Behind the arches

For some cadets, the line between hazing and normal Corps activities is difficult to draw

By Hannah Falcon @hannahfalcon

The activities that take place beyond the Quad’s arches can sometimes seem like a mystery to non-reg students at A&M, who often hear rumors of hazing. 

Former and current cadets have shared some of their personal experiences with activities and traditions that are not widely discussed. While these students don’t necessarily consider what happened to them hazing — and there is some disagreement among cadets about what falls into the definition of that term — their experiences are certainly different from an average college student. According to them, a normal day for a cadet includes yelling, physical training and creative problem-solving.

Salvador Garcia, performance studies master’s student, played the alto sax in the Aggie Band and was part of A-Battery in the fall of 2007. He dropped the Corps after a few months because he was not enjoying his experience.

According to Garcia, A-Battery had several “pass-downs,” which are roles given to freshmen by upperclassmen that provide them certain privileges if they comply with the role. Garcia was assigned the role of “racists fish,” which means he had to tell the upperclassmen racist jokes on command.

“My assumption is that they chose me because I’m Mexican, and it’s easier to hear racist jokes coming from a minority,” Garcia said. “They always asked me for different and better jokes, so here I am, as a minority, always looking for jokes about my own people and reciting them back on command.”

Garcia said the upperclassmen would assign them menial tasks for their own amusement, such as brushing their roommate’s teeth in the hallway or separating cookies so every piece had an even number of chocolate chips. To get away from everyone and have some privacy, Garcia would retreat to his room.

“The problem came at night, because I drink a lot of water, but you have to ask permission to get out of your room at night,” Garcia said. “So, what do you do? Just pee in your sink, and they would encourage it. That’s messed up, because your sink is where you brush your teeth, wash your face, wash your hands. And it’s right there; it’s right next to your bed. Every now and then you wake up to your roommate peeing in the sink, and that was normal.”

Upperclassmen often enforce certain additional rules for freshmen. Garcia said during his time in the band, they couldn’t say words like “tuba” or “bass.” One of these rules included not being allowed to walk on the grass, but when they see an upperclassman, they have to go introduce themselves and walk with them. The upperclassman would walk the freshman onto the grass while they were shaking hands, and the freshman had to follow them.

“They leave you on a tree stump, let go of your hand and just walk away, and then everybody stares to see how you make it out of the situation,” Garcia said. “For me, I had a backpack full of books, I’ll just put down one book, jump on it. Take out the other one, jump on that one. Grab the other, put it back. So I’m just jumping on books, and everybody around me is laughing.” 

At the time, A-Battery was under investigation for hazing, according to Garcia. He said that he always wondered if his outfit would have been worse had there not been a watchful eye looking over them.

Robert Crum, agricultural systems management senior and E-2 inspector general, has seen changes in what is allowed in the Corps. Things he considered normal his freshman year are no longer permitted because of hazing complaints.

This includes square meals, in which cadets must eat looking straight ahead while moving their fork in a square motion from plate to mouth. Since they could not look down at their food, some cadets found eating to be a challenge. However, others would have competitions to see who could eat the most as quickly as possible. 

“[Square meals are] something I did all freshman year, and it was never that bad,” Crum said. “I’m a slow eater and only ate three plates of chow, but I have buddies who would eat five to eight plates of food in a sitting. After you work out and eat that fast in a sitting, you throw up. You would run outside Duncan and throw up and it was funny, but now if a freshman throws up because they’ve eaten too fast it’s ‘Oh my gosh, we’re in trouble.’”

According to Crum, some people come into the Corps expecting to experience certain things their grandfathers and fathers experienced, only to find that those practices were discontinued due to hazing claims. Crum said he was never hazed or accused of hazing throughout his four years in the Corps. He said some things people consider hazing, such as yelling at freshmen, are simply a part of the military regimen. 

“I never faced discipline in the Corps; no one hazed me,” Crum said. “Maybe small things like I wrote note cards or I was told I was a piece of shit, but oh well. They were right.”

International studies senior Zach Russell also said yelling is a regular part of a military program and should be expected. Russell said things like yelling and name-calling are not meant to be harmful but are used as a way of motivating people who are falling behind.

“I think the definition [of hazing] is too broad,” Russell said. “I think there’s a lot of things that people are like ‘oh, this is hazing,’ when it isn’t. Like getting yelled at. You’re a part of an ROTC program — a military organization — that’s kind of expected, in my opinion. I know some people kind of look down upon that, because they think us yelling at somebody isn’t going to improve them. I feel like it did though.”

Russell was moved from E-2 to Squadron 4 because of hazing allegations against him his freshman year. He was only found guilty of complicity and conduct unbecoming of a cadet, although he was accused of much more. According to Russell, a lot of the accusations made against him and his peers were untrue. The trial changed his view on the Corps and eventually led to him dropping and becoming a regular student.

“They found [the accuser] in his car one night, and he had been drinking in his car,” Russell said. “He had a problem with alcohol, and he blamed his problem on the things that we said to him.”

Four other freshmen and two sophomores were accused and tried along with Russell. The seven of them were harder on the then-freshman cadet who wasn’t keeping up with the rest of the outfit. Russell said the cadet refused help when they offered it. Included in the evidence against Russell were screenshots of GroupMe messages where they would call the cadet names.

Not long after Russell’s case and several other incidents within E-2, the historically all-male outfit was integrated.

“There have been problems in the past with all-male outfits, and the commandant’s office saw that as a problem,” Russell said. “E-2 being the mascot company, there was a lot of feeling like they’re going after us so hard so that they have an excuse to integrate the outfit and instill the first female handler, which is eventually what did happen. We saw a lot of cases like ours as just excuses to integrate.”

Russell said he felt terrified and frustrated during his hearings, which lasted a couple months. The Assistant Commandant for Discipline and the Offices of the Dean of Student Life conducted the hearings, according to Russell. He said he felt that the university was against him and they thought he was guilty before he had a chance to defend himself. Additionally, he said it seemed as if the Corps had a desire to be more lenient while the university was pushing for stricter consequences. 

Editor’s Note: Several current cadets declined interviews for this story or canceled interviews with no explanation. Additionally, Salvador Garcia was a Life & Arts reporter for The Battalion in Fall 2018.