Investigations into allegations of hazing at Dartmouth College, Cornell University and Binghamton University have thrust hazing into the national spotlight.
Stories of pledges eating vomlets (omelets with vomit inside of them), being forced to consume dangerous amounts of alcohol and performing other degrading activities at Dartmouth brought into the public eye after a Rolling Stone article entitled “Confessions of an Ivy League Frat Boy: Inside Dartmouth’s Hazing Abuses” published this April prompted a nationwide discussion of hazing at colleges and universities.
With the recent events at Dartmouth in mind, many wonder whether something of that nature could happen at UR. In an online survey conducted by the Campus Times to solicit commentary and opinions on the hazing issue at UR, some students admitted that it was possible.
“I believe that certain fraternities would place their pledges in situations where they were forced to drink dangerous amounts,” freshman Brianna Isaacson, a member of UR’s Phi Sigma Sigma sorority, said. “I’ve heard stories of pledge classes being placed in confined areas and being told they would have to consume a scary amount of alcohol before they could leave.”
Dean of Students Matthew Burns agreed.
“Something like [what happened at Dartmouth] could happen here,” Burns said. “There’s no reason to think it couldn’t.”
While no cases on the level of those at Dartmouth have been reported at UR, there have been cases of hazing reported to the administration within the past year.
“There have been allegations of hazing almost every year, usually in the spring,” Burns said. “Not all allegations turn out to result in charges in the disciplinary system, though. Sometimes, insufficient evidence is available, and sometimes, organizations are cleared of misconduct altogether.”
Although recent news about hazing has prompted school administrations across the country to reevaluate their policies on hazing, UR has maintained its current policy. UR defines hazing as “any action taken or situation created, whetheron or off University premises, which has the potential to produce mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment, or ridicule. Such activities may include, but are not limited to the following: use of alcohol; paddling in any form; creation of excessive fatigue; physical and psychological shocks; quests, treasure hunts/scavenger hunts (without the expressed and prior approval of the appropriate director or dean), road trips or any other such activities carried on outside or inside the confines of any living unit (without the expressed and prior approval of the appropriate director or dean); wearing public apparel which is conspicuous and not normally in good taste; engaging in public stunts and buffoonery; morally degrading or humiliating games and activities; and any other activities which are not consistent with fraternal law, ritual, or policy, or the regulations and policies of the educational institution.”
When a violation occurs, the UR judicial officer and the University official associated with the group in question review the case.
If a group is found responsible for hazing, sanctions are discussed by a hearing board and, if deemed necessary, that group may have its recruitment privileges revoked.
Students have mixed feelings about this policy. Some believe that the administration should take a stronger stance.
“I think there should be an absolute zero-tolerance policy for hazing,” freshman Alex Montes wrote in the survey. “No one should ever have to be humiliated to be part of a group.”
Burns is skeptical that a zero-tolerance policy would be more effective.
“I am almost always opposed to any ‘zero tolerance’ policy, believing that such policies have the effect of making the community feel better because it seems like we are ‘doing something,’ when in reality, such policies only serve to bind our hands and take away the discretion and creativity of any persons or boards when trying to determine what the best course of action is,” he said.
Others think that the administration should actually cut back on its policy.
“My fraternity is one that is always being head hunted by the school and Security and it’s laughable how little we do during pledging, but the school seems to think it’s so wrong,” one anonymous student wrote in the survey. “Forced drinking? Never. Vomiting? Nope. Beatings, branding, forced anything? Never ever. We literally sit around and have a conversation, but the school seems to think that’s hazing.”
Burns stands by the administration’s stance, insisting that the current policy is justified.
“Just look at the cases of harm and death around the country,” he said. “Hazing largely occurs ‘underground,’ is difficult to prove and often results in ‘one-upmanship’ over the course of time, with each act of hazing getting more pronounced as the years go by. If the threshold for addressing hazing as a serious violation is not low, where would it be? Our threshold will not be to wait until someone gets harmed.”
A few students who responded to the survey pointed to the fact that UR seems to be “head hunting” certain fraternities and sororities. Burns explained that each group is subject to the same level of scrutiny.
“There is no greater or lesser degree of scrutiny among groups on our campus. If students believe that we should be looking into hazing activity in any particular organization, those students should feel some obligation to disclose what they know before someone gets hurt,” he said.
However, Burns did admit that fraternities have been disciplined in larger numbers than sororities during his time at the University. He also said that the extent of hazing has been less serious in sororities than fraternities.
A number of students expressed in the survey that the administration sometimes acts on rumors, and that it should only act on concrete evidence. When asked about how the University decides whether or not to investigate a fraternity or sorority for hazing,
Burns admitted that rumors “often have a grain of truth and bear some attention.” But, he maintained that investigations are based in fact.
“Investigations into hazing almost always start because of detailed information which can be in some way corroborated,” he said.
“Often we cannot share the original source of the information, and so others might believe our investigation started because of a rumor.”
In response to students who feel that the administration is “cracking down” on fraternities and sororities in reference to hazing, Burns reiterated that the administration is not “out to get” anyone.
“There is no crackdown on fraternities and sororities, but the landscape for hazing — its definition, how to respond to it, etc. — is changing nationwide,” he said. “All organizations everywhere, including those on our campus, need to respond to this changing environment or they will get left behind. Fraternities and sororities can and do flourish without hazing.”
In the survey, students were asked if there were any positive aspects of hazing. A few stated that it helps to strengthen brotherhood and proves a pledge’s loyalty to the group. When asked if he thought that there were any benefits to using hazing as a tool to determine whether pledges were worthy of initiation, Burns had little to say.
“It’s insanity to think that our organizations, which have some of the smartest students in the world as members, cannot think of better ways to strengthen bonds or weed out those unfit other than dehumanizing and humiliating them,” he said.
Scantlen is a member of the class of 2015.