Developing an instrument to assess college students’ attitudes toward pledging and hazing in Greek letter organizations

Developing an instrument to assess college students’ attitudes toward pledging and hazing in Greek letter organizations – Statistical Data Included

Kevin Cokley

This study examines students’ attitudes about pledging and hazing in Greek letter organizations through the development of an instrument, the Survey of Attitudes About Fraternities and Sororities (SAAP). Two hundred and fifty-eight undergraduate students at a Midwestern university completed the SAAP. Forty-seven items were subjected to exploratory factor analysis, yielding six factors (i.e. Purpose of Pledging, Impact of Pledging, Conformity to Pledging Rules, Perceptions of Greek Organizations, Moral Concerns About Pledging, and Beliefs About Pledging Difficulty). Differences by ethnicity, gender, and Greek status were found.

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In spite of their long history of being a part of many college students’ experiences, fraternities and sororities have often been maligned. It is believed by some observers that the benefits of Greek letter membership are outweighed by the disadvantages. In fact, the very existence of fraternities and sororities on college campuses has been called into question (Fyten, 1995). Nevertheless, the fact is that the Greek system remains an important institution in the lives of many college students. An often misunderstood college student developmental task is the process of becoming a member of a fraternity or sorority, also known as pledging (Cokley & Wright, 1995). For many college students, especially underclassmen, pledging a Greek letter organization becomes an important developmental event because it requires the student to make a decision which in some cases is expected to be a life long commitment.

When the pledging activities of Greek organizations are recklessly administered, the actions can constitute a form of abuse known as hazing (Cokley & Wright, 1995). While pledging has been officially banned by the National Pan-Hellenic Council (NPHC) and hazing is officially banned by all the Greek umbrella organizations, continued media reports of hazing suggests that pledging and hazing activities continue “underground.”

Hazing has existed in Greek organizations for over 100 years (Sheldon, 1968). Although many policies and laws have been passed in an attempt to curtail hazing, it is still a pervasive problem on many college campuses (Spaulding & Eddy, 1995; Bryan, 1987). The type of hazing incidents that occur vary within each fraternity and sorority. However, some of the more common hazing activities that pledges experience include sleep deprivation, calisthenics, eating unappetizing foods, engaging in embarrassing behavior, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, verbal abuse, and physical violence (Baler & Williams, 1983; Shaw & Morgan, 1990). Unfortunately, there have been cases where hazing resulted in hospitalization, and even death, of the pledges (Bryan, 1987). As a result, many attitudes toward fraternities and sororities appear to be influenced by highly publicized cases of hazing.

The purpose of this study is to examine attitudes toward Greek letter organizations through the psychometric development of a research instrument. It is believed that a research instrument can yield data which provides insight into the attitudes different student groups have about Greek letter organizations.

Method

Participants were 258 undergraduate students enrolled in undergraduate liberal arts classes at a large Midwestern public university. There were 105 men and 151 women. Two participants were not identified. The ethnic composition of the sample consisted of 51 African Americans, 105 European Americans, 9 Biracial Americans, 76 Latino/a Americans, 3 Native Americans, 5 Asian Americans, and 5 individuals who identified themselves as “other.” Four participants did not identify their ethnicity. There were 124 freshmen, 75 sophomores, 32 juniors, and 22 seniors. Five participants did not identify their status. There were 42 members of Greek organizations and 211 non-Greek participants. Five participants did not identify their status. There were 36.5 % of the participants who were under the age of 19, while 56.1 % of the participants were between the ages of 19 – 22. Only 6.3 % of the participants were between the ages of 23-26, while 1.2 % of the participants were between the ages of 27 – 30. Three individuals did not indicate their age.

Instruments

Survey of Attitudes About Fraternities and Sororities. The Survey of Attitudes About Fraternities and Sororities (SAAFS) was initially developed by the first author as the Survey of Attitudes about Pledging. It was later modified and expanded with the help of an experimental psychology doctoral student. The SAAFS consists of 47 items designed to measure attitudes that individuals have toward various aspects of the Greek experience. Several of the items referenced hazing behaviors.

Rosenberg’s Self-Esteem Scale. The Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale is a 10-item measure designed to measure feelings of self-worth (Rosenberg, 1965). Items use a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 to 5, with 1 representing strongly disagree, and 5 representing strongly agree. A sample item includes the following: “It is necessary to have an intense pledge process.” and “Greek organizations are elite organizations.” and “I take a positive attitude toward myself.” A coefficient alpha of .84 has been reported (Gloria, Kurpius, Hamilton, & Wilson, 1999).

Demographic Sheet. Demographic information included gender, ethnicity, age, educational classification, and Greek membership status.

Procedure

Undergraduate students in liberal arts classes (ex. psychology) were recruited to participate in the study. An informed consent form was included in the research packets, and students were instructed to read it before participating. To ensure Greek member representation, research assistants contacted the presidents of Greek organizations to describe the study and ask for their participation.

Results

After several analyses were run using principal axis factor extraction and direct oblimin rotation, a seven factor solution, which accounted for approximately 52% of the variance, was determined to be the most interpretable. At this point several items were dropped because of failure to meet the .40 criteria. The seven factors were initially identified as the following: factor 1 (purpose of pledging) 24.7 percent; factor 2 (impact of pledging) 11.4 percent; factor 3 (conformity to pledging rules) 3.6 percent; factor 4 (perceptions of Greek organizations) 3.5 percent; factor 5 (moral concerns about pledging) 3 percent; factor 6 (beliefs about alcohol use) 2.8 percent; and factor 7 (beliefs about pledging difficulty) 2.5 percent.

A reliability analysis was performed on each of the seven factors. Factor six proved to be problematic, in that the reliability analysis revealed an extremely negatively skewed coefficient which indicated that this factor was uninterpretable. It was subsequently not considered in any further analysis. Table 1 shows the characteristics of the remaining six factors.

Pearson R correlations were computed for each of the dependent variables and self-esteem. A significance level of .001 was used to assess the correlations. Self-esteem had a significant inverse relationship with purpose of pledging (r = -.21, p < .000). Several SAAP subscales were significantly correlated with each other. Table 2 reports the results of the correlations.

A 2 x 7 x 2 factorial MANOVA was performed on the dependent variables. The combined dependent variables were significantly affected by gender, [lambda]=.905, F(7, 222) = 3.31, p < .002, ethnicity, [lambda] = .759, F(42,1044) = 1.50, p < .02, and Greek status, [lambda] = .834, F(7, 222) = 6.31, p < .000, but not by their interactions. Significant gender differences were found on impact of pledging scores, F(7, 222) = 6.82, p < .001, and conformity to pledging rules, F(7, 222) = 6.35, p < .002. Women were more likely to believe that pledging should be a positive experience (mean = 16.68) compared to men (mean = 14.80). Men, however, were more likely to believe in conformity to pledge rules (mean = 11.71) compared to women (mean = 10.80). Significant ethnic differences were also found. The Least Significant Difference (LSD) test was used to investigate the impact of each ethnicity on the individual dependent variables. Due to the small numbers of several of the ethnic groups, only the scores for African Americans, European Americans, and Latino/a Americans were examined. Latino/a American students had higher self-esteem scores (mean = 18.10) compared to African American students (mean = 16.03) and European American students (mean = 17.20). African American students had more positive beliefs about the purpose of pledging (mean = 29.92) compared to European American students (mean = 26.56) and Latino/a American students (mean = 24.64). African American students' beliefs about the impact of pledging (mean = 16.78) were slightly higher than European American students (mean = 15.94) and Latino/a American students (mean = 15.86). African American students were also more likely to support conformity to pledging rules (mean = 12.21) compared to European American students (mean = 10.87) and Latino/a American students (mean = 10.72). In addition, African American students had more positive perceptions of Greek organizations (mean = 12.84) compared to European American students (mean = 10.24) and Latino/a American students (mean = 9.89). There were also differences in beliefs about how difficult the pledging process should be, with both African American students (mean = 10.60) and European American students (mean = 10.32) being significantly higher than Latino/a American students (mean = 9.30). Significant Greek status differences were found with regard to purpose of pledging, F(7, 222) = 20.01, g < .000, impact of pledging, F(7, 222) = 9.11, p < .003, and perceptions of Greek organizations, F(7, 222) = 21.08, p < .000. Greek members had more positive beliefs about the purpose of pledging (mean = 32.40) than non-Greek members (mean = 25.22). Greek members were also slightly more likely to believe that the impact of pledging should be positive (mean = 16.69) compared to non-Greek members (mean = 15.77). Greek members had more positive perceptions about Greek organizations (mean = 13.80) than non-Greek members (mean 10.05). A summary of the means and standard deviations for all of the dependent variables is in Table 3.

Discussion

The goal of this current study was to develop an instrument which measured attitudes about Greek letter organizations. Factor analysis revealed six factors which ,described different areas of attitudes toward Greek letter organizations: Purpose of Pledging, Impact of Pledging, Conformity to Pledging Rules, Perceptions of Greek Organizations, Moral Concerns about Pledging, and Beliefs about Pledging Difficulty. The SAAP appears to have marginal to adequate internal consistency. There is some evidence of construct validity through the differences by gender, ethnicity, and Greek affiliation.

The findings of this study have implications for psychologists working with hazing perpetrators and victims, as well as college student personnel and student affairs administrators working with Greek letter organizations. Regardless of whether you call the process of joining a Greek letter organization pledging, rushing, or membership intake, it is obvious that there are students who do value Greek letter organizations, and see some sort of pledge process as desirable. Likewise, it is apparent that when students’ perceptions of Greek letter organizations are uncritically positive, they become susceptible to hazing activities. The challenge is to thoroughly educate students about the positive and negative aspects of the Greek experience, so that the students can make fully informed decisions about participation.

Future researchers should conduct additional studies using this scale with several samples in order to replicate the findings of this study. Larger Greek and ethnic minority samples should be sought. The results of this study suggest that future researchers need to investigate the relationship between self-esteem and various attitudes about G reek organizations (i.e. Purpose of Pledging). Also, future researchers should explicate the cultural differences between predominantly Black, White, and Hispanic Greek organizations and how these differences may influence student perceptions.

Table 1

Number of Items, Cronbach’s Alpha, Scale Mean, Scale Standard

Deviations, Item Means, and Scale Standard Deviations for the Six

Factors

Items Alpha Scale M SD Item M Min Max

Purpose 8 .867 26.41 6.16 3.30 3.05 3.66

Impact 4 .715 15.93 2.47 3.98 3.91 4.17

Conform 4 .639 11.17 2.89 2.79 2.58 3.10

Perception 4 .723 10.68 3.39 2.67 2.32 2.98

Moral 2 .527 7.34 1.66 3.67 3.32 4.01

Difficult 4 .735 10.03 2.91 2.50 1.95 2.89

Note. Min = Minimum Item Values; Max = Maximum Item Values

Table 2

Intercorrelations of Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale With Survey of

Attitudes About Fraternities and Sororities Subscales

Subscale 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

1. Esteem —

2. Purpose -.21 * —

3. Impact -.04 .34 * —

4. Conform -.05 .40 * -.04 —

5. Perception -.12 .64 * .23 * .35 * —

6. Moral -.13 -.08 .26 * -.21 * -.14 —

7. Difficult -.13 .46 * -.17 .44 * .43 * -.25 * —

Note. * Correlation is significant at the 0.001 level.

Table 3

Means and Standard Deviations for Dependent Variables

Women Men AfAm

Factor M SD M SD M SD

Esteem [17.98.sub.a] 3.8 [16.72.sub.a] 3.2 [16.03.sub.a] 3.1

Purpose 26.27 5.9 26.54 6.4 [29.92.sub.a] 4.3

Impact [16.68.sub.a] 1.8 [14.80.sub.a] 2.8 [16.78.sub.a] 2.2

Conform [10.80.sub.a] 2.7 [11.71.sub.a] 3.0 [12.21.sub.ab] 2.8

Perception 10.74 3.1 10.60 3.6 [12.84.sub.a] 2.4

Moral [7.71.sub.a] 1.5 [6.76.sub.a] 1.7 7.37 1.4

Difficult [9.40.sub.a] 2.6 [10.98.sub.a] 3.1 [10.60.sub.a] 2.5

EuAm LaAm

Factor M SD M SD

Esteem [17.20.sub.b] 3.5 [18.10.sub.ab] 3.7

Purpose [26.56.sub.a] 5.5 [24.64.sub.a] 6.5

Impact [15.94.sub.a] 2.0 15.86 2.4

Conform [10.87.sub.a] 2.7 [10.72.sub.b] 2.8

Perception [10.24.sub.a] 3.2 9.89 3.4

Moral 7.10 1.7 7.59 1.6

Difficult [10.32.sub.b] 3.0 9.30.sub.ab 2.9

Greek Non-Greek

Factor M SD M SD

Esteem 16.38 3.2 17.69 3.7

Purpose [32.40.sub.a] 5.0 [25.22.sub.a] 5.6

Impact [16.69.sub.a] 2.3 [15.77.sub.a] 2.4

Conform 11.76 3.2 11.05 2.8

Perception [13.80.sub.a] 2.1 [10.05.sub.a] 3.2

Moral 6.92 1.7 7.42 1.6

Difficult 12.00 3.0 9.65 2.7

Note. AfAm=African American, EuAm=European American, LaAm=Latino/a

American

Note. Means in a row sharing subscripts are significantly different.

References

Baler, J.L. & Williams, P.S. (1983). Fraternity hazing revisited: Current alumni and active member attitudes toward hazing. Journal of College Student Personnel, 24(4), 300-305.

Bryan, W.A. (1987). Contemporary fraternity and sorority issues. New Directions for Student Services, 40, 37-56.

Cokley, K. O., & Wright, D. (1995). Race and gender differences in pledging attitudes. (ERIC Research Report Accession No. ED 419.999).

Fyten, D. (1995). State of a union. Wake Forest University Magazine, 43, 8-14.

Gloria, A.M., Kurpius, Sharon E.R., Hamilton, K.D., & Wilson, M. (1999). African American students’ persistence at a predominantly white university: Influences of social support, university comfort, and self-beliefs. Journal of College Student Development, 40, 257-268.

Hountras, P. T. & Pederson, L. M. (1970). Self-concept of fraternity members and independents. Journal of College Student Personnel 11, 46-49.

Rosenberg, M. (1965). Society and the adolescent self-image. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Shaw, D.L. & Morgan, T.E. (1990). Greek advisors’ perceptions of sorority hazing. NASPA Journal, 28(1), 60-64.

Sheldon, H.D. (1968). Student life and customs (pp. 97-103). New York: Arno Press.

Spaulding, D.J. & Eddy, J.P. (1995). Fraternity and sorority hazing violence: Elements of a comprehensive plan to combat this campus scourge. The College Student Journal, 29, 368-374.

Suelzle, M. & Bradley, L. (1978). Blacks and Women in Universities: Structural Barriers and Social Realities. EDRS.

KEVIN COCKLEY

KESI MILLER

DANA CUNNINGHAM

JANICE MOTOIKE

AISHA KING

GERMINE AWAD

Southern Illinois University

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