John Wagoner’s father told him “nothing but good things” about his experiences joining a fraternity in college.
But when the Greensboro, N.C., native got to the University of South Carolina, stories of hazing and abuse during the pledging process pushed him away from Greek life.
“It’s good for the Greeks – they always say it’s a bonding experience,” the 19-year-old broadcast journalism major said Thursday. “But at the same time, when people are dying and getting seriously injured, there has to be a limit to what you have to do.”
It’s that perception of Greek organizations that USC officials hope to erase with a plan to eliminate the pledging process altogether.
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Ditching pledging, a months-long induction period, would curb abusive behavior and steer Greek organizations back to their founding principles, a USC spokesman said Wednesday.
But USC students on campus Thursday were conflicted about whether the move is a step forward – or practical.
Pledging creates “very authentic” bonds between fraternity brothers, said Liam Breen, a 19-year-old rising sophomore who joined Beta Theta Pi during his first semester on campus.
The Long Island, N.Y., native said he is glad he was able to pledge while the process still is allowed.
“I feel like, socially, I developed a lot during the pledge process,” Breen said. “I feel like I took a big step forward. Getting rid of the pledge process would take away that aspect ... for a lot of guys.”
Charles Harkness, a 24-year-old senior from Lexington who transferred to USC from The Citadel, said going through tough times together is “kind of the point” because it fosters brotherhood.
But some students found positives in USC’s plan.
“I know it is important. You’re pledging your allegiance and showing you’re committed,” said Meg Johnson, a USC graduate student who was in a sorority at Clemson University. “But I definitely don’t support hazing and forcing people to do things they don’t want to do, especially with alcohol.”
Greensboro’s Wagoner said Greek organizations would benefit from finding other ways to bond.
“Brotherhood is not worth dying over, unless you’re in the Army or something like that,” he said.
Trade groups that represent Greek organizations nationally did not take a stance Thursday on USC’s plan.
“We’re particularly encouraged by discussion that’s focused on improving education of potential new members and enhancing training for alumnae volunteers,” Dani Weatherford, executive director of the National Panhellenic Conference, said in a statement to The State. “While it’s premature to speak to some of the other elements discussed thus far, it’s clear that we have shared goals of driving positive change. We look forward to exploring a range of options for how to best accomplish that.”
Heather Kirk, a spokeswoman for the North American Interfraternity Conference, said it is too early to judge the merits of USC’s proposal. But, she said, students and alumni must be included as the school continues to develop its plan.
“To truly change the culture, efforts need to be student- and alumni-driven,” she said.
Some USC students Thursday questioned whether a pledging ban would stop abuse against new chapter members.
Jackson Ritchey, a 21-year-old pre-med student and member of Beta Theta Pi, said he would expect the proposal to have mixed results.
Troublemakers might simply take pledging “underground,” the Georgia native said.
But “the good fraternities, the ones truly trying to build better men, would be open to it,” he said.