I used to teach at the De La Salle College of St. Benilde (DLS-CSB) just a few years ago. It was one my most pleasurable stints as a teacher and I had many happy memories there. So it was with great dismay when I read about the recent hazing tragedy that befell one of its students, Guillo Cesar Servando. He joins a long list of young teenagers senselessly murdered in a rite whose purpose is, ironically, to welcome one into a “brotherhood” (perhaps brother-hoodlum would be a better term).
I had my own brush with initiation rites when I was a college freshman staying in the campus dormitories. It was not a life-threatening affair, yet it was an equally senseless assault on human dignity and a mockery of the fraternal spirit it seemed to espouse. Upperclassmen gathered us in a common area with the lights turned off. We were told to squat with our hands raised on our heads while they barked the rules for initiation week, all the while making fun of us, calling us names, insulting us, and making veiled threats for the disobedient.
That first night was enough for me to say I’ve had enough and I promptly told some upperclassmen I knew that I wanted out. They couldn’t kick me out of the dorm. I just wouldn’t be part of the dormers organization and activities. That was perfectly fine with me.
The rest of the week, I watched my fellow freshmen as they went into class in various costumes each day with a huge nametag stating “Hi, I’m ____ and I’m proud to be a dormer.” They had to address upperclassmen as “Master” and be willing to obey their whims — such as carrying their books, or singing out loud, or embarrassing themselves in public. Some of them even unknowingly called me “master”, and I had to assure them that I was a freshman just like them.
To be fair though, it wasn’t a hostile situation. I wasn’t threatened or anything when I told them I wanted out. In fact, they even tried to woo me back. These were decent people who were just play-acting, just going along with the tradition, but I made it clear that I wasn’t going to be part of the organization until that tradition changed drastically. I did not want to be a part of seemingly harmless fun that had the enormous potential to be abused in the wrong hands.
I have often wondered why fraternities and other such organizations needed initiation rites such as hazing or shaming. I do not see how that strengthens or fosters the bond between its members. If anything, it breeds contempt, hatred, and a desire for vengeance — which is most often served, not to the original perpetrators, but to the innocent initiates who are next in line. Such barbaric practices defy logic and reason.
However, I do not expect these groups to suddenly be enlightened and abolish initiation altogether (although if that were to happen overnight, I might be forced to conclude that there is indeed a God). What I would instead suggest is that these fraternity heads and officers think about how to make their initiation rites more positive and life-changing for those on the receiving end.
For example, they could create a feeding program or medical mission in the slum areas and have the initiates work as volunteers for a day (or even several days, for that matter).
They could have a “Thank A Policeman” day where initiates verbally thank a patrolman simply for his presence, or offer him water or a sandwich. They could have a “Senior Citizens Day” where they could assist seniors in crossing the street, climbing stairs, and so on.
They could have a “Help The Shoppers” day, offering to carry bags of groceries to the owners’ vehicles, or to carry food trays in the fast food area to the diners’ tables. I have personally tried the last and even if people gave me strange looks when I offered to carry their trays, many of them agreed (after making sure it wasn’t some trick). it was quite a fulfilling experience and I had a lot of fun.
To the fraternities out there, please stop thinking of ways to hurt or embarrass your initiates. Instead, think of ways to heal, nurture, and encourage. Let us banish these dangerous rites and replace them with those that are beneficial and worthwhile.
We are, after all, one big fraternity — the brotherhood of man.
Originally published in Sunstar Davao.
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