Tuesday, December 05, 2006

BEANIE BABIES

When I was a pea-green freshman at Dartmouth back in 1956, I had to wear a green beanie for months when I was in public. This was to identify me as a tyro and therefore haze-able by upperclassmen. The hazing I experienced was rather mild – carrying someone’s furniture, shining another’s shoes … no paddling, no sadistic stuff. I do vaguely remember that the Gauntlet was still in effect where freshmen had to run through a double line of seniors swinging belts. But these august upperclassmen were quite lenient and perfunctory. There was also Homecoming Weekend when the freshmen had to gambol around the center-of-campus bonfire. The official end of freshman hazing was Green Key weekend when we were welcomed as belonging. But this was all then part of the Dartmouth experience and I didn’t particularly resent it. This all lasted until 1967 when the administration made wearing the freshman beanie optional (see http://powerlineblog.com/archives/014377.php) and things, it seems, all went downhill from there (or uphill, depending on your point of view … see next paragraph). I don’t know when any form of freshman hazing officially ended (2001?) but I think the appearance of women on campus had a lot to do with it.

This brings me to the subject of hazing in general. I recall my Psychology 101 class telling me that hazing was meant to trip one’s cognitive dissonance and therefore cause one, the hazee, to embrace more fully the hazer’s institution (or occasionally to swing radically in the other direction and denounce the hazer). I do know that hazing seems universal and sometimes very brutal (e.g., the Russian military). Many sports teams (I presume, mostly male) also haze their new players (e.g., the Duke lacrosse team). And, of course, fraternities also have their initiation rituals. I can speak from personal experience here as I was the pledge master of my fraternity my senior year at Dartmouth. Now, assuming that the statute of limitations has run out, I will relate a few experiences. One of my most successful initiation rites was to send the pledge class to New York City on a scavenger hunt (a pastee from a striper, an elephant turd, etc.). I climbed into bed the following night to find the elephant turd neatly secreted under my covers and a gaggle of pledges guffawing outside my bedroom door. This task did bring this pledge class (at least those who went on the trip) very much together as a group … which made me feel like I was doing my job.

However, the actual initiation was something else. It was a bunch of sophomoric pranks (blindfold eating of spaghetti thinking it was worms, a little harmless paddling, Tabasco sauce on the genitalia, etc.) … all of which were pretty much standard fare for my fraternity. However, there was one pledge, now somewhat famous, who took great umbrage at this latter prank. I was even a little worried he would drop out of the frat house as a consequence. Am I sorry about my pledge master reign? Not fully, but I wish I had thought things through a little more and done more of the scavenger hunt and less of the Tabasco sauce type of thing.

5 comments:

Tim Dreisbach '71 said...

George et.al:

I still have my beanie from '67, along with the '71 mug given out free by the Co-op to all incoming freshman.

Actually there is something similar to the beanie on campus today. All the newbie's have a green T-shirt with their class numerals writ large. Like our beanies, it is a great way for all, freshmen and upperclassmen alike, to recognize the newcomers.

The hazing element of the beanie, having to do whatever was requested by upperclassmen, does not seem to have transitioned to the shirts, though. I understand hazing per se has major problems, but in '67 it was pretty mild, consisting mostly of helping upperclassmen moving their belongings at the beginning of the school year. And freshmen were able to simply say NO without consequence.

The "hardship" was a way of jumpstarting the bonding of the entire class, beyond the individual groups of Freshmen Trips, and indeed was a way for newcomers to meet and interact with upperclassmen as well, otherwise unlikely in introductory classes, or in fraternities (where we were forbidden) or in sports (as we still had freshman-only teams). Meeting those more senior particularly occurred in the mixed-class dormitories, where freshmen had to help their elders with move-in labor, and began cross-class friendships that lasted thruout the year and beyond.

I wonder if there is any way to bring back the "servant for a term" tradition without crossing the line of hazing abuse.

Finally I recall we could end our servitude at Homecoming in the fall, well in advance of Green Key, by besting the upperclasses in a 100-on-a-side tug of war on the Green.

Carey Heckman said...

Hazing is a criminal violation is every or nearly every state in the United States, including "Live Free or Die" New Hampshire. And for good reason. Hazing almost inevitably escalates until someone dies or gets seriously injured. In any event, Tim's beloved "servant for a month" would lead to large fines and prison terms regardless of the Dartmouth administration's attitude towards this.

I have met many, many Dartmouth alumni who were in pledging fraternities and still resent those who tormented them even though decades have passed. The uniformly report that although hazing bonded them to their classmates, it divided them from the others in their fraternity.

By the way, freshmen still run around the bonfire. It is entirely and completely voluntary, however.

Tim is mistaken about the green tshirts. No one makes anyone wear them. No penalty is imposed for not wearing them. And not many freshmen wear them, especially a few weeks into the term.

Finally, the demise of beenies and freshman hazing had little or nothing to do with women and much more to do with the nature of the late 1960s when these antics were perceived as incredibly childish, silly, and superficial compared to the much more serious work of opposing war and injustice.

Tim Dreisbach '71 said...

Carey:

You did not hear my message.

My beanie was voluntarily purchased! And as I noted, freshmen had the right to simply tell an upperclassman, "no thank you".

One can still have some "hardships" that bond people that are voluntarily chosen. Going on a tough Freshman Trip is one example. So was my nephew's voluntary attendance at boot camp as a new plebe at West Point... and he has bonded very quickly!

I would like to meet just one Dartmouth alum who resented his (voluntary) fraternity pledge activities and has lived everafter in torment.

As I said before, I share your concern about "hazing" that goes over the edge, and am uncertain how to maintain a boundary. But we have many examples of things like this in life, like driving down one side of the road, that require individual judgement. "Hazing" is a problem simply because it is a general topic and impossible to draw a line that is clear to all.

I also agree with you that by '69, concern over more serious things like Vietnam did overshadow.

I wonder how many out there are reading this, anyway.

Alumnus said...

I wonder whether it was Paleopitus or the student government that made the beanie optional, rather than the administration. Not every loss of tradition is a result of some action by the powers that be.

Maintaining the boundary between fun and hazing should be easy, because the state legislature has said where the boundary is, in N.H. Criminal Code section 631:7(I)(d):

"Student hazing" means any act directed toward a student, or any coercion or intimidation of a student to act or to participate in or submit to any act, when:
(1) Such act is likely or would be perceived by a reasonable person as likely to cause physical or psychological injury to any person; and
(2) Such act is a condition of initiation into, admission into, continued membership in or association with any organization.

[http://www.stophazing.org/laws/nh_law.htm]

Tim Dreisbach '71 said...

Alumnus:
re hazing vs fun...

"perceived by a reasonable person as being likely to cause psychological injury"

A very clear line?