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Loosen, then enforce

Have you ever looked at Duke’s hazing policy?

If not, take three seconds to Google it now.

Duke considers “road trips” (whether voluntary or not) a “Level 1” violation of University hazing policy.

So is having someone “stand for a length of time.” Pretty sure my eighth-grade track coach was a serial hazer.

Then there’s “wearing apparel which is conspicuous and not normally in good taste.”

Finally, “sleep deprivation or interruption of consecutive sleep hours” is a more serious “Level 2” infraction, which puts K-ville’s line monitors square at the top of the list of Duke’s most brazen hazers.

Here’s the thing: If the only issue at stake was that Duke’s hazing policy were a little ridiculous, it probably wouldn’t be worth writing about. Some readers might rightfully ask: Who gives a damn about the right of fratstars to take their pledges on road trips?

Unfortunately, this problem of ridiculous policies isn’t limited to hazing. Put simply, far too many policies governing undergraduate life at Duke and other schools are rules everyone knows everyone breaks—all the time.

The range is enormous. Take, for instance, our honor code. Duke’s honor code has an “obligation to act” provision, which means anytime you witness the code being violated, you have an obligation under the same code to do something about it. That means that if your buddy doesn’t want to take a test and STINF’s it, you are technically breaking the honor code by not telling someone about it.

Does anyone think most people do this? Whether or not you think this should be what happens at Duke is irrelevant here. If we (by which I mean everyone from you and me to the people who wrote the code) know that more than half the Duke population habitually ignores this provision of the honor code, the credibility of the rest of the code is immediately called into question.

Then there is our alcohol policy. Duke policy prohibits a whole host of drinking activities that everyone knows occur (beer pong). Even more absurdly, current policy also bans “cases of beer” from any dorm room or apartment on campus. Not to mention the limitation on serving “spirituous liquor” outside of bars. Administrators, do you really harbor the illusion that anyone takes these rules seriously?

Of course, every society has irrelevant laws that people break all the time (except maybe North Korea): parking laws, for instance, or bans on jaywalking. That’s fine, because jaywalking doesn’t present a serious threat to society’s well-being.

The problem arises when these “grey area” rules are applied to more serious issues, the way they are at Duke. Hazing resulted in a death at Cornell last year. Duke was rocked by a cheating scandal just months ago. And alcohol has caused numerous on-campus deaths over the past few years. These aren’t jaywalking type things, in other words.

And they deserve policies that are taken seriously. To date, the administration has imposed broad rules presumably designed to make students refrain from the silly things as well as more serious infractions.

If there was any doubt, let’s clear it up right now: this doesn’t work. An “obligation to act” in the honor code doesn’t make students less likely to cheat, it makes them less likely to pay attention to a code they know everyone ignores, anyway. Absurdly broad hazing policies don’t prevent hazing—they delude hazers into the mentality that the issue isn’t serious.

So why are our laws so detached from reality? When I emailed Dean of Students and Director of the Office of Student Conduct Stephen Bryan to ask him about our current hazing policy, he told me that “for every activity that a student group deems essential for its new members that the University would call hazing, there is an equally valuable activity that achieves the same goals that would not be circumspect.”

This is an excellent illustration of the problem. It is not the job of the Office of Student Conduct to assess the social value of student activities. It is instead to regulate and ban activities that put the community in actual danger.

We would be far better off with laxer laws—covering only truly harmful behavior—that were rigorously enforced. Beer pong doesn’t hurt anybody, but driving drunk does.

Did you know that “loss of driving/parking privileges” is included in the range of possible disciplinary responses for drunk driving? This is pathetic—the penalty for Duke students who are caught driving drunk should always be expulsion.

Similarly, not snitching on a friend who cheats is normal behavior. Cheating is not. So the right answer is not to broaden the scope of our cheating laws. Instead, we should stop giving slaps on the wrist to kids who cheat and start expelling them.

Duke’s rule-makers should stop trying to impose culture and start focusing on activities that actually threaten the well-being of our community.

This will make for a happier, and, more importantly, safer Duke.

Jeremy Ruch is a Trinity junior. His column runs every other Wednesday.


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