Hazing at Plato: they say they don’t

Student association Plato in Tilburg is negative about hazing rituals, claiming they “distance themselves from hazing” and “do not want to be held responsible for it”. For having such a strong opinion, it could strike someone as odd that Plato does allow hazing in their sororities and fraternities. In some cases this has caused confusion among members, or even allegations of being hypocritical. Plato still claims to be a non-traditional association, but is that really true?Plato, Tilburg’s largest student association, was founded in November 1987. Its purpose was to be different than the traditional students associations in that it had to be free to join, without needing to pass a hazing to get in. Nowadays, hazing plays an important role in the association and almost all of the sororities and fraternities have a hazing ritual. The association itself still claims to be very opposed to it. “We always have all our fraternities and sororities sign an agreement that we are not responsible for the hazing”, says a Plato board member.

“I was kind of confused, because I thought there were no hazing rituals”

In the meantime, Plato has a strong culture of sororities and fraternities. If you really want to be an active member of Plato, becoming a member of a sorority or fraternity is almost a must. And if you want that, you’ll have to be hazed first. According to a sorority − and hazing committee – member most students think that’s perfectly OK. “You’ve had the time to get to know the people first and if you have chosen for a particular sorority, you know that this implies hazing, and you just go for it.”

“I was kind of confused, because I thought there were no hazing rituals” says a non-active member of Plato. “It’s a bit sneaky and not completely honest to new members.” Another Plato member even calls it hypocritical: “I was in the introduction committee and was supposed to say to new members that Plato does not do hazing, but at the same time you just know that they do. Our sororities and fraternities have the longest hazing period of all associations in Tilburg, so I think it’s not fair to say that Plato does not do hazing. It’s almost like being in a bait-and-switch; you’ll be hazed before you know it.”

The hazing takes place over 6 months in which new members are given an assignment each week, both long-term and short-term. This way, the newcomers get a chance to see how things are organized inside the sorority. At the end of the period, they’ll have to prove themselves during a full weekend in which they are put to the test in terms of endurance. According to another sorority and hazing committee member most students are co-operating in this tough weekend. “They have come such a long way and are prepared to give this last extra bit; they are in it together. You can see it in their eyes: they are ready, willing and able to do whatever is asked from them.” However, sororities and fraternities are bound to strict rules and Plato sees to it that these rules are lived by. Violation means punishment. While every sorority or fraternity has its own ways concerning hazing, they all must play by the rules.

The hazing at Plato’s association is experienced in different ways. It depends on age and personality of the students, but also which sorority or fraternity they’ve joined. One of the Plato members we spoke to has experienced her own hazing as a positive thing. “I laughed my head off”, she says. “On the moment it happens you may think: what am I doing!? But looking back on it, it was a fantastic weekend. If you are a bit older, like myself, you don’t take it all very seriously, but I can imagine that if you’re only 18 years old it can be tough.” She thinks the hazing is quite challenging and a lot of people don’t succeed in juggling their study with the amount of time they have to spend on all the activities. Although hazing has become a bit less harsh to accommodate the increasing study pressure, it still costs the student a lot of time and effort. A sorority member tells us that in the first year she experienced a lot of pressure. “You’re extremely busy and there are high expectations, it really is quite tough.” Another member agrees: “The students don’t know that the hazing will take such a long period of time. If they would, they would probably say no to a membership.”

Plato claims that its core values are friendship, freedom, equality and diversity but what happens with people who are not a member of a sorority or fraternity? Do they fit in? We spoke to a Plato member that is not a part of a fraternity. He says it’s no use being a member of Plato if you’re not a member of a fraternity. At Plato parties he’s on his own. “I don’t really have friends at Plato because of this.” Another Plato member remembers a sense of not belonging because she was not with a sorority. This was one of the reasons why she left Plato after a year. One of the sorority members we interviewed recognizes the sentiment. “If you’re at Plato and you’re not in a sorority or fraternity, you just float around and you don’t really connect with anyone. That’s a shame.”

“Because of the intense period of hazing, I have the feeling that I can deal with the issues with my life better”

However, she reports that Plato is trying to improve their relation with non-active members. “For example, there is a conversation about not allowing fraternity and sorority members to come to a party in their uniforms.” That would make the association feel like one big group of people instead of a mish-mash of different fraternities and sororities. She does see merit in hazing rituals, though. “I endured my hazing with another girl who came straight from secondary education. She really matured in a short time, so now I can see why hazing is a thing.” One of her colleagues shares this opinion. “Because of the intense period of hazing, I have the feeling that I can deal with the issues in my life better. Within half a year of hazing, you can see a change in all the students: they have become adults.”

Because Plato has such a strong culture of sororities and fraternities, it seems that, for now, it’s only useful to be member of the association when you are willing to become a member of a sorority or fraternity. In addition, these sororities and fraternities have the longest hazing period compared to all the other student associations in Tilburg. In that sense Plato can hardly be called a non-traditional association and it is no wonder that some students are confused when they sign up. However, with some changes supposedly on their way, perhaps Plato will start to live up to how open they say they are.

This article has been written by students following the Transmedia Journalism-programme at Tilburg University: Mark Dierick, Astrid van Liesdonk and Sophie van Oevelen.  Due to explicit demands Univers made the involved persons anonymous. 

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