An editorial page column in this week’s Mentor, Manhattan High’s student newspaper, took to task an initiation process involving an organization for high school girls.
Sub-deb, which is short for suburban debutante, had its initiation process — Fun Week — last week. The annual event involves members inducting sophomore girls into their philanthropic group.
But it’s the stuff occurring prior to the dance that was raising questions. In the column she wrote, MHS senior Ilana Budenosky referred to the process as selecting people to “terrorize for a week.” She said the girls have to do exhausting activities at night, wear costumes, and perform humiliating chants. Some of those activities, she wrote, occur in the school itself. She described one instance where girls were required to swim in Anneberg Pond and then refrain from showering for a day.
“All of this adds up to an extremely degrading week for the girls and an extremely distracted week for other students,” she wrote.
Budenosky said she wrote the column because it’s a glaring issue that doesn’t seem to be addressed.
“I’d seen this stuff going on since I was a sophomore,” she said. “I know for me, I wouldn’t like to be in that situation.”
Gina Scroggs, Downtown Manhattan executive director, was in sub-deb in high school, and her daughter, Kassidy, is an MHS senior currently in sub-deb.
Scroggs said her daughter showed her the column, which she said mischaracterizes the initiation with negative words such as disgusting and humiliating.
“There’s not hazing or anything serious about it,” Scroggs said. “It’s just funny.”
The definition of hazing is often debated. Susan Lipkins, a psychologist who has campaigned against hazing practices, defines hazing on her website as a tradition-based process used by groups requiring individuals to engage in activities that can be humiliating, demeaning, intimidating and exhausting, resulting in physical and/or emotional discomfort.
“Hazing is about group dynamics and proving one’s worthiness to become a member of the specific group,” Lipkins writes.
Manhattan High School officials did not return calls seeking comment on the column’s assertions. Scroggs acknowledged silly outfits and 5 a.m. wakeups, but said it is a part of fostering a big-sister/little-sister relationship.
“It is girls bonding together in a very healthy way,” she said. “It’s almost like a week-long slumber party.”
Scroggs said sub-deb members are chosen based on criteria such as academics and involvement in the community and school.
“I take issue with people assuming and making judgment that sub-deb is a popularity contest and purposely excludes girls,” she said.
Budenosky said it functions as a popularity contest because the selection process only includes people the members already know. She also commented on the lack of diversity within the organization.
“I do have a problem with this group of girls selected by their friends,” she said. “It’s really a group of upper middle class white girls.”
Kassidy said her own initiation week made for a lot of memories.
“It was definitely interesting and different, but it was definitely a lot of fun,” she said.
Kassidy said her issue with the article involved focusing on the week rather than what the organization actually does.
“Just the article being what it was, we get discredited for what we do,” she said.
Kassidy mentioned that in the past the group has donated money to the high school and the Johnson Center for Basic Cancer Research at K-State as well as coat and prom dress drives for those who can’t afford either one.
Kassidy acknowledged that the type of perspective in the column is an issue for sub-deb organizations nationwide. “Sub-deb around the nation has gotten a bad rep for what is considered hazing,” she said.
Budenosky said it’s great that the organization donates money, but that’s not what she wanted to address with her column.
“They think I’m attacking sub-deb itself,” she said. “What I’m really criticizing is the ritual.”