Now you’re the victim but next year you'll get to be the boss

Hazing feels like a trade-off

Sheetal Ramdas foto Tara vd Broek/ DUB

A while ago I stumbled upon the term generational trauma and it got to me. In short, the concept refers to the emotional pain and psychological consequences of a trauma that is passed on to future generations by parents or ancestors. Basically, it’s an inherited form of trauma that is passed on from one generation to another.

Usually, one's parents have undergone some kind of traumatic stress, such as an unhappy childhood, an abusive family members, a traumatic sexual experience or living in poverty, to name but a few examples. Generational trauma occurs in multiple ways, to a greater or lesser extent.

New friends
A student association such as a fraternity or sorority can also be seen as a big family, with different generations. However, the extraordinary thing about this family is that novices have to undergo an initiation to join it. It’s common knowledge that hazing is not a pleasant experience. I too went through this rite of passage when joining an association. I was persuaded to sign up for it at a party. It was an association with all kinds of sororities: mixed, men or women only, the suit-and-tie type... There was something for everyone. All I had to do was go through an initiation ritual and then choose a sorority. As easy as pie. I heard in the corridors that hazing there wasn't that big of a deal compared to other associations.

Introduction weekend
When I arrived, the first thing I had to do was remove all my makeup and put on the same ugly shirt as all the other freshers. We were staying at a farm and the initiation started for real in the barn. Freshers were ordered to sing, do physical things like push-ups, or watch one person get picked and made fun of. Oh, and there was a lot of shouting. It went on until late and the next morning they woke us up very early.

Being sleep deprived made it hard for me to really think about everything that was happening. At breakfast, I heard that a girl had called her mother the night before and gone home. She was ridiculed for not being able to handle it, and told that she was not cut out for the association. The freshers that remained decided not to break. We were strong. There was an air of fellowship and determination to get through it all together. We walked into the barn again in good spirits and did what they asked us to do.

At noon, we had to watch the members of the association's board, who were sitting outside on a sort of stage. I had to look up against the sun to see them. They looked impressive in their fancy suits and their authoritarian attitude. As I stood there watching them, I suddenly realised that I was at the very bottom of the hierarchy. The board members were literally looking down on me. I still had to prove that I could handle it, that I was worthy. After all, the way I'd act during hazing would determine the rest of my life in the association. So, once again I tried to get in their good books by doing my best. By trying to just endure it all.

The finale
With the last bit of strength, I started the last day of the introduction weekend: the finale, so to say. The cooking crew had been looking forward to this all weekend. The barn was entirely wrapped in plastic and there were benches for us all to sit down. Wearing our ugly uniforms, of course. Once everyone had taken their seat, the lights went out and music was turned on. The cooking crew saved the oil used for deep-frying stuff all year, just to pour it all over us.

They also threw rotten food, sauces, and flour on us, to name but a few things. Those were the longest minutes of my life. When it was over, we were called outside one by one. The sequence of names corresponded to the ones who endured it the best to those to handled it the worst. Then we had to take our clothes off in front of everyone and use the outdoor shower or the garden hose to clean ourselves. The later you came out of the barn, the fuller the drain would be and thus the harder it would be for you to take a shower. It was impossible to get actually clean anyway. Smelling my own hair made me gag. I left the farm with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I was proud of myself for having managed to endure it. On the other hand, it was humiliating.

My choice of clothes and make-up is one of the ways I express my identity and this was taken away from me an entire weekend. It felt like my identity had gone through a paper shredder and what remained was just my number in the rankings, compared to the other freshers. And all the hardship.

Hazing felt like a trade-off: you trade a couple of weeks of misery for an amazing college experience. A few weeks of hardship are nothing compared to over three years of partying, right? But the price tag was higher than I had expected. Once you get started, it feels like a waste to stop. When old frying fast is literally thrown all over you, your boundaries shift to such an extent that you don’t do anything when someone says mean things to you or shouts at you.

After a few weeks, it was over, and I was part of the gang. But I just couldn't shake off the initiation. People told me to be proud of what I had accomplished and that I could feast off the pain and frustration by hazing the next generation of students. Suddenly it dawned on me: I am being asked to perpetuate generational trauma in the name of tradition, albeit it at a smaller scale. It was a horrible experience. Why would I want to do that to someone else?