UH strives to paddle out hazing from the campus community
It has been the rite of passage long shunned by universities and education boards nationwide, yet it still manages to rear its ugly head into the lives of unsuspecting underclassmen desperate to belong and often past the point of no return when it comes to long-term investment in the search of acceptance.
Hazing. It is the well-known, yet not-so-much understood, occurrence that haunts the campuses of higher education institutes nationwide. So what exactly is hazing? According to Merriam-Webster, it is the practice of playing unpleasant tricks on someone or forcing someone to do unpleasant things.
The University’s hazing statement, found on the dean’s website and in the UH Student Conduct Policies handbook, defines it as “any action taken or situation created which, regardless of intent or consent of the participants: produces or is reasonably likely to produce bodily harm or danger, mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment, fright, humiliation or ridicule, or otherwise compromises the dignity of an individual.”
Jason Bergeron, the director of the Center for Fraternity and Sorority Life, is often faced with the question of what constitutes hazing. He said hazing is “anything that creates an unnecessary power differential. I use power differential as the key term. Anything a group is asked to do or not do that places a different group at a different level of power over them, we would constitute and investigate that as hazing.”
What makes someone feel compelled to engage in such activities? For the average person, we always feel that we are above such nonsense and hearing stories that involve tragedies — such as the most recent debacle at Cornell — often spark the wonder of why anyone would go through with that. Yet college students everywhere have found themselves at the mercy of hazing, and in some cases, do not even realize that what they are participating in could be hazing.
Associate Dean Kamran Riaz claims that in today’s society, “it exists more because people may not know that what they are doing is wrong, because it is part of a tradition. They just know that something happened to me when I joined an organization, and it happened to them before me when they joined an organization, so they think it’s OK, but it’s not OK, and something needs to be done to stop it.”
That sense of tradition often brings about a common misconception: the belief that hazing is only a result of people vying for spots in a fraternity or a sorority. The reality is that hazing is found just about everywhere, even in the most unexpected of places and organizations. It ranges from sports to cheerleading squads to school bands, too.
Cornell president David Skorton and vice president for student and academic services Susan Murphy co-wrote a guest column for USA Today in August that discussed the issue of hazing at Cornell and across the nation. Within the article was also a survey conducted by the University of Maine, which found that 73 percent of students trying to join a sorority or fraternity had been hazed, as well as 74 percent of varsity athletes, 64 percent of sports club members and 56 percent of performing arts group members.
The article also pointed out that hazing “sometimes (goes) as far as sexual assault” and that this is often a result of young people having such a strong desire to belong that it can outweigh the mental or physical abuse, making it seem like “a tolerable price for admission.”
After hearing the gruesome and ugly truth, UH decided to stand up against this craze. First, hazing is taken quite seriously across campus and throughout all levels of administration. According to Riaz, “if someone is convicted and it is found that they have hazed someone, the tolerance is zero. Anyone within the University community or outside the community — if they have any suspicion that hazing has taken place, they can report it.
“They can do it anonymously or they can do it with their name mentioned. They can do it anywhere. They can come to our dean of students’ office. They can go to the University police department, the Greek life program, and file a complaint anywhere. What we typically encourage people to do, even if they are filing anonymously, is to provide as much information as they can. It will make it a little easier to look into those allegations and look into where it took place, when it took place, and begin an investigation into those allegations.”
Bergeron also noted that CFSL students “meet with (CFSL) on a regular basis and … talk a lot about what is going on in chapters …things that they are really proud of, things that they might be struggling with, things that might be challenges … We’ve got a lot of mechanisms in place that certainly help fraternities and sororities live the mission and the values that they were founded upon … Anything embedded in the student code of conduct is embedded into sororities and fraternities as well.”
Rachel Ebersole, a public relations senior and member of the Delta Gamma sorority, said her initiation experience was a great one. “We don’t tolerate hazing at all. That’s not even an issue for not just us — it’s nationwide. We don’t really ever have to worry about it because it’s just not something we do.”
Most importantly is that both Riaz and Bergeron agree, along with the rest of the UH administration, that there should be no hazing and that UH will do everything in its power to keep it from taking place.
Opinion columnist Juanita Deaver is an anthropology freshman and may be reached at [email protected]