Ernest Owens | A campus-wide pledge to change

The Ernest Opinion | Pledging for non-Greek organizations should be re-evaluated

· November 3, 2011, 11:20 pm   ·  Updated November 7, 2011, 12:51 am

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Ernest Owens
The Ernest Opinion

It was a cold October night in 2010. While many students were in their dorms staying warm, I was blind-folded and locked into a dark bathroom and ordered to wait in silence. I had just finished doing push-ups and having beer pushed in my face while an array of yelling upperclassmen tormented me. My anxiety was shared by seven other freshmen as we waited for acceptance. The door then opened, and the cheers followed. We had finally made it. Not into a fraternity, but into our elected student government office.

This was our Undergraduate Assembly initiation. We were strongly encouraged to attend this very unofficial event, but it was not what I had campaigned for.

Yet, such is the case for many other talented Quakers who choose to join a fine arts troupe or other extracurricular activity. Pledge-like behavior by non-Greek organizations walks a fine line between reason and irrationality.

Clubs and organizations are arenas for students to showcase their specific abilities in their desired fields. If one joins a theatre company, one’s strengths in stage and crew should serve as the foundation for approval in the group. When organizations require an individual to do tasks outside their level of expertise to gain acceptance, such actions should be questioned. Being forced to go on scavenger hunts in the middle of the night and to dress up in humiliating apparel should not be telling of one’s dedication to a student group. In fact, it does the opposite — such behavior exploits one’s desperation to fit in.

“They told us we didn’t have to go, but I didn’t want to be judged if I decided not to,” said a newly elected UA freshman representative, who asked to remain anonymous because the UA Executive Board strongly encouraged its members not to speak with The Daily Pennsylvanian — without its supervision — about being a part of this year’s initiation. “They had me tied to a chair and blind-folded as they yelled, and I had to remind myself that I didn’t want to be excluded from the group … it was borderline hazing.”

History had again repeated itself. This year’s Executive Board called it an “initiation,” but after reflecting on it a year later, I question if it could be described as a celebratory event at all.

The irrelevance of this initiation and other similar events seems like an indication of something done for tradition rather than common sense. This article is not calling for an abolishment of meaningful club rituals and memories but of ones that are done simply in the name of ritual alone.

“Some [rituals] are meant to build unison and commitment,” said College sophomore Mercedes Dressler, who has participated previously in pledge-like activities for a campus organization. “Pledging for a club really shows how serious you are about the group, yet [rituals] must be relevant to the organization or else they are pointless.”

On Locust Walk last week, I saw a member of an a cappella group sing several lines of classical music out loud as a consequence for forgetting her mandatory songbook. Such actions reflect how members of a student group can positively show their dedication to the task they signed up for — singing. Rather than enforce self-deprecating belittlement, rational harmless pledging in clubs and organizations invoke valuable lessons and a greater sense of appreciation.

Such distinctions between clubs and Greek organizations should be made very clear. The nature and meaning behind them bear stark differences, and if much of their ideologies are merged, I fear that many of our peers could be left out of the social fabric of our University. Fraternities and sororities are allowed to increase their rate of personal preference in their selection process, while campus organizations must apply a more equal and fair standard. If these campus clubs begin to evolve into a fraternity-like state, what does that say for those who are excluded unfairly? What social repercussions will that bear? And who should take the blame?

I have had many great memories on the UA — dinners with President Amy Gutmann, leadership skill building and, most of all, making tangible change for the student body overall. Being amid intoxicated freshmen in a compromising position for the entertainment of the upperclassman student leaders was not. I only beg that others prevent the same fate for their clubs — or else they will forever be haunted by the memories.

Ernest Owens, an Undergraduate Assembly representative, is a College sophomore from Chicago. His email address is owense@sas.upenn.edu. The Ernest Opinion appears every Friday.

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