One more promising life was senselessly wasted. On Sept. 18, 2017, Horatio Tomas Castillo III succumbed to the hazing injuries he suffered at the hands of the very people he had hoped to call brods. He was a 22-year-old third-year law student at the University of Santo Tomas. As the family of the victim grieves and shouts out for justice and, as investigations begin, many questions come to mind.
What moves people to inflict so much harm and pain on one they literally wooed to join their brotherhood? All fraternities and sororities need to continue luring new members to ensure their survival and continued existence. Thus, neophytes are beguiled and enticed to join with the promise of belonging to a prestigious fraternity or sorority that will, in the future, give them special privileges. They are promised a family, kinship, a special bond and more. But what drives frat men to inflict so much harm on their recruits in the name of ensuring their loyalty? And why do neophytes, presumably intelligent, allow themselves to undergo such physical and psychological abuse?
Psychologists say there is not a single explanation. In a study done at Cornell University (Hazing.Cornell.edu) following are some of the theories that surfaced as the roots of hazing. First is evolutionary psychology. Our ancestors survived by forming groups that had strong bonds. Thus, we evolved to become social creatures with need for affiliation and connection. Second, when an activity is shrouded in secrecy, there is an absence of external constraints, making the hazers feel that it is safe to deviate from social norms. Third, is cognitive dissonance. When a person who believes himself to be smart undergoes a degrading physical and psychological experience, he develops internal tension. He then resolves the inner tension by rationalizing that it is not so bad and thereafter feels positively about the group that subjected him to the suffering. Fourth are beliefs about masculinity. The culturally-constructed notion of what it means to be a “real man” place an emphasis on physical and mental toughness and obedience to superiors. Such beliefs combined with the desire of heterosexual men to demonstrate that they do not possess qualities associated with gayness result in the victims’ acceptance of the pain inflicted upon them. Fifth, is sociopathy. There are people who have anti-social tendencies. This means their disordered personality makes them disregard the rights and safety of others with no remorse. Persons with this personality disorder during hazing could exert influence on others, making it seem the societal norm to cause suffering to another. Sixth is shared coping. When individuals go through a highly stressful experience together, they may feel closer to each other as a result.
One other theory, the study says, is cycle of abuse. Individuals who are hazed may unknowingly develop a displaced desire for revenge. As one fraternity pledge who underwent intense hazing said, immediately after hazing, he could not wait to do this to the pledges next year. Not all may develop a desire for revenge, however. When my husband and I were still boyfriend-girlfriend, I saw how badly injured he was after joining a fraternity in law school. This was, in fact, his third hazing as he joined a frat in college before going to law school and also joined another brotherhood. Yet, he said, he never had the heart to participate in hazing; thus, he avoided them.
Another theory why hazing continues is identification with the aggressor. Intense hazing involves breaking down an individual and molding him to conform to the belief structure of the group. Recruits are made to believe that the group is superior and the attainment of the status of a brod is worth whatever must be endured; making new members desire to become like their abusers. Other theories say that the hazers find gratification in hazing as an expression of power; or, that hazers feel compelled to participate for fear of disapproval or reprisal by the others.
The death of Atio Castillo has prompted some legislators to review the Anti Hazing law (RA 8049) passed in 1995. But is the law really inadequate? Truth is, if the law were followed deaths and severs injuries from hazing would never have happened since the passage of the law. The law clearly mandates that no initiation rites or hazing shall be allowed without prior written notice to the school authorities. It also requires that at least two representatives of the school must be present during initiation to ensure that violence will not be employed. As to sanctions, the law provides for the maximum penalty of life imprisonment or reclusion perpetua if death, rape, sodomy or mutilation occurs as a result of the initiation.
The solution does not seem to be in amending the law then. Parents and families must raise children who know that they need not seek “brotherhoods” outside the home and that their strength and ability to move up are found in themselves, not in any other affiliation.
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