Fraternity Hazing: An Open Apology


This post has been brewing in me for some time. I imagine it may stir up some controversy in a lot of men I know or have known. I write not to place blame, but to take personal responsibility: I apologize to any man I have hurt and wronged through the hazing ordeal I participated in while in college.

By writing this I know that I risk losing some friends. I risk being judged. I risk losing you as a reader.

Yet, if I truly want to be a Revolutionary Man, I have to be ruthlessly honest with myself. I have to own up to mistakes I’ve made, people I’ve pissed off, and most importantly people I either took advantage of or caused unnecessary harm to. Above all, I have to be honest about where I stepped out of my own integrity.  This process requires that I leave no stone unturned.

The purpose of this post is to publicly apologize and to own up to three key mistakes I made while I was an undergraduate:

  1. I watched and did nothing as others were hazed, knowing inside that it was wrong.
  2. In turn, I betrayed my own integrity and hazed others. I manipulated, misled, shamed, and verbally and emotionally hurt other men.
  3. When I changed my tune and realized hazing was wrong, I “came out” against hazing in a very unskillful fashion.

In college I took part in hazing other men with the aim of unifying each pledge class and “making” pledges active members of my fraternity. A guy had to “earn” his way in, and dammit, I was going to make it hard for him. After all, I reasoned, I went through it, now he has to go through it too.  I think the members achieved the desired outcome of unifying the pledge class, but the means with which we did it were plain wrong.

I had many justifications for my behavior. “It’s not really real.” “I didn’t mean the things I said to him.” “It was just a joke, all BS, just for fun.” “If this guy didn’t go through hell week, he’d still be an arrogant asshole. I put him in his place.” “It made him a man” and many, many other such rationalizations.

Not until I became President of the fraternity did I begin to fear the repercussions of my actions. My good friends called me “God squad” to imply that I was abusing my power as I tried to balance old traditions with my new responsibilities. I began to slowly speak out against hazing some, but pretty weakly and was too scared to really stand up.

When I began to work for my fraternity headquarters as a leadership consultant after college, I really changed my tune. There, I heard a man speak by the name of Dave Westol who spoke of the atrocities of hazing. I got it at that speech. This is when I began to piss a lot of folks off: “Who’s the hypocrite telling us what to do?”

Now, years later and with a master’s degree in psychology under my belt, and having studied trauma extensively, I understand the price tag of hazing on the human psyche.

When faced with a threatening situation, we humans respond in one of four ways:  Fight, flight, freeze or submit. In college, I witnessed men go through all of these. Men cried, men fought back, men left the fraternity forever, men “took it,” and men just simply shut down—they would get silent for hours, days, and weeks.

I traumatized other men, period. Yes, I was young and naïve, but that is no excuse for immature, hurtful behavior.  I was a boy initiating other boys.

In other cultures, and since the beginning of time, men have gone through great challenges and adversity to become men, but not in this unconscious, immature way. It was the job of the elders of the village because they carried the wisdom to push young boys into manhood with the appropriate tests and rites. But it was always done with respect and compassion. Moreover, it’s the fraternity’s job to initiate young men into the fraternity, not into manhood.

On to my apologies…

To the brothers of my fraternity and to the men who had the balls enough to “drop” before hell week even started:

Apology number one: I apologize for how I tried to stop hazing. I was a “complete asshole” as a friend recently pointed out. True, I was. I was young and unskillful in my attempts to eradicate hazing. For the men who I shamed and blamed, I am sorry for not showing you the respect you deserved in how I communicated.

Apology number two: To anyone I hazed, I am deeply sorry. It was never my intention to hurt you. You know who you are. If you want to have a conversation, in person or over the phone, please know that I am open to it.

I don’t apologize for a second about standing up against hazing. I will continue to stand up to other grown men who think that verbally, emotionally and physically cutting someone down is somehow valuable.

What did I learn through all of this that may be of benefit to others? Here are five important points to consider as you reflect upon your past.

  1. Clean up your past or it will follow you in some way, shape or form. A lot of guys just “stuff” their past. As a psychotherapist and life coach, trust me, I work with a lot of folks who are stuck in their lives due to stuffing or running from their past, and this approach is bankrupt. It doesn’t work in the long run.
  2. When you realize you have wronged someone, own up to it. If they want to hold something against you and don’t accept your apology, that’s their business. Your business is to own up to the people you have hurt.
  3. Don’t betray yourself, no matter the cost. I crossed two lines in college. One was the line or boundary of other men whom I hurt. The second line was my own inner authority.
  4. How you speak your truth is essential. Rather than blame others, own your own thing. Don’t put your trips on other people. Just because I had a change of heart, doesn’t mean others have to buy in. Take responsibility for yourself. You can’t change others, nor should you.
  5. As my old friend said, “I would never, ever let anyone do to my son what we did back then.” I agree with you bro. Never in a million years would I put my son (now 2 weeks old) through that kind of bullshit, ever. Use this example as a barometer.

So, what line have you crossed, past or present, both within yourself and with others? Where have you “wronged” someone and what do you need to do to clean it up?

My challenge to you is clean up your past or it will follow you.

I realize the limitations of doing this through a blog, but it is a start and I commit to continuing the process so that I can be the man I am here to be.

To learn more about “why” someone like me went through such an ordeal and why I might in turn “make” others do the same, read this article:  men-and-hazing. In the meantime, please leave your comments and feedback below.


  • Ty Brewer

    Reply Reply February 18, 2009

    Good on you, Gaddis. I agree.

  • Keith

    Reply Reply February 18, 2009

    Thanks for this post. I was never in a fraternity, but definitely have many experiences with treating other “men” like shit at that time in my life. I’m over it as well.

  • monica

    Reply Reply February 25, 2009

    Wow, I haven’t even read your whole post, but as a woman currently training as a life coach, I really admire what you are doing, because I know how hard it is. Mostly because I am doing a lot of it too, having to get “clean” about all the things I don’t respect about myself, really owning up, taking responsibility, making a sincere apology when possible, and forgiving myself so I can really own myself (for lack of a better term). I also know that you will be the one to benefit most, or at least that has been the case for me… well maybe it hasn’t but I know that’s all I can really be responsible for. I really admire and am inspired by seeing a male do this, and I don’t intend to be patronizing, but I do think it can be more challenging for men to make a sincere apology that requires vulnerability. Thanks for being the kind of leader we need more of in the world.

    • Anonymous

      Reply Reply February 25, 2009

      Thanks Monica. More to come. Stay tuned. And yes, it is hard to own up to “stuff” but it makes me more of a man when I do.

  • Nick Berger

    Reply Reply February 28, 2009


    Your bravery in posting this sets a clear example for other men to follow. In a recent therapy session, I explored my “freeze” response to trauma. My most distinct memory of this being a useful response was from my own pledging in college. When talking about it, I was shocked that such a formative experience for me never came up in therapy before; perhaps because it’s a secret, forbidden topic, not to be shared with people outside the fraternity. The experience of sharing my memories of pledging normalized my “freeze” response, and allowed me to start working with it, instead of passing it off as just “something I do” and “it’s not a problem.”

    As a therapist myself, any unexplored, taboo, part of my past is a problem if it inhibits my ability to examine similar experiences with my clients. Pledging-as-trauma is a touchy subject, and one that will invite a lot of criticism from those who have gone through it (both men and women). But it’s necessary to open the doors to our past and air out those forbidden memories that we haven’t been able to talk about with anyone outside the “in group.”

    I think pledging can be done wrong, and it can be done right, but either way, it should be something we can talk about openly. It’s the “clean, well-lit room” standard of ethics: if you wouldn’t want someone to find out about it, it’s probably unethical. It sounds like your blog post is about living in accord with your highest sense of ethics, responsibility, and dignity. Thank you for opening this door, and making pledging something people can talk about more openly.

  • Joshua G.

    Reply Reply March 2, 2009

    Wow! Amazing Jason! Thank you for sharing this and doing it publicly. This is the sort of thing we need from leaders in our world! Weather it’s on a local level or global level…business environment or political environment. It’s all connected anyhow right? So thank you from the bottom of my heart.

    I used to be attracted to the idea of a fraternity because I needed a brotherhood, etc. but I would have never joined one had I gone to a 4 4 year college and I probably couldn’t have told you why…now that you’ve brought this up, it seems to me that this idea of hazing is why. Something just didn’t sit right with me about it.

    “1. I watched and did nothing as others were hazed, knowing inside that it was wrong.
    2. In turn, I betrayed my own integrity and hazed others. I manipulated, misled, shamed, and verbally and emotionally hurt other men.
    3. When I changed my tune and realized hazing was wrong, I “came out” against hazing in a very unskillful fashion.”

    I want to be a stronger man and have the strength to stand up for what my intuition tells me is right but the truth is I am often scared and so I don’t do anything. Or other times when I do, it is in a very unskilled fashion as you mentioned. That is likely because I am in my flight or fight mode. Anyhow, that is something I am working on and I am curious to know why you believe you responded unskillfully to your intuition and what you did to improve that skill.

    Thanks again, Joshua

    Joshua Gribschaw-Beck

  • Justice Marshall

    Reply Reply March 2, 2009

    Powerful post. Right on man.
    Having kids really gives you a fresh perspective!

  • Brian Kesler

    Reply Reply March 19, 2009

    When my son was born I thought, if god could grant me one wish for my son what would it be? Make him a great athlete or a genious? The thing that would make me most proud would be to see him become a good person and treat others with kindness and respect. Not only would I not want him to be treated the way we treated the plegdes, but I would be ashamed if he were to haze others the way I did. College seems like so long ago. I like your site and I will add to my favorites. Thanks Jayson.

    • Anonymous

      Reply Reply March 19, 2009

      Thanks Brian. Well said bro. Glad my post had an impact. Hard to believe who we were back then right? I imagine you are an awesome Dad!

  • Alex

    Reply Reply September 17, 2009

    I am interested in how you shifted your communication style…how did you shift from blaming/shaming others to compassionately explaining your truth? I am having this problem right now…I don’t want to be involved in rushing or “initiating” (in fact, I really don’t want to be in this frat anymore – I feel ashamed to say that, and I don’t want to “betray” my brothers).


  • jayson

    Reply Reply September 17, 2009


    I got to know myself deeply. You seem clear about what you want and don’t want, now man up and act.


  • Brent

    Reply Reply November 10, 2009

    Dude, I just read this and it brought up so many memories. I was hazed in a fraternity, for the spring semester back in 94, and I dropped out before hell week. It was one of the most traumatic things of my life actually… me and my pledge brothers getting tortured with extreme cold, getting piss poured on us, etcetera etcetera… just crazy. I didn’t even include this info in the “major milestones” of my life that I sent you for our upcoming coaching sessions. Anyways, yeah, thanks for writing that.

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  • Andrew

    Reply Reply November 10, 2010

    Jayson, thanks for sharing that.

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