The ‘Goats’ of UD Hell Week: I spoke with a brother about hazing

‘It’s not speedboats and supermodels’

Here at UD fraternities and sororities have been put on probation or kicked off campus for hosting parties and serving minors, for abusing their new members, and even after one pledge died of alcohol poisoning after an initiation ceremony with a BAC of .341. The former fraternity president and pledge master were both put on trial for wrongful death, but were found not liable.

Greek life has been the subject of some serious scrutiny in the past, especially fraternities. Subjects like hazing, underage drinking, rape, and even death have been linked to various fraternities all over the country, and have barred major consequences.

TV shows like Law and Order: SVU have produced multiple episodes featuring fraternities involved in scandal and wrongdoing, while movies have frequently taken on a more humorous approach to brotherhood and college life. However, Andrew Neel recently directed the film “Goat” which starred Nick Jonas and Ben Schnetzer, and it was anything but a comedy.

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A member of a fraternity on campus, let’s call him Max, agreed to watch the movie with me and then answer some questions to compare and contrast UD’s typical hell week with what was portrayed in the film. Truthfully, he agreed to meet with me more as a courtesy to a friend rather than with any real intention to divulge. These organizations are notoriously secretive, so his hesitation was understandable. But after we discussed some guidelines, what he could disclose and what he couldn’t, he opened up to the idea and was ready to honestly give me a taste of just how far some of the boys at UD are willing to go to be a brother.

It seems that there is always another tragedy revolving around fraternities being highlighted in the media. The brothers of greek organizations are turned into “frat bros,” constantly being painted as iron pumping, beer crushing, backwards hat and jersey wearing idiots whose only purpose in life is to skulk in dirty basements while they pump kegs and get girls too drunk.

Unfortunately, there are certain brothers and chapters that perpetuate this frat boy stereotype. However, it seems that this formula has become almost inherent in how every member of a fraternity is viewed.

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At the University of Delaware, where Greek Life is so involved and so pertinent, it is a scary thought to believe that every boy who has been initiated fits this mold. I personally know this to be untrue. The brothers that I have befriended and spent time with could not be more respectable or kind. Not to mention, one of the main ingredients of a fraternity is philanthropy, and our Greek life here at UD has raised millions of dollars for charity.

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The film, however, was an extremely powerful commentary on the abuse that many boys endure in order to become initiated members. The picture honed in on what many schools refer to as “Hell Week,” which is the week before initiation where hazing is seriously intensified, and new members are required to endure humiliating tasks and drink copious amounts of alcohol in order to become a brother.

It really is a peculiar concept – one moment there are men screaming in your face, yelling at you to do better, be better, eat more, jump higher, drink faster. Then in an instant, that one moment when you upgrade from being a pledge to an initiated member, that all stops. Suddenly you’re equals, brothers. What’s more is that you are expected to act like brothers right off the bat, to have an undying respect and loyalty to each other. But how do you come back from that? How do you put your trust into someone who got pleasure from watching you sweat and vomit and struggle?

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As we watched the movie, varying degrees of awful flashed before us. The boys were hit, demeaned, humiliated, and tortured. Sometimes Max laughed, sometimes he was disgusted. It was sobering when he wasn’t surprised by some of the events, and it was relieving was he was.

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After the movie Max reminisced about the past hell weeks that he had participated in, both his own and the younger pledge classes. While this particular fraternity at the University of Delaware has far from adopted the abuse that the boys suffered in the movie, we still have our own flavor of debauchery going on here at Delaware.

What was always so puzzling about hell week to me was that it didn’t seem like there was any real purpose to it. What on Earth does that have to do with frat parties and philanthropy events? According to “Goat,” hell week is a mechanism used to weed out the weak ones, but Max disagrees. Apparently, there is a rhyme and a reason to hell week (beyond the older brother’s enjoyment).

“Unity, and brotherhood… When I look back at my hell week I kind of miss it,” Max told me. While he says he would never do it again, hell week was the most time that he ever got to spend with his pledge class and it was a real bonding experience for them.

While it made his pledge class closer, he did reveal that when the older brothers were around the good times came to a halt more often than not. Hell week was still hell week, and one of the older brothers definitely got too much entertainment out of watching Max’s pledge class go through this particularly unusual right of passage, “There was one guy that I was just like ‘dude fuck him’ because of how much he enjoyed the hell week aspect.”

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The majority of Max’s relationships with the other brothers remained unscathed in the long run, but he has never gotten close to one of the older brothers because of hell week. Being on both sides of it, Max can see its flaws: “It’s not a necessary process, but I never felt like I was doing anything wrong.” His fraternity did not hit their pledges or physically abuse them in any way, instead they focused more on having them chug alcohol and making them kneel with their heads on the floor; “as a pledge there’s fear, anticipation of what’s going to happen next. As a brother there’s excitement over what you’re going to do next”.

While “Goat” primarily focused on the relationships between the pledges and the brothers, there was also a tension between one of the pledges and his biological blood brother who was already in the fraternity, and had to watch his younger brother go through the intense hazing. Max has a younger brother himself, and it turns out that if he were put in the same situation he would be okay with putting his little brother through his fraternity’s pledging process.

“I would [be okay with it], because I think it’s worth it. You gain all the brotherhood experience, all the extra benefits of being in a fraternity”.

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Max will never be faced with putting his brother through pledging, but he has had to rush friends in the past, and he did take part in their hazing.

“It’s not speedboats and supermodels, it’s not a breezy time. Abuse is a harsh term, but maybe some of it could be a little abusive at times.” All of Max’s established friendships have withstood the hazing, so that certainly says something.

“It’s not a perfect process… but it’s okay.”

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