- A Brief History of Fraternity/Sorority Paddles and Recommendations
- California Court Dismisses Berkeley Resident's Class-Action Claims Against Neighboring Fraternities But Allows Case to Move Forward as a "Representative Action" Under Berkeley's Municipal Code
- Indiana Supreme Court Affirms Summary Judgment in Favor of National Fraternity
Newsletter > July 2014 > "A Brief History of Fraternity/Sorority Paddles and Recommendations"
A Brief History of Fraternity/Sorority Paddles and Recommendations
The sorority paddle is most commonly used today as a decorative keepsake representing sisterhood and is given as a gift according to a local chapter’s traditions. The history of the paddle, however, is rooted in violence and remains both a tool and symbol of hazing in Greek organizations. Several national sororities and fraternities have decided to phase out the use and gifting of paddles and instead encourage alternative gifts not associated with hazing. Sororities should join the growing number of organizations that support these efforts by discontinuing the licensing of paddles with the sorority’s name and trademarks and instead promote viable paddle-gifting alternatives such as symbolic plaques and decorative symbols.
B. History of Paddling and Greek Hazing
The use of paddles as a form of punishment supposedly originated at sea used by sailors to discipline each other for minor offenses such as leaving one’s post.1 English sailors referred to paddling as “cobbing,” from the word “cob,” which meant to fight or strike.2 The “cobbing board” was usually created from the plank of a wooden barrel that contained the “bunghole,” which was a hole drilled into the barrel to allow liquid to flow out.3 As a means of punishment, the hole in the board allowed air to pass through resulting in harsher blows whereas a solid board would result in a more cushioned blow.4 Eventually, more holes were carved into the boards to increase the intensity of the punishment. Paddling at sea was eventually imitated on land and brought to the United States by slave traders as a way to punish slaves without leaving visible damage, thereby lowering their value to potential purchasers.5 By the early nineteenth century, paddles were specially carved for beatings to suit the beater’s preference – shuttle necks were carved as a handle, many still contained holes, sizes and shapes ranged from tennis racquets to oars to pizza-style boards, and the larger paddles were made from oak or hickory.6 Prisons and schools also adopted paddling as a method of corporal punishment.7 Nineteen states still allow corporal punishment in schools, which often includes paddling.8 The ten states with the highest rate of corporal punishment in schools include Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Florida, and Missouri.9 Some schools have reportedly used shaved-down baseball bats as paddles to punish students.10
The practice of hazing, subjecting individuals to abusive or humiliating ritual activities for initiation purposes is traced back to the military in ancient Greece.11 European universities in the middle ages adopted hazing practices such as upperclassmen forcing new students to act as servants.12 These practices were then brought to America.13 Harvard has evidence of upperclassmen hazing freshman at as early as 1657.14 When the first fraternity was established in 1776, evidence of its use of hazing followed as soon as 1781.15
The use of paddling as a form of hazing in fraternities dates back to the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.16 A resurgence and intensification of hazing in fraternities began after World War II with the return of veterans who brought boot camp-style rituals of the military to campuses.17 Fraternity and sorority membership nearly doubled between 1980 and 1986, and with it reports of hazing also increased.18 The 1978 movie Animal House depicts the stereotypical hazing performed by fraternities at the time, including a scene depicting pledges being paddled.
C. Decline of Paddling and Rise of Decorative Paddles
In response to increased reports of hazing, many states began to adopt anti-hazing legislation, and today all but six states (Alaska, Hawaii, Montana, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Wyoming) have adopted statutes that prohibit hazing.19 These statutes are generally broad enough to preclude the use of paddling. Ohio’s statute, for example, defines hazing as “doing any act or coercing another, including the victim, to do any act of initiation into any student or other organization that causes or creates a substantial risk of causing mental or physical harm to any person.”20 Universities, fraternities, and sororities have also responded by passing their own ant-hazing policies, many of which specifically ban paddling or mirror the language in the statutes.21
As the use of paddles as actual tools of hazing significantly declined, their use as a symbolic gift and tradition emerged. Most Greek organizations developed an unofficial tradition where new members would decorate ceremonial paddles as part of their initiation into the fraternity or sorority. Pledges often purchase a blank wooden paddle to decorate commemorating their membership into the Greek Organization or to give as a gift to their “big brother” or “big sister” within the fraternity or sorority.22 To most sorority alumnae today, paddles represent sisterhood, pride, and tradition.23
Unfortunately, paddling continues to be used as a hazing tool in fraternities, and although less frequently, sororities too. In 2001, a pledge for the fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi at Louisiana State University was paddled so severely that he needed surgery and a skin graft on his buttocks for a 7 inch-long, half-inch deep open sore.24 In 2008, members of Southern Illinois University’s Zeta Beta Phi sorority were suspended after beating pledges repeatedly with paddles over a four-day period.25 Also that year, a sorority pledge of Sigma Gamma Rho at San Jose State said members beat her with paddles stating “so you can feel what your ancestors went through in slavery.”26 Another pledge of Sigma Gamma Rho at Rutgers University was hospitalized in 2010 after being paddled 201 times.27 In 2012, nine members of the fraternity of Alpha Phi Alpha of University of Florida were charged with hazing for paddling pledges.28 Also that year brothers of Sigma Alpha Epsilon at Salisbury University in Maryland beat pledges with a paddle in addition to other hazing rituals.29 Finally, this year pledges of University of Akron’s Alpha Phi Alpha chapter were hospitalized after “taking wood,” or being paddled, over multiple nights of beatings.30
D. Policies on Paddles and Alternatives
Although none of the sororities most recently accused of paddling pledges appear to be members of the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC), the continued practice of paddling as a tool of hazing and violence by other organizations affects the perception of the paddle for all sororities. Allowing paddles to be used symbolically at the same time as others continue to use them as tools of hazing creates a conflicting message by sororities with strong anti-hazing policies.
During National Hazing Prevention Week in 2012, HazingPrevention.org launched the “Put the Paddle in the Past” campaign, which invites individuals to pledge their commitment to eliminating the use of the ceremonial fraternity/sorority paddle as both a hazing tool and as a gift to others.31 HazingPrevention.org was founded by Tracy Maxwell to prevent hazing before it occurs through education and empowerment. Maxwell has shared that although her sorority paddles represent positive values to her, to others they are a symbol of “violence, abuse, degradation, humiliation, and punishment.”32 The objectives of the “Put the Paddle in the Past” pledge are to educate people about the negative connotations of the paddle and hazing, promote the replacement of the decorative paddle with other commemorative plaques, and to end the sale of paddles entirely. The pledge reads as follows:
I acknowledge that although the paddle has been used to symbolize sisterhood/brotherhood and used as gifts without any mal-intent, it is a symbol of hazing.
I understand that while the gift of the paddle has become a tradition in many fraternities and sororities, it is time to replace the negative perception of this symbol with a positive one.
I recognize that some have used and continue to use the paddle to haze rather than honor and as such, I pledge that I will not purchase a paddle for myself nor give paddles as gifts to others.
Instead, I will honor my brothers/sisters with gifts that are not associated with hazing, and I will support others who have pledged to put the paddle in the past as well.
By signing this pledge, I/we agree to have my/our name(s) posted on the HazingPrevention.Org website, National Hazing Prevention Week website, social media sites and other public locations.
Many Greek organizations have already chosen to ban the sale of paddles with their letters in their licensing agreements as a way to send a positive message with the products they do promote. According to Greek101.com, a retailer that has partnered with HazingPrevention.org, ten fraternities and sixteen sororities (fifteen of which are NPC members) currently restrict their licensing of paddles.33 Those sororities include Alpha Delta Pi, Alpha Omicron Pi, Alpha Phi, Alpha Xi Delta, Chi Omega, Delta Phi Lambda (non-NPC member), Gamma Phi Beta, Kappa Alpha Theta, Kappa Delta, Kappa Kappa Gamma, Phi Mu, Phi Sigma Sigma, Pi Beta Phi, Sigma Sigma Sigma, Theta Phi Alpha, and Zeta Tau Alpha. Fraternities that restrict licensing of their paddles include Alpha Gamma Rho, Chi Psi, Phi Chi Theta, Phi Kappa Tau, Pi Sigma Epsilon, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, Sigma Alpha Iota, Sigma Nu, Theta Xi, and Zeta Beta Tau.
Although many sororities preclude the licensing of paddles with their letters, many local chapters continue the tradition of paddle-gifting by purchasing blank paddles and decorating them unofficially. In order to truly phase out the use of the paddle and its negative connotation, guidance should be given to chapters on a suitable replacement that allows the positive aspect of these traditions to be preserved. A viable alternative to the paddle is a commemorative wooden plaque, either in the shape of a sorority mascot or other non-paddle shape. These plaques can be decorated and given as gifts in the same way paddles currently are, but with a positive message behind the symbol instead.
Alexandra S. Lehman graduated from Bucknell University in 2008 and is a 2016 J.D. Candidate at The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. She is a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma and is currently a Legal Extern to the In-House Staff Attorney at Delta Gamma Fraternity Executive Offices.
1 Darius Rejali, Torture and Democracy 271 (Princeton University Press 2007).
7 Deana Pollard Sacks, State Actors Beating Children: A Call For Judicial Relief, 42 U.C. Davis L. Rev. 1165, 1168 (2009).
8 Corey Adwar, These are the 19 States That Still let Public Schools Hit Kids, Business Insider, Mar. 28, 2014, http://www.businessinsider.com/19-states-still-allow-corporal-punishment-2014-3.
11 Gregory Acquaviva, Article, Protecting Students from the Wrongs of Hazing Rites: A Proposal for Strengthening New Jersey’s Anti-Hazing Act, 26 Quinnipiac L. Rev. 305, 310 (2008).
14 Hazing at Harvard: A Historical Perspective, http://osl.fas.harvard.edu/icb/icb.do?keyword=k65178&pageid=icb.page490246 (last visited June 5, 2014).
16 Hendrik Booraem, The Provincial: Calvin Coolidge and His World, 1885-1895 231 (Bucknell University Press) 1994.
17 Dara Aqila Govan, Note: “Hazing Out” the Membership Intake Process in Sororities and Fraternities: Preserving the Integrity of the Pledge Process Versus Addressing Hazing Liability, 53 Rutgers L. Rev. 679, 687 (2001).
19 Acquaviva, at 312-313.
20 Ohio Rev. Code Ann. Section 2903.31 (1983).
21 See Anti-Hazing Policy, University of Arkansas, http://uagreeks.uark.edu/3227.php (last visited June 5, 2014). See also Delta Sigma Theta, http://www.deltasigmatheta.org/policies_antihazing.html (last visited June 5, 2014).
22 Abraham v. Alpha Chi Omega, 781 F. Supp. 2d 396, 401 (N.D. Tex. 2011).
23 Tracy Maxwell, What Do Our Paddles Say About Us?, AFLV Blog (Feb. 10, 2010), http://aflv.blogspot.com/2010/02/what-do-our-paddles-say-about-us.html.
24 Natalie Pompilio, LSU Frat Hazing Leaves Bloody, Gaping Wound, Times Picayune, Mar. 23, 2001, http://www.corpun.com/usi00103.htm.
25 Williams v. Wendler, 530 F.3d 584 (7th Cir. 2008).
26 Tamar Lewin, Hazing Accusations Against a Sorority, N.Y. Times, Oct. 5, 2010,http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/06/us/06hazing.html?_r=3&pagewanted=1&hp&.
28 CNN Wire Staff, 9 Charged With Hazing at University of Florida Fraternity, CNN, May 4, 2012, http://www.cnn.com/2012/05/03/justice/florida-hazing-charges/index.html?hpt=us_c2.
29 John Heckinger, University Deals with Pledge’s ‘Alarming’ Account of Hazing, Sun-Sentinel, Jan. 5, 2014, at 14A.
30 Doug Livingston, Six Warrants Issued in Alleged Hazing Incident Involving University of Akron Fraternity, Akron Beacon Journal, Feb. 27, 2014, http://www.ohio.com/news/break-news/six-warrants-issued-in-alleged-hazing-incident-involving-university-of-akronfraternity-1.469649.
31 Paddle Pledge, http://nationalhazingpreventionweek.com/paddle-pledge (last visited June 5, 2014).
32 Maxwell, AFLV Blog.
33 Branded Fraternity Paddles, http://www.greek101.com/shop/Gifts/Paddles/Branded-Fraternity-Paddles/TP100.html (last visited June 6, 2014).