in validating membership into a BGLO  When examining different hazing cases from around the country student affairs representatives and others looking at these cases need to remember to separate cases involving BGLOs and those that do not fall under this subsection of Greek life.  They are two different types of hazing and while they are both destructive and counterproductive to building a strong sense of cohesion, they are different means and should be treated as such.

When it came to hazing involving the use of physical exercises such as, but not limited to, wall sits and pushups, respondents of the survey differed more.  While half of the respondents did not believe it was useful in the socialization of new members into BGLOs, 41.7% agreed with the notion it is important aspect of the socialization of new members.  While members did not believe this form of hazing is a good way to validate membership, the fact they believe it is a important in the socialization of new members is a bit concerning.  One could infer from these results members of BGLOs frequently use physical exercises as a means of hazing because they believe it is important to the socialization.  With Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc. pledge Donnie Wade dying in 2010 as a result of hazing involving physical exercises, members of BGLOs need to be educated on the dangers involved with this form of hazing and their beliefs challenged and hopefully changed.

Requiring the rapid recital of poems and information about BGLOs, also known as “spitting information”, was also not frowned upon according to the results of this study as most respondents either agreed or strongly agreed with the notion of this being important in the socialization and validation of membership into BGLOs.  While this isn’t classified as hazing under any state law, the means for reinforcement of these poems and information could possibly be hazing as being able to do so takes a lot of time to perfect.

Previous research (Raatle, Cornelius, Linder, & Brewer, 2007) showed how hazing is ineffective at building a strong bond among those being hazed and the current  research shows a majority of BGLO members do not believe any form of hazing is important to the membership intake process.  This bring the question of why it continues to be done.

The Importance of Hazing in BGLOs

Respondents to the survey also proved many don’t feel hazing is an important tool in the education of new members into BGLOs with 75% disagreeing or strongly disagreeing with this statement.  These responses seem to suggest many don’t believe in the role of hazing in the membership intake process.

However, responses to the statement, “Hazing instills a greater sense of organizational commitment and pride into new members of BGLOs”, brought a variety of results with 50% agreeing or strongly agreeing with the statement, 33.3% disagreeing or strongly disagreeing with the statement, and 16.7% being neutral.  This shows many members of BGLOs associate the level of organizational commitment with the amount of hazing one had received.  This is in contrast to Rogers, S., Rogers, C., and Anderson’s study which showed pledging had no link to continued organizational involvement and commitment.

Meanings Associated With Those Who Were Hazed

This study also showed many members of BGLOs will not assign a label to a BGLO member whether they were haze or not.  Respondents don’t seem to use hazing as a way to validate membership as over half of them agreed both the non-hazed and hazed member had earned their full membership into their respective organization.  This combats the “paper” versus “pledged” argument, which comes up very frequently in arguments between members of BGLOs.  Respondents still attributed full membership to others whether they were hazed.  This did not go along with the original belief members of BGLOs would not attribute full membership to members whom were not hazed during the membership intake process.  Respondents also didn’t attribute more respect to those who were hazed then to those who weren’t with 66.7% disagreeing with the notion people who were hazed deserve more respect because of the fact they were hazed.  This contradicted the belief people who were hazed got more respect from their peers because of what they went through to earn membership into their organization.

The Culture of BGLOs and Hazing

Respondents were split on whether the current culture of BGLOs promotes hazing.  Nearly half of all respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed with the premise that the historically secretive nature of the new member education process of BGLOs promotes hazing but nearly 40% also agreed or strongly agreed with the idea as well.  Over half of the respondents also agreed or strongly agreed with the premise the current culture of BGLOs promotes hazing.  This shows a disagreement between members of BGLOs and how they view and interpret the current culture they are immersed in.  This research should be expanded on because as MacLean (2008) proved organizational misconduct is caused by shared definitions of situations and what is considered acceptable.  If the current culture of BGLOs promotes hazing and it is considered acceptable then it will continue because members believe it to be an acceptable action.


There were trends in the response from this survey.  Many respondents did not disagree or agree with many of the statements made in the survey.  With at least one respondent answering with “neutral” in all but 4 out of the 16 questions posed on this survey.  A possible meaning behind this trend could be many members of BGLOs feel indifferent about hazing and do not have an opinion on the subject despite the fact it is a issue facing many Greek lettered organizations and BGLOs in particular.

Another trend notice was no respondent felt uncomfortable answering any of the questions posed in the survey.  Drawing from this pattern, it is possible open conversations with members of BGLOs about hazing and the membership intake process can be had and this could open the door for a further study.

Limitations and Future Studies

While this study yielded responses which could give a glimpse of how members of BGLOs perceive hazing, the culture they are immersed in, and how they view others in regards to hazing it still has limitations which unfortunately rip away from the creditability of this study.

The first limitation this study finds is only 12 respondents actually took part in the survey.  This was due to a late start in building the survey and structuring it; as this research project was originally intended to be a qualitative study.  Switching over midway through the research process due to multiple conflicts such as maintaining confidentiality of the participants and the IRB caused the survey to not be a thoroughly developed as possible. Because of these small numbers many of the conclusions drawn from this study cannot be looked to as reliable indicators of how members of BGLOs feel.

Another limitation this study has is many of the respondents of the survey were members of BGLOs at a Predominantly White Institution.   This has the potential to skew the results of this survey because those taking it are not as deeply submerged into the culture of BGLOs as those whom attend Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).  Members of BGLOs who attend HBCUs have higher numbers of members in BGLOs and the underground pledging process is more common on those campuses.  HBCUs also tend to have older chapters, which would result in more traditions, both positive and negative, which could constitute as hazing.

Going forward, this study would benefit from being redone from the viewpoint of a quantitative researcher from the onset of the research.  This would make the results more creditable and would also lead to a better survey and better analysis of the data collected.  Going forward a study can also be done on how members of BGLOs perceive the different types of hazing commonly used and what meanings they attribute to that.


Research on hazing in BGLOs is still in its infant stages and there is truly a wealth of knowledge waiting to be discovered and collected.  With calls to end hazing becoming louder and louder and the relevancy of these organizations already beginning to be questioned on college campuses, the reasoning behind hazing in BGLOs and how to change the mentality is just starting and researchers and members of BGLOs will be conducting this research in hopes of saving the organizations which have the potential to do so much good and that they hold near and dear to their hearts.  This research, while very raw and with numerous weakness, can hope to provide a starting point for research in this field.


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Parks , G. (2012, September 27). Talkin’ ’bout nothin’: Black greek-letter organizations and hazing. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gregory-s-parks/bglo-hazing_b_1914635.html

Patton, L. D., Bridges, B. K., & Flowers, L. A. (2011). Effects of greek affiliation on african american students’ engagement: Differences by college racial composition. College Student Affairs Journal, 29(2), 113-123.

Rogers, S., Rogers, C., & Anderson, T. (2012). Examining the link between pledging, hazing, and organizational commitment among members of a black greek fraternity. Oracle: The research journal of the association of fraternity/sorority advisors, 7(1), 43-53.

Van Raalte, J., Cornelius, A., Linder, D., & Brewer, B. (2007). The Relationship Between Hazing and Team Cohesion. Journal Of Sport Behavior, 30(4), 491-507.

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