The secret life of “goats”

Craig Zirpolo
Guest Contributor

As a high school senior, I was given the choice between enrolling in VCU’s Honors College or the University of Virginia’s Engineering School. After a single visit to the Lawn, I was sold.

Beyond my wildest considerations of either school was the frequently underestimated act of hazing. As the U.Va. administration publicly confronts fraternities like Kappa Alpha through sanctions and suspensions, other collegiate communities are forced to consider the issue as it truly exists; a complex, dangerous and historically reinforced cultural norm. Though other schools like VCU aren’t immune to it, hazing is certainly not as silently prevalent as it is at U.Va.

I have yet to encounter similar since transferring to VCU, though there is no certainty as to their actual existence.  These are rites of brotherhood and are given the utmost secrecy by those who purport them.

Unlike at VCU, Greek Life at U.Va. boasts over 150 years of institutional legacy and allure that expands far beyond Charlottesville. Many of the “ceremonies” allegedly pre-date any living member, active or alumni.

In comparison, the first Greek organization at VCU, the Eta Tau Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., was founded in May of 1970. The problem revolves less around contemporary U.Va. than dogmas inherited from generations past, a cycle of abuse unbroken for longer than VCU’s existence as a university.

Statistically at U.Va., half or more of your peers will join the ranks of the Greek system, so interaction with Greek members of the community is incessant. In stark contrast, less than 10 percent of VCU students are a part of Greek life.

I heard most early accounts of hazing through whispered confessions during their time as pledges, or “goats” as they were addressed by brothers. Eventually, I witnessed the occasional extreme event of “goat” dehumanization through continued interaction with the same friends as they scaled the social ladder of their respective fraternities.

The accounts eventually became commonplace topics of conversation and the number of shocking events relayed became hard to believe. “Hell Week” exists in many cultural forms, but one fraternity took a new spin — locking their “goats” in the basement with a hefty number of kegs and “Beauty and the Beast” on repeat for days, only allowing them to leave for classes.

“Dip dogs,” hot dog buns microwaved with a stick of butter and a can of chewing tobacco, were a culinary mainstay for “goats,” as well as “fratty apples,” — onions bathed in hot sauce. One yearly romp featured an inter-fraternity eating contest boasting a special ingredient: mace.

These inhuman acts were nonchalantly perpetuated in some social circles during my two years at U.Va., and I would imagine that the worst still lurked in the shadows.

Though officials at “The University” (as community members refer to it) assert that fraternity sanctions placed to expedite the pledging process are “not in response to allegations of criminal misconduct,” the ill-applied punishment hardly solves the issue of hazing by placing the blame squarely on the shoulders of all Greek organizations.

Current U.Va. president Teresa A. Sullivan and dean of students Allen Groves have taken great steps to battle hazing, but I worry that they are unaware of the extent of secrecy, dubious understanding of honor, monetary interests and entrenched social levity that shackle the oldest doors lining the Rugby field. Perhaps their initiative has made a sizeable dent in the system since my departure from U.Va. three years ago, but merely scuffing the veneer of hazing will only further engrain the secrecy that predicates its current existence.

Despite my belief that hazing at VCU is not nearly as prevalent, the potential for such a practice is intolerable for its dehumanizing and deeply sociopathic basis, demanding attention and careful deliberation by administrators and students alike.

There exists no clear reason in my mind to sound the alarm about a potential increase in hazing at VCU, even among the growth of Greek life and plans for Greek Row on Grace Street.  It is only through student-demanded vigilance, transparency and compassion that schools like VCU and U.Va. can completely eradicate antiquated, dehumanizing practices.

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