The University’s recent crack-down on hazing has been the forbidden fruit of conversations around campus this semester. It’s a topic that concerns affiliated and non-affiliated students alike, but it is rarely discussed openly. Columnists and the Editorial Board have written on the issue, but its sensitivity has prevented the type of honest and open dialogue that such an important topic deserves. This is especially true when it comes to students in greek organizations or selective living groups, who stand to lose the most by being candid about hazing and hazing policies. As someone who prides himself on tackling tough issues and saying what other students won’t, even I’ve been afraid to touch this topic for fear of putting myself and my fraternity brothers in jeopardy. But, as this may well be the last article I write for The Chronicle, I might as well go out with a bang. Duke’s hazing policy is downright absurd. Not only is it absurd, it’s so broad that it can be interpreted, and has been interpreted, to include any imaginable component of new member education. Duke University defines hazing as “any action taken or situation created, whether on or off university premises, that is harmful or potentially harmful to an individual’s physical, emotional or psychological well-being, regardless of an individual’s willingness to participate or its bearing on his/her membership status.” Without delving into the complete list of this policy’s flaws, I will highlight the two most egregious.
First off, this definition extends hazing to include any and all indirect consequences of a given action. Literally anything can cause “potential” harm to someone physically, emotionally or psychologically. If I were to force someone to consume a substance that caused them to be hospitalized, that would be hazing since my direct action resulted in physical harm. If my fraternity had new member education meetings on the second floor of a building, and one of our “Potential New Members” (PNMs) tripped, fell and broke his arm while walking down the stairs, his injury would be an indirect result of our actions and could be construed as “hazing” as well. Secondly, and most importantly, Duke’s definition of hazing includes all actions “regardless of an individual’s willingness to participate.” I’m really going to hammer this point home, because it’s important. If you read the excerpt carefully, it says that any voluntary or involuntary action can be considered hazing. And since the definition gives no consideration to whether or not a member of the organization encourages the PNM to engage in the activity, we must take the policy at face value to include any action that is completely voluntary. A freshman could be watching TV in our common room and we’d be hazing them based on nothing more than our presence.
By extension, these loopholes give the administration complete freedom to call “hazing” at will, and they have abused this power without question. The Chronicle recently reported that five sororities on campus are being investigated for hazing because they “required members to wear specific clothing.” Even the average GDI can tell you that this “hazing violation” refers to the longstanding tradition of new members wearing white to their first sorority dances, which makes this story sound like something out of The Onion. In no way can the act of wearing a color that symbolizes purity be construed to cause physical, emotional or psychological harm by any rational human being. The Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life and the administration need to recognize that if their policies are at odds with the traditions of international greek organizations, the vast majority of which have stringent anti-hazing policies, something is amiss.
So let me go on the record. I’ve been hazed—but not by my fraternity. I’ve been hazed by an administration that has vilified over 150 years worth of traditions that represent my fraternal ideals of friendship, justice and learning. I’ve been hazed by an administration that limits my freedom of expression through intimidation simply because I’m part of a group of organizations that has become the scapegoat for all of the University’s problems. And if that doesn’t cause emotional and psychological damage, then I want to know how a girl wearing a white dress does. Beyond my insignificant mental anguish, Duke’s hazing policy is “potentially harmful” to the physical well-being of the entire student body. By trivializing the term “hazing” to include everything from assembling puzzles to walking in straight lines, the administration is detracting attention from actual hazing, which is a very serious concern in any organization that involves a power differential. If students around campus are busy calling the hazing hotline to report instances of “hazing” and the administration is tied up investigating these cases of “hazing,” less time is being spent trying to eradicate actual hazing, which is generally harder to track since it usually does not occur in public. If the administration actually cares more about the safety of its students than making public examples out of fraternities and sororities, it will revise the hazing policy to reflect the true gravity of this issue.
Here’s how I see it: The worst offender of the hazing policy is the policy itself.
Scott Briggs is a Trinity Sophomore. This is his final column of the semester. Follow Scott on Twitter @SBriggsChron