Are the accusations at Howard on par with the hazing tragedies of the past? No, but they still matter. 

Written by Julian Kimble (@JRK316)

Earlier this week the Washington City Paper reported that two Howard University seniors had filed a lawsuit against Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. claiming that their human rights had been violated. Furthermore, the suit named the school itself as a defendant, noting that the prestigious university had failed to protect students who refused to accept hazing at the hands of the sorority. 

If you're expecting tales of psychological torment—something similar to Mean Girls on steroids, but on a college campus—you'll find that. But if you're assuming horrific tales of physical abuse where these young women were placed in potentially dangerous situations, you'll find nothing of the sort.

In the first of two articles by the City Paper, it's mentioned that both girls were invited to "Ivy Day," an interest meeting of sorts held by the AKA sorority during the spring semester of 2010. This was when both girls were just freshmen, during a time when the suit claims that official pledging on Howard's campus had been suspended due to prior cases of hazing. Following the initial meeting, they claim that they were subject to "dehumanizing" levels of hazing.

To be specific, every girl who attended the orientation was instructed not to wear the sorority's signature colors of pink and green, or any colors that can be blended to create pink and green. The group of pledges was also barred from wearing white pearls, another AKA staple. Moreover, the suit claims that pledges were addressed as "weak b******," humiliated by members of the sorority, and socially exiled. Specifically, they were prohibited from talking to non-sorority members on campus.

 

If none of this sounds egregious, it's because it's common practice for most pledges.

 

If none of this sounds egregious, it's because it's common practice for most pledges.

Like all sororities and fraternities, Alpha Kappa Alpha has a strict no-hazing policy. In the event that hopefuls participate in a pre-pledging "underground" process, the organization will not acknowledge any accusations of hazing in an attempt to be absolved of responsibility. Any such activity would be deemed unofficial, and therefore not associated with the organization. The message is that you're on your own if you choose to go off the grid, and that's what appears to have happened here.

At one point, a mother of one of the plaintiffs—who is also a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha—penned a complaint to the sorority about their treatment following orientation meetings in 2010 and 2011. She also said that another girl suffered a nervous breakdown and had to leave school as a result. In a follow-up, the City Paper highlighted some of the responsibilities the plaintiff's mother claims the girls were assigned:

Pick up sorority members from the airport.

Buy alcohol for Howard's Founders Week.

Use different doors than full-fledged sisters.

Not eat in the Punch Out, a Howard hangout.

Line up and address sisters by their sister's full names.

Once again, these requirements seem right in line with the many tasks that prospective members are expected to complete in order to join. If any girls willingly submit to this as part of an unofficial pledge group, it's on them. But, as always, there's more. The initial complaint (which is being used as evidence in the case) detailed additional treatment that these eager young women were subjected to during orientations:

Interested women were commanded to contact random sorors daily at a certain hour on the minute, and if they failed to do so, the women would be forced to suffer and endure verbal abuse or be disqualified from [membership process] ab initio

Interested women were told to attend social events under the guise of getting to know other Greek letter organization members, only to be heckled, harangued and humiliated by sorors in front of their peers;

Interested women were mentally tormented by sorors; for example some were instructed by sorors to do something random or silly, only to be immediately berated and castigated in front of other sorors for doing as they were instructed to do

Interested women were restricted from speaking with friends on the college campus and warned not to report abuses.

Following the complaint, both plaintiffs say they were given the cold shoulder by the sorority. To be more explicit, they were blackballed and branded as "snitches." While a harsh reality, this response is far from unexpected. They weren't singled out, as all AKA hopefuls faced the same rigors during the process. It's all part of the game, and it was one they chose to play. Considering the abuse sorority and fraternity members of generations past have been subject to, many would scoff at the mostly innocuous allegations.

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