My informant is a member of USC’s co-ed film fraternity DKA. In this fraternity there are many hidden rules and customs not known by the general public. She has a part of this fraternity for over a year now and is well versed in most of these customs. This interview references a part of DKA’s pledging process, which is the trail period in which a person has been accepted into the fraternity but still needs to prove that they are a worthwhile member of the community. During this process, pledges (recently admitted members of the fraternity) must perform a series of tasks over the period of a semester.
Me: Are there any rituals that DKA members have to go through before they join the group.
Her: Yes, pledges have to wear berets. We have a pledging process at DKA and during it pledges have to wear a beret. Although its kind of used as a punishment now for when pledges don’t behave correctly or don’t have their requirements met each week, its original intent was for the pledges to be proud to wear this because it represents DKA and people around campus will ask what it is and you can tell them that you are pledging DKA. Originally pledges also had to wear film strips pinned on to the berets which was really embarrassing so they stopped that. Its just supposed to show that you are pledging the fraternity and not in it.
Me: So do you stop wearing it when you’re done pledging?
Me: and why do you think it is used as a punishment now.
Her: The hats are kind embarrassing to wear in public.
What is interesting about this custom is how much it has changed since its inception. According to my informant the tradition was initially instated to give pledges a visual representation of their organization. This was intended to be a point of pride for them. However, for whatever reason, the cap ended up being more of an embarrassment than a piece of pride. I believe that this likely happened for one of two reasons. The first reason is that the hat may simply be unattractive or uncomfortable to wear. If this were the case, the sentimental or metaphorical value of the hat would be greatly diminished by the discomfort (either caused by it being a bad fashion choice or by it being literally uncomfortable) experienced while wearing it. This would then lead to a huge feeling of relief when you became a full member of DKA and no longer had to wear it, which may encourage them to make their subordinates wear it the next year because “if I had to do it, so do you.” Alternatively, this could be an indication that members of DKA do not have a lot of pride in their organization. Because the hat is such an obvious announcement that you are a part of DKA (especially compared to other fraternity’s pins) unless you were one hundred percent committed to having DKA be an outward part of your identity, it would be uncomfortable to wear the hat so frequently. Regardless of why, it is interesting in itself that a ritual initially created to create a common identity between DKA members turned into a form of punishment for misbehaving pledges.