The Unspoken Horrors: An Inside Look At The Terrifying World Of Sorority Pledging

by Cate Paul

After watching an episode of "Colbert Report" from early March, I found myself incredibly interested in the guest he featured on the show.

Caitlin Flanagan, a writer for the Atlantic, recently published the article, “The Dark Power of Fraternities,” in which she investigates the power fraternities have over their administrations and why they can get away with things other college organizations cannot.

The biggest fraternity activity that slips past universities is dangerous hazing.

If you have not read the article, I would definitely recommend you take a look at it, as I really enjoyed it. However, one thing struck me about the in-depth report: There was no mention of women.

There was some mention of women, as she noted the amount of sexual assaults against women in fraternity houses. However, there was nothing mentioned about hazing against women, hazing in sororities.

No one talks about this -- ever -- and I don’t know why. In my undergraduate college years, I joined a sorority and the experience was hellish, to put it lightly.

It was awful, something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Due to the fact that no one really ever talks about hazing in sororities, I walked into bid day blissfully unaware what was going to happen to me. I mean, these were my potential sisters, after all.

I know boys pledging fraternities at my former college got paddled, hazed and had an overall terrible pledging experience. That certainly wouldn't happen in sororities, right?

I mean, I wanted to get involved in community service, make more friends and find out which of the girls would be my big! Especially after my father died in high school, I was looking for a place where I could feel comfortable and be myself.

I pictured the pledging process as making crafts, learning songs, discovering the history of the house and spending time getting to know the sisters better.

I knew girls who had joined sororities at other schools and that was pretty much exactly what happened. The pledges got spoiled by the sisters. One girl I talked to said she was “hazed with love,” meaning she was not hazed at all, but instead experienced love and kindness from those around her.

Also, at the school’s activity fair for freshman students, this was an organization the school promoted. Let me repeat that: THE SCHOOL URGED GIRLS TO JOIN THIS ORGANIZATION.

Every college student has heard it: “Get involved. You will make friends in the clubs and groups you join; it will make your college experience so much better!” You would expect that an organization the university promoted would at least treat you with respect and dignity, right?

Due to all these things, I saw no problem in joining a sorority. In fact, I really looked forward to the experience. Looking back now, I can’t believe I was so excited for something that would ruin my life.

I won’t go through my entire hazing experience in this document, but will give you some of the details so you can understand some of my experience.

In the beginning of the night, bid night was fine. We started with dinner, which began normally, until the sisters of the house tried to get us to eat more bread, more rolls and drink more milk. I literally had no idea why they were doing this. They made us eat until we were completely stuffed -- sickeningly stuffed.

I didn’t know that this was their way of lining our stomachs so hopefully we would not get alcohol poisoning later in the night and end up in the hospital.

There was a huge basket of gifts presented to each of the pledges by her big, along with a bottle of champagne and a bottle of liquor. This bottle differed based on the pledge and the big, but ranged from whiskey, rum, vodka… You get the idea.

We were then told that any time we opened a present in the basket, we had to take a shot of alcohol. There were probably about 25 presents wrapped in each of our baskets. "Oh, and don’t forget to finish your bottle of champagne!"

I have vague, hazy memories of this night, vomiting next to three other girls into the same toilet, only to have to go back and drink more.

Over the rest of our pledge period, which lasted about seven weeks, we had to do a variety of demeaning things: get food thrown on us, dumped over our heads, poured down the backs of our shirts; stay up all night when we had classes in the morning, scrubbing the baseboards of the house with toothbrushes relentlessly.

One night we went to the house and the kitchen was trashed -- a good inch of food, vinegar, flour, milk and other liquids poured everywhere. We were forced to drag each other through the mess like human mops. We weren’t allowed to shower until after the food had hardened to our bodies.

We had to stay up all night cooking breakfast for the sisters and another fraternity in the morning.

It was humiliating not only having to serve food to guys we had crushes on or who were our friends while looking like crap. It proved to be even more humiliating to have food thrown at us in front of them and get screamed at, while being called a variety of names.

We stayed up all night on the weekends, driving sisters from party to party, holding their jackets and purses and picking them up from bars.

One rule we had was that we were not allowed to go to sleep until the last sister returned home. If a sister was sleeping over at a boyfriend’s house, well, I guess no sleep that night.

We had to wear specific outfits one day a week on campus: a long denim skirt and oversized, white button-up, which made us look like very exhausted pilgrims.

We had to bake cookies for fraternities which we then had to deliver by hand. We thought it would be a quick visit and we would leave soon after, having somewhat of a break before whatever was going to come next.

However, when we arrived, we were taken to the front lawn of the frat and asked to line up “prettiest to ugliest." They would then change the order of the line if they disagreed with it, as if it wasn't already mentally damaging to judge one another based on our looks. They then asked us to line up “prudest to sluttiest” and changed the line as they saw fit, as well.

We had to demonstrate our favorite sex position for the fraternity brothers on one of the girls standing next to us. During that, they drenched us with a mixture they had made of bong water, dip spit and urine.

The pledge process was designed to remove us from the rest of our world, any sense of normalcy, and force us into the hellish one of pledging, testing our limits and our ability to stand unaffected with the other sisters. Eventually our room keys were taken away, as well as our meal cards and cell phones. We were supposed to completely give up ourselves to “become part of the whole.” In other words, we were being forced to give up all individual and independent spirit.

All of this would also be incredibly difficult if we were not in school; however, we were all taking a full semester of classes while this was happening to us. Due to the lack of sleep we got, our grades slipped, we fell asleep during classes and we failed tests.

We were terrified inside and outside of the house. The pledge process took over our lives.

Many people might say, why not quit? Although this does seem like the most sensical, no-brainer solution from an outsider's perspective -- trust me, I considered it -- we were told that dropping out of the pledging process would result in being quite literally run out of town. We were threatened by the possibility of being demeaned by all of the Greek community and having our lives made a living hell -- as if they could seemingly get any worse.

We were repeatedly assured we would lose our friends, we would find no salvation and our years at school would be nothing short of miserable. It was a lose-lose situation, brought on by our sorority "sisters" inciting complete and utter terror through dehumanization.

Another reason I wish this prominent Greek life culture were talked about more openly is that, although this process is certainly unacceptable for either gender, women in their first year of college are at their most vulnerable. At this time in a woman’s life, she is actively seeking belonging, finding her place and being accepted by her peers. In many cases, this is a first time she has left home and is living on her own.

During my pledging, I developed an eating disorder, which I continue to struggle with today. I began having panic attacks, which evolved into an anxiety disorder. I suffered from severe depression and had thoughts of ending my own life. The past few years have made for the most trying time of my life, but finally, I have sought help and beginning to recover.

I am certainly not against all Greek organizations. I know many people -- both males and females -- who did not go through such severe and unspeakable acts of hazing during their pledging process. Their organizations promote positive values and community service, and have provided them with great friends -- a support system that builds them up, rather that beats them down.

I am against any act of hazing, however, and any organization that promotes such "traditions." We do not create strong bonds -- sisterhood or brotherhood -- by testing each other's limits and seeing how far we'll really go. What kind of friendship is that?

So let's open up this conversation. Let's not keep said "traditions" of Greek organizations under wraps. Let's discuss the effects of hazing on both men and women; let's bring an end to this horror. This is a first attempt to do just that.

Photo via We Heart It