Sororities are a part of American university life, and many have been around for decades. A girl can end up in the same sorority that her mother pledged years ago, and many sorority sisters end up being friends for life. There’s definitely a particular way sororities are portrayed in movies like Legally Blonde and The House Bunny - an awesome house where you can make friends for life, wear fabulous outfits, look gorgeous all the time, and just have fun hanging out with your girlfriends.
Sure, that can definitely happen in real life, and many women have extremely positive experiences with sororities. However, it does take some effort to get in the door, and most sororities still have hazing rituals. After all, hazing is supposed to bring sisters closer together before they enter their chosen sorority. Some hazing rituals are innocuous, silly things like sorting sequins by color that’s punishing enough to cause a little bonding and commiseration, but not something that the women will remember years later. And then there’s the terrifying stories – both physically and emotionally scarring, examples of sisters that have taken things way, way too far, of sisters that have degraded potential pledges rather than empowered them to be strong women.
Here are 13 of the most terrifying sorority hazing stories.
13 Altoona Nightmare
Many sorority sisters who had bad experiences during their hazing keep quiet, fearing that they’ll be ostracised if they speak out. However, things got so bad at Penn State Altoona that a pledge who identified herself only by her first name, Joanne, spoke with ABC news in 2008. She detailed a horrific ritual, where pledges were forced to stand and face a concrete wall together. Seems harmless enough, right? Side by side with your sisters, bored out of your wits, perhaps some fun bonding chatter would emerge. Well, except that if any of the pledges moved even an inch, they would be slammed into the concrete wall face first. Brutal. But that wasn’t all at Altoona. Joanne also mentioned that when she refused to cook and serve the sisters dinner, they made her scrub the kitchen floors (using her fingernails to scour them at one point) and then drink the disgusting “pitch black,” dirty water. Joanne high-tailed it away from that sorority, even switching schools, but continued to be harassed by her former sisters.
Many perceive Dartmouth as a quiet, intellectual school, but it’s received quite a lot of press for its Greek life – and it’s usually not painted in a positive light. In 2009, a Dartmouth grad spoke with the Huffington Post about the hazing she experienced while pledging Kappa Kappa Gamma. It’s come to be almost expected that there’s drinking involved in Greek life, but the ritual takes things to a new – and incredibly dangerous – level. The woman – who didn’t share her name – describes a ritual where pledges were put in the back seat of a car, made to chug alcoholic punch (each pledge got their own huge 64 oz. bottle), given several vodka shots, and then forced out of the car. Did the pledge make her way back to safety? Well, she wouldn’t know – she only remembers waking up in the ICU unit at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, having been admitted with a blood alcohol content that was 0.01 away from a level that would induce comas or even death.
11 Trivial Pursuit of Terror
This story comes from a pledge who spoke with Alexandra Robbins, a writer who went undercover and eventually penned the shocking expose on sororities entitled Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities. Robbins details the experience of a pledge named Arika, who was forced to answer trivia questions with her pledging sisters, and if she got an answer wrong, do a shot of straight vodka. Reckless, but not unheard of for college students, right? However, if the pledges got more than a certain number wrong, in place of a bit of vodka, their ‘sisters’ gave them four other options – a sharpie, a knife, a hammer, and sex toys – that they would be violated with. Arika drew the line, walking out of that particular hazing ritual, but Robbins included another shocking fact – Arika ended up staying in the sorority, despite getting a glimpse at what depraved hazing rituals they had thought up.
10 Paddled to Suspension
The Sigma Gamma Rho sorority at Rutgers used paddles as part of their hazing – it’s something that countless sororities are rumored to use, and purportedly it’s just a bit of light swatting to haze in pledges. However, Sigma Gamma Rho took it too far. A 2010 pledge ended up in the hospital after the paddle hazing in her chapter involved being beaten up to 200 times, for several days, in a seemingly non-stop assault. The student, who ended up in the hospital from the aggravated hazing, pressed charges. While the girls who had performed the hazing ended up escaping with only a bit of public shaming, as the charges were dropped, the Rutgers chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho was thankfully suspended. Perhaps most shockingly, when a student who was friends with the girls in the former Sigma Gamma Rho spoke to ABC News, she seemed to think the fault lay with the once hospitalized pledge for ‘ratting’ on her sisters, rather than blaming the girls who had beaten a pledge so badly she ended up in the hospital.
9 Hot and Cold
The University of New York at Binghamton got into some hot water in 2012 when a series of hazing rituals got some public attention. Allegedly, the sorority sisters were throwing the hopeful pledges into freezing showers to recite the Greek alphabet, forcing them to hold burning hot hookah coals, and also feeding them some pills to induce vomiting, just to cap off the experience. The school responded with a thorough investigation of the Greek system at their institution, and they drafted up guidelines that the sorority chapters had to follow. They’ll likely claim to enforce them, but let’s be honest – given the amount of terrifying hazing going around at other schools behind closed doors, who’s to say that the same things won’t continue to happen? The real issue seems to be whether any of the pledges will step forward, as the students who revealed the painful hot and cold rituals did.
8 Sink or Swim
While many terrible sorority hazing stories end in hospitalization or some kind of trauma, this one turned out to be fatal, and shocking on several levels. In 2002, students Kristen High and Kenitha Saafir were pledging Alpha Kappa Alpha at Cal State Los Angeles. They were forced to do hours of gruelling exercise – painful and unnecessary, yes, but not actually fatal for two healthy young girls, right? However, when their bodies were exhausted, they were then forced to cool down by walking backwards into the ocean. Things took a turn when a wave ended up sucking Saafir into the water. As she couldn’t swim, her fellow pledge Kristen High tried to help her. Whether the waves were just too strong, or the girls were too weak from their forced exercise, the story ended tragically with both of them drowning. After the fact, it also turned out that the sorority chapter they were pledging had been suspended for over a decade, something the sisters definitely hadn’t revealed to the hopeful pledges.
7 Lock Up
Tess Koman, a former Sigma Delta Tau at Union College who is now an associate editor at Cosmopolitan, got a lot of backlash lately after an article she wrote discussing her horrific hazing and why it wasn’t such a ‘bad’ thing. Whether you agree with Koman or not, just take a look at the hazing itself – she discusses a ritual where herself and about 40 other pledges were locked in a basement (with only one toilet to use, a minor detail that is nonetheless frightening). They lined up and would be forced by the sorority sisters to answer questions such as who the prettiest sister was, scolded, critiqued and more. Koman says that, while she was “scared sh*tless” throughout the hazing process, she made great lifelong friends. However… we can’t help but wonder if you could make friends just sharing some mimosas over brunch.
6 So Much for Southern Hospitality
At the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga, a pledge who was rushing Delta Sigma Theta ended up in the hospital after some hazing in 2009. The pledge, Jasmine Johnson, says that her hazing included being punched in the face while being doused with ice cold water and having vinegar squirted into her eyes, having eggs smashed on her body while she was repeatedly punched, all of which resulted in a concussion and vaginal bleeding. Johnson, having been hospitalized, realized things had gone too far and spoke up – her sorority sister was charged with assault. The school responded by placing a cease and desist order on the sorority in question until things were sorted out.
5 A Laundry List of Atrocities
A pledge by the name of Jo Hannah Burch was pledging Gamma Psi at Young Harris College, but she quickly began to question whether the hazing rituals were going too far. Burch tried reaching out to several members of the school’s administration, who effectively told her to ignore it (unsurprising, considering that Burch stated there were some members of the college staff who participated in the hazing as well). However, Burch two allies in new lecturer Theresa Crapanzano and professor Joseph Terry. The two staff members went to bat for Burch, holding meetings and desperately trying to get some rules drafted up for the hazing process, but things didn’t really end in victory – a spokesperson for Young Harris College said that many of the hazing claims were “false and outrageous.” What were some of the hazing rituals? A panty run, forcing female pledges to get judged naked by frat brothers, making the pledges stand in water that older pledges urinated and defecated in, and verbally assaulting students who supposedly “ratted” on Greek behavior and hazing rituals.
4 Human Trash Can
Britteny Starling was pledging Zeta Phi Beta at the University of California, Berkeley, but the hazing rituals soon became more than she had expected. Things started with some degradation and humiliation, as Starling was forced to mop the floor using just her own body/clothing, and collect garbage from the girls using only her hands and pockets. No cleaning supplies, no garbage bags, nothing. Things eventually ended up getting physical – when Starling’s legs gave out after she was forced to stand for a long period of time, she was hit in the ankle by a sorority sister and injured. Starling went on to sue the sorority, and it ended up getting shut down. A victory, sure, but at what cost? How many girls went from hopeful pledges to humiliated human garbage cans before starling stepped up?
3 Ten Hour Trauma
Two young freshman at Medgar Evers College were pledging Gamma Beta Delta, excited to join a sorority that seemed impressive form the outside, when things went bad. Shawntee Caton and Gabby Jones, the two pledges, were blindfolded and taken to a dark basement where they spent 10 hours being asked personal questions about sex acts and sexuality, and then continued to get verbally attacked for hours. The two girls, understandably, left in tears and were rattled by the whole experience. The girls’ mothers were understandably incredibly upset at what their daughters had been put through. This terrifying hazing story proves that it’s not only the physical abuses that can turn hazing ugly – particularly for young girls, being verbally critiqued and needlessly attacked can have a huge emotional impact.
2 From 32A to 34DD
Alexandra Robbins describes one particular hazing ritual that she witnessed while researching her book that, while it’s not physical at all, is definitely disturbing. Let’s face it – while there are certainly self-confident women who are comfortable in their skin regardless of the situation, there are countless women who have certain insecurities and are constantly comparing themselves and their bodies to the bodies of others. In the “boob ranking” hazing ritual, pledges were brought into a cold room, told to take off their shirts and bras, and line up in order of breast size. They were critiqued and berated through the entire process, but even the simple act of forcing women to line up according to breast size is both degrading and emotionally damaging.
1 Body Insecurities
In theory, sorority sisters should help their fellow sisters become confident, empowered women who feel great in their own skin. In practice, the hazing rituals often try to reinforce any negative thoughts that pledges may have about their own bodies. At Montclair State University, some former sisters detailed a practice where pledges were made to sit on washing machines and endure other sisters circling any body parts that jiggled as a result of the machine moving them around. While this type of hazing may seem innocuous in comparison to the often violent, horrifying physical hazing rituals, just take Alexandra Robbins’ word for it – it isn’t. Robbins spoke to a woman who, like the washing machine girls, was placed in front of an audience (of fraternity members rather than sorority sisters, but similar premise) and then had her body harshly critiqued. The woman reportedly had emotional scars nearly a decade after her hazing, proving that emotional abuses during hazing can be equally traumatic.