Jonathan Zimmerman: FAMU Hazing, Robert Champion: Violent Rituals Don't Make Men Stronger

Roundup: Historians' Take

Jonathan Zimmerman is a professor of history and education at New York University. He is the author of “Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory” (Yale University Press).

“He is distinctly not a man,” wrote one defender of hazings in 1915, describing the typical college freshman, “and the fraternity must take up the task of character shaping where the parents left off or never began.” Hazing, he added, “is a means of determining what a man possesses, whether he has a streak of ‘yellow’ or whether he has stamina.”

Universities struck back with anti-hazing regulations; in statehouses, hazing was banned as well. Today, 44 states have laws prohibiting the practice. From the very start, however, these rules were always observed in the breach. Boys would be boys, hazing advocates said, and no bureaucrat or legislator could stop them.

“What’s the matter with K.U.?” wrote a University of Kansas graduate in 1910, blasting the school’s new restrictions on hazing. “The authorities seem to think that the University is a school for namby-pambies and Lizzie boys.... Young men of talent and energy will not go to a school which bears so close a resemblance to a female seminary.”

They did keep going to universities, of course – and they kept hazing each other. Men at historically black colleges such as Florida A&M got in on the act, too, adding a new rationale: Hazing would toughen young African Americans for the long freedom struggle ahead. At the 1997 convention of Alpha Phi Alpha, the same fraternity that enrolled Martin Luther King, Jr., civil rights warrior Andrew Young joked that his beatings at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan were nothing compared to the ones administered by his brothers at APA....

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