Dear Sigma Sisters,
We often look on Pinterest and other sites to find ideas to share Sigma Love. However, be careful not to think that lovely decorated Greek paddles presented to your little or big to hang on the wall is one of them.
When I was an Alpha Phi (Central Michigan University) new member decades ago, it was a tradition for our big sisters to give us our engraved paddles after initiation. The paddles hung on our walls and were only decorations. It was just what we did. When I was an advisor about 30 years later, the tradition continued, although the paddles were more personally decorated. I thought it was neat how the tradition had continued all these years.
However, in 2005 I was at Dunham and heard David Stollman from Campus Speak talk about “branding” and how our actions speak louder than our beliefs. The question kept coming up, “Is what you are doing in line with what you say your values are?” He asked us to consider what the world thinks when they see a Fraternity or Sorority paddle. I learned that what we were giving as an expression of our love for our sisters. The world outside the Greek system saw it as an emblem of torture and hazing. Unfortunately, the paddles had such a history with some Fraternity members. I was frankly shocked. I had never thought of my paddle in that way and was challenged to change my thinking. It wasn’t easy and took some reflection and time.
Because of this association of the paddle with cruelty, which we don’t want others to associate with our sisterhood, Tri-Sigma’s look for other expressions of their appreciation of their big and little sisters. Yes, paddles as gifts have been a huge tradition in the Greek world, but it is one which we are trying to put behind us. A loving plaque with the same words in a different shape such as a sailboat, or a violet, would could express the same sentiment and avoid perpetuating the misconception that we beat each other!
As new members come into our organization, it is important that we educate them in a loving way to always reflect on our actions and ask: Is what we are doing representing our values? When challenged by thinking that conflicts with our traditions and practices, it is also important to understand that resistance to change is normal. Keep having those conversations!!! Check out Tri-Sigma’s anti hazing information on Sigma Connect. Below are some ideas and resources from there.
Ever forward with love,
Arlene Ball, Alumnae Advisor BT
As council officers and leaders, this is a great topic for you to tackle. Governing councils have a great deal of leverage and this is a great topic for an educational program or roundtable discussion among Fraternity/Sorority leaders on your campus.
A couple of blogs and articles on the subject from others in the Greek world.
( An excerpt is below )
This is a guest post from Tracy Maxwell, Executive Director of HazingPrevention.Org
Five paddles hung on my wall in college, from dorm rooms, to the sorority house, to apartments. Wherever I lived, they represented home and family to me in a very real sense. Each of them was very special to me because of the individual who had given it to me, but I was also proud of those paddles and what they represented to me – sisterhood, sorority, home away from home, love from a big or little sister, pride and tradition. I still have all five of those paddles as well as one four-foot tall paddle signed by all 49 members of the new member class I was elected to lead as New Member Educator. I can’t bring myself to get rid of them, but I no longer display them proudly either.
Because those paddles represented such positive values to me, I never really stopped to think about what they might say to the rest of the world. To outsiders who don’t know about fraternity/sorority life, and believe the stereotypes they see in the movies and on TV, a paddle represents something altogether different – violence, abuse, degradation, humiliation and punishment. It is a reminder of the sometimes brutal hazing we inflict on each other, and the very worst of what it means to be a member of a Greek-letter organization.
There are certainly enough news stories of fraternity men being beaten with paddles to help reinforce the image of what these instruments have been used for. In 2001, an LSU student was paddled so severely that he needed surgery on his buttocks for a 7 inch-long, half-inch deep open sore. He required a skin graft and was in the hospital for two weeks. He didn’t tell anyone about what was happening to him. It was discovered only when his mother saw blood seeping through his pants on a visit home. (link: http://www.corpun.com/usi00103.htm)
As the Executive Director and founder of HazingPrevention.Org, I struggle with what to tell today’s students about the continued presentation of paddles as gifts. On the one hand, I understand the time-honored tradition, and the time and effort many spend to make their own unique paddle to present to a big or little sister or brother. It is always special to receive a traditional gift that has been given by countless members who came before you.
On the other hand, I’ve seen the damage inflicted when paddles are used for a more nefarious purpose. I cringe along with other fraternity/sorority alums when yet another individual or organization does something to damage all of our reputations”
2) Take the pledge and demonstrate your commitment against hazing. http://www.nationalhazingpreventionweek.celect.org/take-the-pledge
3) Check out our Sigma Connect page on Hazing Prevention.