This week, just a few days ago, it came out in the media that Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity has just been hit with another hazing lawsuit. The reported facts seem peculiar and involve a police officer, a member of Kappa Alpha Psi, hazing another grown man—leaving bruises on the alleged victim and requiring him to rub the member down with lotion. This latest case should add to the chorus of people who rightfully ask: why can’t BGLOs stop the hazing? Routinely the finger is pointed at a bunch of adolescents, BGLO members between the ages of 19-23 and some alumni who help perpetuate the culture of hazing. While I don’t subscribe to the notion that kids will be kids, I do think that solely, or even largely, focusing on this age-group as the main culprits loses sight of what these organizations stand for.
At the heart of BGLOs’ identity is this notion of “leadership,” so it seems apropos to ask: where are the leaders on this issue and why can’t or haven’t they solved it? In my fraternity, whether electing chapter presidents, regional vice and assistant vice presidents, national presidents and the like, I cast my ballot for an odd reason. Beyond the rhetoric, all I’m interested in is who has a vision for boldly advancing the aims of the fraternity and a plan for execution. When it comes to the issue of hazing, I doubt most leaders have, do, or will have a sound plan of attack for the issue. That leaves me with the feeling that, in all honesty, across organizations, the chief executive leaders—either nationally, regionally, provincially, or at the district level—aren’t truly interested in tackling the problem. Maybe they believe hazing isn’t an issue and only speak to it, because a significant organizational constituency does. Maybe they believe hazing is a problem, but they are too lazy, lack any real vision, or lack the chops to work through the organization’s political dynamics to solve the problem.
Think about this: In these organizations, the leaders expect adolescents to do two things. Within the organizations, they expect, largely, college members not only to not haze but also to report hazing—to stop it when they see it or hear about it. Also, and maybe to a lesser extent, they expect college members across organizations to report hazing to prevent harm to victims and the organizations themselves. However, the leaders—the grown-ups—have often failed to do this in other contexts where there have been breaches not only in ethics but also law.
As an aside, a few years ago, Dr. Jelani Cobb—an Alpha Phi Alpha member and Professor at the University of Connecticut—wrote an article in Essence magazine about black men’s sex trips to Rio. He caught a lot of flak from black men for the article, because he let the proverbial cat out of the bag. I suspect I’ll similarly catch a lot of flak from BGLO members for what I’m about to say. It should be no surprise that wherever you have large congregations of men, prostitutes are likely to be. This point was underscored by the federal court cases US v. Murphy (2013) and Murphy v. US (2014), where a traveling prostitution ring made its way around to one BGLO fraternity’s conventions. While one fraternity was implicated, it would be naïve to think that this kind of activity doesn’t take place at all BGLO fraternity conventions. Additionally, you have cases like Alpha Kappa Alpha v. McKinzie (2013); Daley et al. v. Alpha Kappa Alpha (2010); Mason v. Alpha Phi Alpha et al. (2012); McKinzie v. Alpha Kappa Alpha (2006); Purnell et al. v. Alpha Kappa Alpha (2010); Redden v. Alpha Kappa Alpha (2006); Shackelford v. Alpha Kappa Alpha (2011); and Stark v. Zeta Phi Beta (2008). Each of these cases revolves around substantial allegations that the national presidents of these organizations embezzled organizational funds. Across each case, there were similar facts: (1) people in positions of power engaged in unethical conduct and arguably broke the law; (2) other people in positions of power were aware of the conduct and turned a blind eye; (3) those in power engaged in a practice of intra-organizational secrecy; and (4) whistleblowers were demonized, attacked, and in some instances removed from the organization. And while it’s specific leaders who were caught, it’s foolish to think that this hasn’t been a pattern of practice among some national heads of these groups, but that those other leaders entrusted with the future of the organizations refused to speak up and speak out. Similarly, to my knowledge—and I could be wrong—in each of the instances where the national presidents were found to have, arguably, embezzled organizational funds, I doubt that their co-heads (the national presidents of the other NPHC organizations, those who sit on the Council of Presidents) called them on the carpet.
BUT, the leaders, the adults, expect adolescents to do the very thing that they themselves have long been unwilling to do—to reign in, punish, and/or speak out against unlawful conduct on the part of alumni, especially those in power, that threatens to destroy our organizations.
In addition, ponder this: These organizations aren’t solely comprised of college members. If anything, alumni members predominate. And when I say alumni members, I mean smart and well-educated alumni, many of whom are deeply committed to these organizations. They serve, or could serve, as an intellectual reservoir—a primary source of intellectual capital—to solve the problems of not only the black community but also of BGLOs themselves. The leadership, however, squander this resource. The leaders claim that they want to solve the scourge of BGLO hazing and suggest that they are at their wits-end about how to do it. Either they lack and have long-lacked vision on this issue or they are and have been disingenuous.
I’m a firm believer that there are few problems that exist that don’t have a workable solution out there in the world. The key is to finding it. There is a researcher, professor, thesis, dissertation, article, book, study, practitioner, best practice…out there waiting to be discovered. The question is whether the person or people who purport to want a solution to a problem will go out and find it. The leaders of BGLOs, for the most part, haven’t wanted to find it, end of story. How do I know? I know because having studied and written about BGLOs for 10 years and having served as an expert witness and trial consultant in BGLO hazing cases (for plaintiffs and defendants), I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the people I know who are the most knowledgeable about hazing, or who have expertise in fields of study that could bear on real solutions to the issue, are NEVER consulted by BGLO leadership. Their work is never reviewed. Their best practices are never examined. And I’m not talking about some random white person hidden in a lab in Siberia. I’m talking about financially active BGLO members, who attend chapter meetings, do community service, participate at conventions, and the like.
The moratoria, the revised Membership Intake Processes, media blitzes, campaign speeches, presidential addresses, and, yes, even Phi Beta Sigma’s Anti-hazing Campaign, are shams. The efforts, if one could call them that, have limited, if any, basis in facts, data, and actual support for the speeches, admonishments, and initiatives. BGLO leaders are more concerned with whether you’re a member of their specific organization, financial, of a certain stature within their organization, black, and whether you can say the right things to make them look good and keep them happy. They cannot move beyond their own comfort zones to do the most essential aspect of their jobs—ensure the viability, vitality, and impact of their fraternity or sorority well-beyond their years. Rather, they seek to rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic, to tinker at the margins, and establish their fleeting legacies.
BGLO undergrads may engage in the lion’s share of hazing within these groups; it’s true. But the bulk of the fault for the deaths, injuries, lawsuits, rising insurance costs, and eventually end of one or more of these organizations was, is, and always will be the men and women we put in high office. It is that class of members, our leaders, who should and must be responsible for guiding us out of the darkness and into the light. But too many (not all) of them can’t see beyond their own narrow agendas, political posturing, or lack of insight and vision. And this isn’t to demonize BGLO leaders; some, maybe many, have good hearts and love their respective organization. But maybe what some have had to offer is too little, especially in the area of solving our most crucial issues, hazing being chief among them.