Zach, a sophomore at USC, is a good friend who just recently finished pledging the pre-law fraternity here on campus. While the entire pledging-process had a number of rituals and superstitions, he shared with me the frat’s main ritual: the final retreat to the mountains before the new members were considered ‘crossed’ and full-fledged members of the fraternity.
“So this semester I pledged PAD, the pre-law fraternity, and at the end of the new member pledging process it’s tradition that all the actives and new members go up and rent a house in Big Bear for the weekend. The actives all went up the night before and slept there, but we had to be there at seven AM so we left at four in the morning to get there in time. Once we were there, they immediately blindfolded us and walked us down to the pier where we stood out in the cold for three hours or so reciting every single one of the memorizations that we had spent all semester learning – the purpose statement, dates and things about the frat – everything. It’s harder cause you don’t just recite it yourself – you go around in a circle and first person would say the first world, the next person would say the next word, and so on and so on. And every time someone would mess up, we would have to start from the beginning. We had to recite it backwards too, so yeah we were out there for about three hours. When we finally finished that, they split us up into teams and sent us on a scavenger hunt throughout the local town. It was kinda dumb – most of it was just making fools out of ourselves in front of the locals. Some teams tried really hard to complete everything on the list and some just didn’t give a care. Our team pulled over the car and slept for an hour or two we were so tired. One team, all the guys shaved their legs. Same team, someone ate a hotdog out of someone’s butt. Like bare. Turns out it didn’t matter how much of the list we completed anyway, so joke’s on them. When we came back, they blindfolded us again and told us that it was gonna be okay, that they all had to go through this, and then they locked all twenty-five of us in a tiny bedroom and played all twenty-six volumes R Kelly’s “Trapped in a Closet.” And while we were all in there they would pull out people one by one and put them on the “hot seat” where they forced you to answer all sorts of embarrassing questions in front of all the actives – and you were still blindfolded so you didn’t know who was there or what was going on… yeah it was pretty bad. Not as bad as being in the bedroom though; it took about four and a half hours to go through everyone in our pledge class and, you’ve heard that song right? Yeah. Traumatic stuff.
And then once that was finally done we all came out and they unblindfolded us and we had a big feast and party and that’s essentially when we became active members.”
From forcing the new members to be up at dawn to locking them in a closet for nearly five hours while subjecting them to the worst music known to man, as the final stage of the pledging process PAD puts its new members through horrible situations that serve no actual purpose other than to force bonding both within the new member pledge class and with the rest of the active members. The weekend retreat and the various rituals Zach described serve a rite of passage; new members go to the lake as pledges and leave as fully initiated members of the fraternity. Rites of passage are an inherent part of all fraternities and many other organizations on campus; groups want to know that the new people they’re letting in take their organization seriously. In order to have a way of proving new members’ dedication, PAD created nearly unbearable situations that had no purpose other than to test their willpower and see how much they truly wanted to be a part of PAD. Another purpose for the tradition of the Big Bear retreat is so that newly initiated members and actives all have something in common. As the new members were told before being locked in the bedroom “everyone had to go through it,” and new members and actives alike now all have something to discuss and bond over, even if it is something as awful as R. Kelly.