While growing up in Bakersfield, Brent McClanahan II was always surrounded by the fraternity and sorority members of his family.
So when he enrolled at California State University of Bakersfield, it seemed natural for him to join Kappa Alpha Psi.
But a process of engagement shrouded in secrecy turned McClanahan’s world upside down and left him with wounds he still battles today more than 10 years later. Believed to be Kern County’s first hazing case, McClanahan’s attackers – three men – reached a plea deal for the hazing of McClanahan and three others, according to The Californian’s previous report.
The longtime Bakersfield resident was interviewed by filmmaker Byron Hurt for his documentary titled “Hazing,” which airs at 1 a.m. Monday on PBS and is available on the PBS Video app anytime after the broadcast. “Hazing” delves into the culture of hazing by interviewing families who have lost loved ones to alleged incidents and what steps could be taken to stamp out potentially dangerous initiations like the one McClanahan suffered.
“I wanted the world to know that…I went through the pain and lived it,” McClanahan told The Californian. “This documentary is about letting…those who don’t know how fraternity, sororities, marching bands or any type of group that has some type of induction process know exactly…what it entails and what it looks like … I don’t want anyone to go through what I went through.
“I still have nightmares”
McClanahan’s father pledged to Kappa Alpha Psi. His mother was part of Alpha Kappa Alpha, according to their interviews in the documentary.
McClanahan said he saw the friendship created between the band members, bonds that lasted well beyond their college years. He wanted it too, he said.
Students can force unsuspecting recruits to undergo brutal initiations to prove they fit into their organization. For McClanahan, that included being hit with canes, whips and paddles, punched in the ribs, slapped for smiling, shot with a BB gun and drenched in flour and chocolate in early 2011, according to the previous report. by The Californian.
The Bakersfield man said that one night their initiation process included violent beatings with paddles in the back repeatedly. He recently underwent back surgery when the first blow hit his back.
This repeated abuse has resulted in ruptured and herniated discs requiring surgery, according to previous reports by The Californian. He was paralyzed from the waist down, had a damaged bladder and erectile dysfunction. More than 10 years later, he still suffers from chronic back pain that no pill can cure, he said.
These ailments do not include the effects of his experiences on his mental health.
“I would be very paranoid,” McClanahan told The Californian. “I couldn’t walk out to a Walmart or Target and not think of people laughing at me, making fun of me, or joking with me. I didn’t have the understanding that I have now – 10, 11 years later… people aren’t here to get me.
“But I still have nightmares,” he added.
McClanahan said the extent of his injuries caused him to consider suicide. He loaded a gun with a bullet and pulled the trigger.
The bullet got stuck in the gun, which is why he is still alive, he said.
It made him think there might be a reason for his life, McClanahan said in the documentary.
John Burrell, executive director of Kappa Alpha Psi Inc., said Friday he could not immediately comment on the 2011 incident because there was no one in the office who had worked since 2011. But he added those who are convicted of hazing should be prosecuted to the fullest extent permitted by law.
“We don’t condone hazing,” Burrell added.
According to the documentary, the CSUB’s Kappa Alpha Psi chapter was banned for seven years. McClanahan has settled with Kappa Alpha Psi for $2 million.
The CSUB was not held legally responsible because McClanahan said the university claimed the fraternity did not operate on campus. Jennifer Self, the university’s public information officer and senior director of strategic communications, emailed a manual outlining student organizations’ policies and procedures in response to questions from The Californian.
The manual states that no student should confuse others. It defines hazing as “likely to cause serious bodily harm to any former, current, or prospective student of any school, community college, college, university, or other educational institution in this State.”
“Change must happen”
Filmmaker Byron Hurt alternates interviews with family members who have lost loved ones or who have experienced hazing with insights from those who have studied hazing, social commentators and history teachers.
These people explain where hazing came from and why it persists in America despite hazing deaths occurring over the years and students being held accountable for millions of dollars and jail time.
“Change has to happen on many levels,” Hurt told The Californian.
Education and awareness of students can help eradicate hazing, but institutions also cannot remain silent about these harmful practices, according to Hurt. Silence often surrounds these rituals because people don’t feel empowered to speak up, said Hurt, a former fraternity member himself. He hopes others will watch the documentary and find the courage to speak out about their experiences to end the hazing.
Often, those who have endured hazing perpetuate this behavior on new recruits as there is a culture of exclusivity around joining a fraternity, and hopeful promises must prove membership in an organization to prove their credibility. , according to the documentary.
A selective induction process can exist without physical abuse or degradation, Hurt said. By collectively deciding that hazing is harmful and unnecessary, society can change, he added.
For example, Hurt said that when he played football decades ago, the new protective caps players wore to reduce head injuries didn’t exist. But that doesn’t make him any less of a football player than those playing these days with different types of equipment and other safety measures like concussion protocols.
“We have to evolve,” Hurt said. “Society changes, society changes, and we must change with it.”
You can reach Ishani Desai at 661-395-7417. You can also follow her at @_ishanidesai on Twitter.
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