In modern fraternities and sororities, paddles are often given from the Little to the Big after the Little’s official initiation into the organization. It symbolizes their unique friendship within the Greek chapter and can be a creative way to express their common interests and the chapter that has united them. 

Fraternity and sorority paddles haven’t always been used in a symbolic sense. They also represent violence and hazing and have a very negative history. In this post, learn more about the history of paddles and how they became Greek life traditions. 

The Symbolism Behind the Fraternity & Sorority Paddle

Once upon a time, fraternities used paddles as a form of corporal punishment, violence, and hazing since the 19th century. As WWII veterans began attending universities, they brought their knowledge of military-style rituals and punishments to college campuses. In the next two decades, fraternity and sorority membership doubled, as did reports of hazing all over the country. 

While paddling and hazing were generally frowned upon in the past, many states have taken steps to establish anti-hazing legislation to protect university students. The use of paddles as a tool for hazing decreased significantly, but what emerged was the paddle representing a symbol of tradition and history of the Greek organizations. 

Utilize Alternative Sorority Paddles to Preserve Traditions

Because paddles represent pride, tradition, and friendship, many alternatives can take the place of the paddle as a gift during initiation.

A wooden plaque that dedicated to the Big Bro or Sis might replace the paddle, in fact. Brothers and sisters often paint or decorate them to the member’s liking. The plaque often displays the chapter letters, along with other customs or traditions from the organization. The negative connotation behind the paddle truly lies in its shape and what it represents. 

Another idea is to gift a decorated symbol or mascot of the organization creatively. For example, Chi Omega’s official animal mascot is the owl. The Little Sis could purchase a wooden owl, paint and decorate it, and inscribe her Big’s name and pledge class.

To continue to change the conversation about paddles and their dangerous history, it’s essential to bring more awareness to the humiliation, punishment, and degradation they represent from the past.

There are many ways that chapter members can commemorate their commitment and loyalty to their Greek letters. While Greek Life prioritizes upholding tradition, gifting paddles exists outside of that. is a nonprofit organization that created a campaign called “Put the Paddle in the Past.”

This campaign encourages students to participate in helping end the use of paddles as a hazing ritual and as a gift within their chapters. Several Greek organizations have partnered with to stand in solidarity against the use of paddles in any way. 

Find the Greek Organization For You with GreekXperience 

The media often misrepresents sororities and fraternities. Some of the stereotypes are unfortunately true. However, there is a lot of opportunity to do good by joining a fraternity or sorority. There are many advantages that college students can experience by joining.
It’s important to do your due diligence when selecting a chapter to join at your university. Before you rush, make sure you know what values you want in the organization you join. GreekXperience can help. Sign up here to create a profile. Then, find the perfect brotherhood or sisterhood for you and the experience you want to have in college.


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