I was apprehensive about watching “Burning Sands” but I’m glad I checked it out. If you are considering Greek life, you should definitely watch it. Regardless of some backlash from fellow Black Greeks, I admire Gerard McMurray’s multifaceted approach to the tense topic of underground pledging and hazing in Black Greek life. McMurray told Ebony that he wants Black Greeks to have a conversation about hazing and he has gotten his wish.
“Burning Sands” forces Black Greeks, and those interested in our fraternities and sororities, to reflect on the intersection of personal identity and fraternal mission. We see a conflict in Zurich, the main character, as he embarks on the underground process, willingly submitting himself to hazing. Interestingly, the story is laced with Frederick Douglass quotes, for whom the movie’s fictional university is named. Along the way, we see duality in the alumni of the fictional Lambda Lambda Phi fraternity—fraternal compassion versus a blind dedication to making sure candidates are “made right.” At the end (mild spoiler alert), Zurich is presumed to have been left at the crossroads with an all too common question uttered by those who engage in underground pledging and hazing—is it worth it?
Black Greeks’ Reaction
It kills me that so many of my fellow Black Greeks treat works such as “Burning Sands” with such righteous indignation. It’s as if the losses of students’ well-being and lives aren’t enough for us to take the topic head-on. The outcry of “Burning Sands” is not unique. Jeff Obafemi Carr’s “He Ain’t Heavy” is also set to be released this year. Ricky Jones did a deep dive into Black Greek hazing in his book “Black Haze”. Gregory Parks is easily a prolific Black Greek life researcher who often writes about hazing. Let’s not forget Walter Kimbrough, whose ground-breaking research about the benefits of Black Greek life, has given way to his being a hazing subject matter expert. Heck, I almost didn’t go Greek because of “School Daze”, I’ve written about hazing here on HBCU Lifestyle, and I interviewed two mental health professionals—also Black Greeks—about the mentality of those who commit acts of hazing for my podcast.
Because folks care more about their personal feelings (as I used to) than the unreasonably high risk of hazing, there are those who question if McMurray or the rest of us care about our organizations. Is water wet? Our collective goal is to preserve precious lives because we love our organizations. But without an honest discussion on both the member and candidate sides, folks will continue to make the same mistakes over and over. As a side note, we Black Greeks always say that “the real pledging starts after you cross,” soooo….
Being True to You
Here’s where you, the student who is interested in a fraternity or sorority, come in. Black Greek life is strong because of strong people. Therefore, focus on your character strengths as a way of living out the mission of the organization you want to join. It is important to know who you are; because once you wrap your identity up in letters, you become a slave to them. I know all too well.
Put your well-being first because we need the best of you in order to fulfill our missions with excellence. Giving in to hazing can have harmful long-term effects, something that HazingPrevention.org calls “Hidden Harm.” As someone who is considering Greek life, you have likely thought about the risk of physical trauma (let’s be real). But no one ever anticipates the psychological trauma that could also result from hazing: declining grades, withdrawal from social activities, depression, and even thoughts of suicide have been reported. And let’s be clear, underground pledging does not include on-call medical professionals or first responders.
There is also the risk of unwittingly destroying your chapter from within (a common occurrence that sort of contradicts the concept of brotherhood or sisterhood). According to “Myths About Hazing”, a piece produced by Cornell University, “Hazing often generates anger and resentment.” Having been Greek for more than 28 years, I have personally witnessed this. We have members publicly claim that they work hard for their letters yet give their chapters their butts to kiss when asked to do something as simple as pick up a box of donuts for a service project. While other factors may figure into that kind of pettiness, much of it is a result of folks’ feeling that they “paid their dues” through underground pledging or hazing. That attitude, by the way, could also easily transform into bad career habits.
Am I advocating for you to just walk into Black Greek life? Nope. We are membership organizations, period. Also understand that Black Greek fraternities and sororities are dedicated to causes; so the exercises of learning our history, performing community service and testing the character of our candidates are important. Do we want you to have fun if you cross? Oh, yes! Most importantly, we want you to walk in your purpose as a brother or soror. If you think it’s better to walk away from the college opportunity in favor of a grad chapter because of the threat of hazing, so be it.
So, where does this leave you? Place nothing above your well-being. Without a healthy entrance into Black Greek life, it will be difficult to have a healthy college, career or life experience. I just want you to enter the fraternity or sorority of your choice in one piece so we can all continue to serve our communities with excellence. Don’t let the sands burn you.