The night before University of Connecticut sophomore and Kappa Kappa Gamma member Hillary Holt woke up in a hospital bed with three times more than the legal blood-alcohol level, she says she was taken to the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity house and told to lie on the floor and “sizzle like bacon.” It was one of the hazing challenges allegedly put to Holt by her fellow sorority members. “When you did it right, you had to drink. When you didn’t do it right, you had to drink,” she told a local news station after she decided to come forward about the March 7 incident.
Holt’s story sparked decisive and swift action from UConn. On Tuesday, just two months after the incident, the university announced it was kicking SAE off campus, just days after it booted out KKG. SAE must wait at least five years before it can reapply as a student organization, and KKG must wait four. Although Holt was already a full-fledged member of her sorority, both KKG and SAE were found to be in violation of UConn’s strict prohibition against hazing, which is generally associated with rushing or pledging a sorority.
The severity of UConn’s response is relatively new in the history of administrative crackdowns on Greek life. In 2011, Cornell issued a suspension of the same length to its chapter of SAE as UConn just did—but it was in response to the death of a 19-year-old during hazing. However, in 2014, universities seem to be more vigilant about monitoring and stamping out hazing. Last week, Emory University suspended its chapter of Sigma Nu for five years for violating anti-hazing rules.Even SAE itself banned hazing altogether in March.
But while UConn is treating Holt as a whistleblower, it appears her sorority sisters are treating her as a traitor. Someone claiming to be a former UConn KKG member submitted an anonymous letter to the popular Greek life site Total Sorority Move in which she slammed Holt as someone seeking “15 minutes of fame.”
You tugged and teased the ear of an eager newsperson searching for a heartbeat in midland Connecticut for anything worth reporting. You threatened lawsuits for your actions, you and whoever it was whispering in your ears that it might be a good idea to restitute the bills of the hospital you sent yourself to, or to be the focal point of a quiet cow-town state University while you had the chance.
The author then proceeded to blame Holt for submitting to her sorority sisters.
Nobody was forcing anything upon you, these were your own poor choices. When will you be held accountable? PERCEIVED peer pressure, is not an excuse. In life you are always going to try to keep up with someone or something, but you need to learn about your own limits. However, you point the finger at others for your mistakes.
The Total Sorority Move commentators overwhelmingly supported the author and chastised Holt, echoing the sentiment that Holt was wrong to try to pin her own drinking decisions on her sorority.To be sure, Holt was of legal age, but for a community that so values sisterhood, the comments smacked of a certain flip attitude towards the power of peer pressure and the fear of social ostracism.
One commentator wrote “Hillary made the mistake of letting her drinking get out of hand but that does not mean an entire group of respectable women should be punished for something they had no part in.” Another commentator shared that her “chapter had a similar situation in the past, where a girl cried ‘hazing’ for no reason…I hope this letter really makes Hillary re-evaluate her life choices.” The commentators blame Holt for turning on her sisters while simultaneously chastising her for listening to them in the first place. Victim-blaming is the go-to sentiment.
This isn’t just the knee-jerk reaction of some angry college students. The response from the national Kappa KappaGamma organization took a very similar, albeit more tactful, approach.
KKG’s official statement’s harply criticized UConn for its response to Holt’s claims (though in that politely passive aggressive way that is a sorority trademark).”Kappa Kappa Gamma is disappointed with the University’s decision, which follows an event on March 6 that was not sanctioned by Kappa Kappa Gamma or its UConn chapter.” What the sorority fails to mention is that the activity was led by KKG members who apparently pressured other sisters to participate that night.
KKG makes no mention of an apology for their members’ behavior nor expresses concern for Holt’s wellbeing in the official statement. Instead it continues to chastise UConn’s “punishment as extreme” because “removing an entire chapter from campus for the poor decisions made by a few individuals at an unsanctioned event is wrong.”
At the heart of the blame game between KKG and Holt is a dispute over responsibility. The backlash against Holt stems from the belief that a sorority chapter should not be punished for one member’s unwillingness to resist peer pressure. But until KKG takes responsibility for its members’ actions, how can it demand the same from Holt?