In September 1960, I pledged the Zeta Psi fraternity at Bowdoin. (In those days, 95 % of the students joined a fraternity.) As one of 27 Zeta Psi pledges, I had to go through “orientation” or, if you prefer, hazing. Most of it was harmless stuff like having to wear a sign with my name and fraternity on it and a beanie while walking around campus. We had to memorize every brother’s full name and hometown. And memorize college and fraternity songs.

Some of it was more humiliating, like having to kneel down two-by-two at the entrance of the fraternity (now the Ladd house) and recite the Zeta Psi prayer before entering for dinner. (“Come all on high and hear my cry, my prayer to enter Zeta Psi…”) If you made a mistake, you might have a bucket of water tossed down from above. At one point, every pledge had to sing their high school alma mater or share a raunchy joke, much to the delight of the hooting brethren.

We did not endure the kind of extreme physical hazing reported on the national news, such as being forced to drink until vomiting (or dying). We were never dropped off at night in the middle of nowhere and forced to find our way home. Google “hazing” and you’ll find numerous examples of young people in fraternities or athletic teams or cheerleading squads or marching bands doing outrageous things to new members designed, the rationale goes, to ensure bonding. Read “Lords of Discipline” by Pat Conroy and you’ll appreciate the hell endured by new cadets at the Citadel. Although being estranged for years from the Citadel, Conroy later got an honorary degree from his alma mater.

We new Zetes did, however, experience an event, which most sane people would call barbaric. We were branded. That’s right, we were put in a coffin at the end of our six-week orientation and branded with a “Z” and the symbol for Psi on our right forearms. Yes, it hurt, but we were proud to be official members of the house. The dates we had later that weekend did not seem too impressed. (An aside: some people might view getting tattoos as barbaric.)

All that said, I had a fine experience at Zeta Psi. I learned about leadership by serving as president for a semester. I got to know several faculty members who joined us for dinner every week. Incidentally, the guy who had been the stern pledge master lording over our pledge class played alongside me and two others on the victorious Zeta Psi bridge team. Best of all, some of my fraternity brothers remain close friends, 61 years later.

The hazing incident involving the Brunswick High School football team prompted these reflections. Clearly, several parts of my experience in the fall of 1960 would be considered out-of-bounds today and rightly so. Adjusting to college is hard enough without being embarrassed and humiliated by older students. And that, to me, is the line that should never be crossed. Humiliating, intimidating and bullying young people (or anyone, for that matter) are never acceptable. Find other ways to facilitate bonding.

Moreover, don’t reward people in business (or politics) who elbowed their way to the top by humiliating, intimidating and bullying. Such tactics reveal weakness, not strength. Real leaders don’t bully.

Adults, to be sure, are responsible for preventing such incidents. Young people too often lack the will or judgment to control their behaviors. Teachers, coaches, team captains and, yes, principals, superintendents and parents must set a this-is-not-acceptable tone. A boys-will-be-boys or girls-will-be-girls excuse no longer flies.

A final note: don’t bother asking to see the brand on my forearm. It faded away over time.

David Treadwell, a Brunswick writer, welcomes commentary and suggestions for future “Just a Little Old” columns. [email protected]

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