Sorority Hazing Increasingly Violent, Disturbing
Pledges complain of being beaten, violated and verbally abused.
Feb. 17, 2010— -- Joanne said she had to stand silently with her nose touching a cold, dirty wall while her potential sorority sisters screamed that she wasn't worth their time. If the pledges moved at all, Joanne said, one of the four Penn State Altoona sorority members would shove their heads into the concrete bricks until they had lumps or bruises.
Even now, Joanne said, a year later, she still gets harassed by her former sorority sisters, which is why she asked that her real name not be used. When she first decided to pledge as freshman, and eventually join, a sorority at Penn State-Altoona, Joanne had hoped for the comfortable camaraderie of a close-knit group of friends; not "the semester from hell."
"One night the sisters made us cook them dinner," she said. "Since I obviously wasn't into cooking and then cleaning their dishes, the sisters forced me to clean the kitchen floor. I didn't have any gloves and they would tell me to do it again until it was spotless. I used my fingernails to scrub the ground.
"The water was pitch black," Joanne continued. "They asked me to drink it. I refused and left the apartment. I ended up coming back [to carry out a different punishment] because they called me and yelled at me. I didn't know what else to do."
Joanne's experience in the fall of 2008 is one example of an ingrained cultural tradition called hazing, which, experts say, has triggered increasing violence among women that can lead to depression and self-esteem problems as the hazers take cues from reality TV or try to emulate the behavior of male fraternities.
Other examples range from simple name-calling to the demeaning practice of "boob ranking."
Elizabeth Allan and Mary Madden of the University of Maine-Orono point to their research as evidence of its pervasiveness, even though most colleges have policies banning the practice.
"We found that 68 percent of women in Greek life have experienced hazing in order to become a member of these groups," Allan said, based on the 2007 findings in their National Study of Student Hazing, which tabulated e-mail questionnaire responses from more than 11,000 students at 53 different institutions.
Joanne has plenty of experience.
She said the Penn State-Altoona pledges would get calls at 2 a.m. demanding that they gather for a meeting at the sorority president's apartment as soon as possible.
"They would test us on one of the sorority's prayers or songs, and if we got it wrong they would call us fat or ugly until we cried," Joanne said. "So many of us cried in front of them."
After Joanne got fed up with the hazing, she sent an e-mail to Tracy Maxwell, the executive director of Hazing Prevention, one of the leading non-profit organizations working to eradicate hazing. Eventually, the sorority's national organization began to investigate the sorority chapter.
An executive at the sorority confirmed that the national office investigated the hazing claims and took disciplinary actions. The sorority would not disclose its findings.
Marissa Carney, a spokesperson for Penn State Altoona, said the school was not notified of Joanne's allegations. In an e-mail to ABC News L. Jay Burlingame, the Director of the Office of Judicial Affairs at Penn State Altoona, said that the school takes accusations of hazing in its sororities and fraternities seriously, and that these allegations are "immediately referred to and investigated by the appropriate college office."
Burlingame added, "Penn State Altoona strictly prohibits any and all activities, actions, or situations which recklessly or intentionally endanger the mental or physical health or safety of a student."