Criminal Law

Crim. Law Journal Fall 2015, Vol. 15, Issue 4


By Gregory S. Parks* Rashawn Ray** and Jonathan M. Cox***

In March 2014, the Atlantic magazine published a piece titled The Dark Power of Fraternities.1 The article was a yearlong study of these organizations. It sparked a broader dialogue about the state of college fraternities—for example, addressing their role in popular culture,2 their tensions with host institutions,3 and their place in the context of African American groups.4 This dialogue reverberated across a host of media, including television,5 radio,6 and print.7 The article was cast against the backdrop of Sigma Alpha Epsilon ("SAE") fraternity’s—one of the nation’s largest and most storied college fraternities—elimination of pledging, given a Bloomberg report that found SAE to be the deadliest fraternity, at least in recent years, to join.8

Despite Bloomberg’s recent analysis of SAE, scholars have opined for years that Black Greek-Letter Organizations ("BGLOs") are the most violent types of fraternal entities.9 Only recently has this speculation been confirmed. In one study, an archival analysis of hazing litigation and media accounts from 1980 to 2009, researchers found that hazing in BGLOs is more physically violent than hazing in historically white fraternities and sororities.10 Even more, hazing in black fraternities is more physically violent than in black sororities.11 In a second study, a survey of more than 1300 BGLO members, researchers found that black fraternities exhibited more general hazing, physical hazing, socialization hazing, control hazing, and extreme hazing than black sororities.12

Only recently have scholars begun to investigate BGLO hazing and its legal implications.13 This Essay explores the ways in which black fraternities use language in the context of hazing. Specifically, this Essay focuses on the monikers—nicknames—which some black fraternity chapters use that underscore their endorsement of violence, implicitly in the context of hazing. In Part I, we provide an exemplar of a case in which a chapter moniker was at least raised in hazing litigation. In Part II, we seek to discern the meaning behind black fraternity chapters’ use of such monikers. Even beyond the violent hazing employed by black fraternity members, it is problematic that the Federal Rules of Evidence have been construed narrowly in the admissibility of such evidence.14 In Part III, we contend that such evidence, in the context of these organization and vis-a-vis hazing cases, should be much broader.

Join CLA to access this page

Join Now

Forgot Password

Enter the email associated with you account. You will then receive a link in your inbox to reset your password.

Personal Information

Select Section(s)

CLA Membership is $99 and includes one section. Additional sections are $99 each.