The Hazing Abuse of Michael Warren

Michael Warren should have consulted Kevin Bacon...

A fraternity hazing story—yes, amazing as it seems, there are still hazings—raises the persistent ethical issue of whether a victim is responsible for his own mistreatment if he consents to it. Even if he shares responsibility, however, his consent does nothing to reduce the ethical failings of the abusers, or those of the irresponsible authorities who presided over a sick campus culture.

Michael Warren is an African American who was the only black pledge of the Alpha Delta Omega fraternity at Hartwick College (in Oneonta, New York). His potential “brothers” locked him in a bathroom with other pledges for hours, where they were subjected to ear-splitting music and strobe lights; he was forced, he says, to dress like a pimp, a humiliating bit of racial stereotyping; and, shades of the evil Omega Theta Phi fraternity in “Animal House,” was paddled so hard that he needed medical treatment (“Thank you, sir, may I have another?”). Warren complained, and found himself a pariah on campus, making him so uncomfortable that he gave up his scholarship to transfer to Hofstra. Now he is suing Hartwick, and his lawyer is arguing that his mistreatment by the fraternity “may have ruined his life.”

Well, I doubt that. It is more likely that it saved his life, since he presumably learned some of the essential lessons of Phillip Zimbardo’s “The Lucifer Effect,” in which the author describes the dangers of handing over your values and autonomy to a group in the interest of security and peer acceptance.  He also prescribes strategies to avoid falling into this trap (or ending up in a locked bathroom with a bleeding rear end), of which I would summarize the most relevant to Warren’s plight as:

  • Accept full responsibility for your actions.
  • Assert and protect your individuality.
  • Recognize the courageous act in support of ethical values, and be willing to perform  it.
  • Be prepared to oppose authority if necessary.
  • Refuse to forfeit independent judgment in pursuit of group acceptance.
  • Be alert to deceit, misrepresentations, “spin” and euphemisms.
  • Recognize and reject rationalizations for unethical conduct.
  • Look beyond the moment.
  • Never sacrifice personal freedom out of fear and a desire for security.
  • Be vigilant against the power of cognitive dissonance.

Does Warren share culpability for his own abuse by submitting to the hazing and allowing the sadistic frat fools to go as far as they did? Of course he does. He could have refused to continue, he could have said no. But the effect of peer pressure and the desire to please groups is astonishingly powerful, and Zimbardo, who was one of the behavioral scientists who organized the infamous and frightening Stanford Prison Experiment, cautions that very good people can find themselves agreeing to participate in horrible acts, even against themselves. An upsetting number of comments on the web about Warren’s lawsuit suggest that he is a wimp, trying to blame others for his own stupidity. It is an ignorant reaction. he shouldn’t be relieved of any responsibility for what happened, but he walked into a complex psychological environment that included his own insecurities as a minority student seeking security and acceptance, the corrupting influence when some individuals have power over another, and the sick ethical culture at Hartwick. He subjected himself to powerful forces that have made older and wiser  people act ways that contradicted their most heartfelt principles, and if he had not been surrounded by students whose ethics alarms were malfunctioning, nothing bad would have happened to him. When someone who is weak, insecure, gullible, naive, sick, confused, pressured, foolish, needy or desperate agrees to be mistreated, it cannot relieve those who receive his consent from the ethical accountability of mistreating him.

Apparently the college has expelled one student and suspended six others. Too little, two late: I’d like to see Hartwick held liable in the lawsuit. The fraternity itself and the frat members involved, who are also being sued  are bi-products of an irresponsible and ethically reprehensible institution.

For Hartwick College has an absurdly long history of hazing abuses, and had an obligation to stop them long before Michael Warren became another victim. In 2006, three members of another fraternity  forced a pledge to do sit-ups and push-ups in broken glass and urine-soaked garbage, leading to the arrest of the perpetrators. Also in 2006, two pledges at yet another frat were treated for alcohol poisoning and freshman members of the lacrosse team complained that they were forced to strip naked and drink a keg of beer at an initiation ritual. In 1997, a student got so drunk at a frat party, he wandered off alone and drowned in a river. These are just the incidents we know about.

Warren and the frat sadists are still learning about how to be adults, and it is part of a college’s job to instill them with sound values and protect them from their own inevitable foolishness and bad judgment.  Instead, Hartwick’s leaders stood by and allowed a dangerous and unethical culture of cruelty and peer exploitation to fester on campus, creating the conditions that led Warren, and doubtless others, to physical and emotional harm.

24 thoughts on “The Hazing Abuse of Michael Warren

  1. Yes, I am a Hart wick student, but I do not defend the college because I am part of some cruel system, I am very much against it. Instead, I feel you misrepresent the college as a whole.

  2. As a member of the Hartwick College student res life, I feel as though this article is a poor representation of the college. My roommate is in a sorority and loves her participation because of all the community and social work which she experiences. But at Hartwick, we are not all about Greek Life. This article does not represent the college well at all. We have an amazing art program, an intense nursing program, our D1 men’s soccer has one of the highest GPAs in the nation, our english professors are authors, our anthropology offers amazing opportunities in “digs”, and we have amazing travel abroad opportunities through our special January Terms. Opportunity, community, growing and learning is what Hartwick is really about.
    Hazing incidents in Greek Life? That doesn’t happen just once or twice at Hartwick, that happens continuously everywhere. Hartwick has recently, within the last five years, adopted an anti-hazing program and the majority of our Greek Life participates in Hazing Awareness Week.
    Just to throw it out there – let’s not forget that most frats and sororities come from older “secret societies” that were started at Harvard and Yale. (http://www.nhregister.com/articles/2010/11/24/opinion/doc4cecfde530795092867764.txt) They hazed. They still haze, although they probably refuse to admit it, because no one wants to look bad anymore.
    If you are going to join Greek Life ANYWHERE, be a man about it and learn the culture of the frat/ sorority you are joining before you get yourself into something that you cannot handle. Make sure if that frat/ sorority has a history of hazing, you learn about it and find out if they still do it today.
    And don’t ruin the Greek Life for everyone else, simply because you cannot take a little bit of a challenge.

    • Great comment. It proves my point better than I ever could. The piece does not represent the college well because the persistence of hazing and other incidents of student abuse at the college does not represent it well. There are thousands of small colleges, and yours has made the news many more times than the vast majority, not because of academic achievements or contributions to knowledge, but because the college fosters cruelty and irresponsible conduct. Its other virtues that you cite, such as they are, are irrelevant to this issue, and certainly can’t be used to minimize its implications.

      I’m glad Hartwick has an “Anti-hazing” program; imagine the carnage if it didn’t have one, since students are still being treated like Mr. Warren. The school has not met its duty of supervision, and is 100% responsible for the clearly unethical, unkind, ethically ignorant culture your own comments illustrate: 1) The fact that hazing is not uncommon does not justify or excuse it. 2) The fact that the older colleges instituted secret societies centuries ago does not make student-on-student cruelty now less outrageous. 3) The fact that students may be able to discover which sororities and fraternities are likely to abuse them does not make them responsible in any way for the abuse. What an idiotic argument! If the students can find out about abusive frats, so can your apathetic, irresponsible, negligent college administrators, so they could monitor their idiocy and stop it.

      The fact that your room mate “loves” her sorority proves nothing, though the fact that a student would cite this as having any bearing on the culture of cruelty tolerated on the campus suggests that the school’s main purpose, teaching young adults to think, analyze, and make good decisions isn’t being fulfilled.

      I can’t speak for Yale, but as I attended the other august institution you mention, I can say with authority that it banned fraternites decades before I went there, because they were insufficiently supervised, elitist, and stupid. My alma mater’s example is widely followed in other respects; I don’t see a good reason for Hartwick not following this one.

      I am also Greek by heritage, by the way, and “Greek life”, as related to me by my grandmother, did not involve bullying peer groups abusing young men and women desperate for acceptance.

      • Jack, the student above raises great points. You over look the facts and use unrelated information to develop an image that support your OPINION. Your comments on Rob Jordan’s death, your evaluation of what the term “Greek Life” means, your rude comments towards people and organizations that you do not personally know… They all seem to be thrown in there to “support” your argument. Any true intellectual would be able to recognize when someone is genuinely supporting their opinion and when someone is fabricating information in order to support their argument. Write facts in support of your opinion, don’t write your opinion to skew facts. That student above, a primary source of information, uses opinion and fact that has been proven first-hand to make his/her point.
        Now, if you’d like me to write pure opinion and still sound less ignorant than you, here’s what I have to say.
        Censorship has destroyed so many lessons that life has to offer. We can’t yell at our children, so we have to sue the parents of the boy who our child got in a fight with to make a point. We can’t drink until we’re practically living on our own, so kids sneak off an hurt themselves because they’re using a drug for the first time without mature supervision. Now it’s all lawsuits and liability and never being able to admit when you’re wrong. Learn a lesson and better yourself, or knock everyone down around you and only seek gain that way. Which sounds more beneficial to the individual and the community? I believe this man could have learned a lot about himself and benefited the community had he stuck with his commitments and learned that he was not always in control, learned to work as a unit, learned to take pride in his decisions, and learned that life isn’t always a cake walk. In other words, you might do better in life if you’re not always such a pussy. Take my advice Jack.

        • “Jack, the student above raises great points. Etc…”

          No, Dan,he really doesn’t. His “points’ consist of “everybody does it” and, really stupidly, “Harvard used to do it,” as if I care. His recitation of all the good things the school does is right up there with those who accused us of being unfair to Penn State because, you know, the leadership just happened to facilitate child molesting. Yes, its true: no school does everything wrong. But a school that allows this kind of hazing has a deep, deep illness, just as Penn State did.

          He defends hazing, which is indefensible, and resorts to every rationalization in the book to get around the fact that healthy university cultures don’t tolerate this institutionalized bullying. Yes, my assessment is an opinion, based on fact and analysis, as is everything I write, but this opinion is neither controversial not debatable on the facts. The fact is that the college has a history of hazing, and it has caused death and destruction, and that cannot be excused. It richly deserved to be sued.

          Your “opinion” is really an attitude, the attitude of a bully and springing from a long line of arrogant jerks. I come from a line of warriors myself, my friend, and have never backed down from a fight, but subjecting myself to the sadistic whims of little tin Mengeles like you and the sickies infesting the frats at Hardwick is not my idea of manliness, or anyone’s who has a conscience, core values and the common sense God gave a stinkbug. Your little manifesto is sad and pathetic, as well as grotesque. I would be better off taking the advice of my Jack Russell terrier under sedation than to spend five minutes with the contagion you call “advice.”

          There’s got to be a program for people like you. Find one, and check yourself in, quick. For the good of civilization. That’s my advice.

  3. I am in no way defending ADO. As someone who was friends with people in the frat, I can honestly say that not only was that house a complete fire hazard, but it pretty much was like “animal house”.

    With that said…

    I enjoyed how you played the race card twice in one paragraph. Who cares if he was the only black pledge? It’s a small school, and the pledging group consists of like 7 – 10 kids max each year. ADO consists of MANY different ethnicities (including those of African American descent).

    He was “forced” to dress like a pimp, which you point out is racial stereotyping. Just wow. He was at a “Pimps and Hoes” party in which ALL males (regardless of gender) dressed as “pimps”, and all females dress as “hoes”. And YES, I do think a “Pimps and Hoes” party is ridiculous, derogatory (to BOTH genders) and extremely sexist. Is this ADO’s fault? Sure. But most Frats and even most Sororities have very similar parties promoting sexuality of some sort.

    Your article brings up some very good points – I’d just really hate to see those points be clouded by subtle hints that the actions by the seven individuals in the frat were in any way racially motivated.

    • The significance of the pledge’s race, which I think would be clear to most discerning readers without further elaboration from me, is not that he was necessarily racially discriminated against, but that he had reason to feel special anxiety and the need to “fit in” because of his minority status on campus and at the frat…hence all the rather direct references to group pressure and the need to be accepted. A black student on a white campus is even more likely to seek out a group like a frat, and his vulnerability was exploited.

      And a “pimps and ho’s” party should have been seen as likely to make a black pledge especially uncomfortable, just like a student slave auction means something different to black students.

      By the way, our comment says you aren’t defending the frat, and then you defend the frat.

  4. How about the ethical failings of making blanket assumptions about the culture at Hartwick College when it is painfully obvious that this writer’s only information about said culture comes from a one-sided and poorly researched article in, of all newspapers, the NY Post – about as ethically compromised a rag as any that can currently be found in print?

    • Not true at all. The information on Hartwick’s other incidents are accessible at many sources. Attacking the messenger is a pretty lame strategy: how about citing any information that shows the kid wasn’t hazed? Show me the “other side” and I’ll write it. The story was sourced through UPI, the AP, and several TV accounts—I just linked to the Daily News, which had the most thorough account. (By the way, there is no “other side” to hazing, a moronic tradition that should have been wiped off the map after the first person was injured or harmed by it.)

      • Jack: In reading those collegian posts and your responses, I almost had a feeling of deja vu. Isn’t it amazing how all the excuses and means of “defending the indefensible”- no matter what the specific issue- have points of commonality that immediately grab at you? When I was involved in the “Hounddog” issue, I ran into them all. I see many of them here.

        “Shooting the Messenger” is a great one. Your opponent has made his case too well? Attack his character in a way that transposes onto the issue at hand, thus taking attention OFF the main issue. Hounddog Equivalent: “Why are you obsessed on Dakota Fanning (you perv)?”

        Then there’s moral equivalence. “Two Wrongs Make It Right”. If you can establish that others have committed abuses prior to the one under discussion, then it lessens the outrage… even if the abuse under inquiry ranks among (or is!) the worst of its genre. Hounddog Equivalent: “Well… what about Brooke Shields’ “Pretty Baby”? Wasn’t that as bad?”

        Or “Apples & Oranges”. Cross-genre comparisons with the attempt to unite them and thereby lessen the stature of your issue. Hounddog Equivalent: “Well how about kids being REALLY molested all the time?”

        And “False Traditionalism”. This is where abhorrent behavior is sugar coated by making it out as a slightly “off-color” reflection of a otherwise time approved concept… regardless of the fact that it violates the very fundamentals of what concept was first established to promote. Hounddog Equivalent: “It’s ART!”

        Among the others are the old “Facts? What Facts?” gambit. HE: “You don’t know the industry and your facts are poop besides. Nyah!”. The “Who Are You To Judge?” angle. HE: “Damn judgemental Christo-fascist.” The “Trust The Authorities At The Scene” motif. HE: “Her parents and agent were good with it.” The “Now I Yam A Man” reposte. HE: “She’s mature for her age… at 12.” The “Why Pick On Us?” cop-out. HE: “We’re really good and misunderstood people. Now THOSE guys are bad!” And, of course, the ever popular “It’ll Raise Awareness Of The Issue” trumpet. HE: Same phrase!

        It’s a Hounddog World, Jack. My God, I need a cold beer!

      • Jack:

        You are the voice of sanity and reason in this insane world. All the power to you!!

        Many of the universities throughout the country have repeatedly swept this issue under the rug and “wink their eye” at the depraved conduct they KNOW frequently occurs at their fraternity/sorority houses. Let them be held accountable once and for all.

  5. I cannot defend the actions of what happened to Mr. Warren. I am a member of Alpha Delta Omega Fraternity, having pledge in 1969 and served as its President from 1971 to 1972. During this time our fraternity was a rather diverse community of whites, blacks, browns, Protestants (Hartwick was then a Lutheran College), Catholics, and Jewish. There is, however, a piece of ADO history (taken from the ADO FaceBook site) that deserves mention:

    “In 1948 ADO went national, a trend which engulfed all three Hartwick fraternities at about the same time. Being recognized by the national Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity as the Nu Triton chapter enabled the brotherhood, with the help of national funding, to say goodbye to its then current residence on Clinton St, and move into the newly purchased house at 34 West St, near the corner of Cherry Street and West. For four years, the brotherhood adopted national rituals into it’s preexisting local traditions and continued it’s tradition of excellence in athletics, particularly in basketball, where ADO brother and current Hartwick trustee, John Johnstone set new records for the Hartwick Hawks. However, in 1952, one of Johnstone’s teammates, sophomore Ben Clarke, one of the first African-American male students at Hartwick, soon presented the brothers of PSK’s Nu Triton chapter with a challenge. Although Ben “Bacon” Clarke obviously had the right stuff to join the brotherhood, the national policy of PSK, like most national fraternities of the day, forbade the admission of blacks into the chapter. In a controversial, but principled move, the brothers of PSK, pledged Clarke anyway. When the national refused to recognize Clarke as a brother, the brothers abandoned their house at West St and became ADO once again. The time spent as PSK, and the events surrounding the pledging of Ben Clarke have left an indelible imprint on the fraternity, and the principled stand of the brothers of the 1950s is remembered and honored by the brotherhood as one of our proudest moments to this day.”

    • Dear Fred: That’s a great story. And it was needed to help us posters on this issue maintain a sense of perspective. Hartwick College and its fraternities have had their problems, to be sure. On the other hand, we shouldn’t jump to the conclusion that Blutosky is in permanent residence there! BTW: When did Hartwick lose its church affiliation?

  6. I read this article and the only reason that I am putting my 2 cents in is that you want to mention the boy who wandered off and drowned who was in ADO. It had nothing to do with Hazing. It was a party, yes frat, but he was a Senior and already a member, who was just attending a party and had an unfortunate outcome. So please stop adding this into your Hazing articles. This happened many years ago, and still gets used as reference to Hazing when it is totally false. Do not include this bit in your column, when it is false and only hurtful to family and friends that have to be reminded and revisit that horrible event. It would be great for you to find out the true facts before using and abusing that story.

    • “In 1997, a student got so drunk at a frat party, he wandered off alone and drowned in a river.”

      I think that statement, which is what I wrote, is sufficiently clear and consistent with what you wrote as well. Yes, it was in a paragraph referring to other hazing incidents, but there is nothing in the sentence that wrongly suggests that the student was a freshman or that he was being hazed, nor did I intend to convey that. I did intend to convey that schools that instill proper and appropriate ethical values don’t have so many students involved in tragic or damaging incidents in frat houses, and I stand by that.

  7. Sounds like the author holds a grudge against exlcusive social organizations. He must have been passed over at some point and it has scarred his psyche.

    • Sounds like you haven’t read the Comments Guidelines. Attributing a legitimate opinion and commentary to imaginary bias is lazy, unfair, cowardly, insulting and stupid. And not that I care what you think, but I have never sought to gain membership in an exclusive social organization in my life. If I have use for an organization, I typically start my own.

      Jerk.

      • Hello Jack,

        I was a student at Hartwick college. I read your blog and have thought about you and what you wrote for a few weeks now. I was personally affected by the hazing that goes on at Hartwick college. Sometimes I wonder if I am just as bad as those who try to cover up what happens because I did not speak out enough. It makes me happy to see that you wrote this. Many of my friends were hazed in sororities and fraternities at this college. It has affected me in many ways. I am not the person I used to be. I will never allow my kids to go to this college, which makes me sad. Much of what you stated is the truth. I know that hazing at Hartwick has been going on for over thirty five years. I was told by someone who work there. It would be nice to chat with you more. Thank you for writing this.

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