How should 'hazing' be defined?

by Julia Levy | 10/31/00 6:00am

With students generally unwilling to come forward with stories about hazing and with administrators very much in the dark about what actually goes on in the basements of Greek houses, the College's hazing committee faces the difficult task of creating a more effective policy.

This is the second in a two part series of stories that will look at some of the activities and perceptions of group initiations that the hazing committee may examine when developing a new policy.

Although it has New Hampshire law and previous College policies for background, the College hazing committee will redefine the awkward term 'hazing' and lay down more comprehensive guidelines to prevent abusive initiation practices.

Students interviewed seemed to agree that the current policy is vague, and that the new policy should aim to create a more functional hazing definition and standards.

The policy's goals

Currently, the Student Handbook says hazing is strictly prohibited and violations are unacceptable at the College and in the state of New Hampshire.

The handbook defines hazing as an act of coercion or intimidation that would be "perceived by a reasonable person as likely to cause physical or psychological injury to any person." It also says an act of intimidation that "is a condition of initiation into, admission into, continued membership in or association with any organization" is classified as hazing.

Nelson said the move to rewrite the College hazing policy was prompted by the Trustee's Initiative, which asked the administration to fashion a "more detailed policy."

"We're trying to think about Dartmouth's needs and pick up some other leads from other sources," Nelson said, referencing a recent Alfred University study on hazing that outlined different kinds of acceptable and unacceptable new-member bonding activities, as well as other institutions' policies. He said he hopes the new College hazing policy lets the administration address whether a specific activity is "a condition for membership in a group," as well as establishing boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

Last year, when the College derecognized Phi Delta Alpha, Dean of Residential Life Martin Redman told The Dartmouth that the fraternity had "used methods of coercion and harassment as part of the peer relationship to continue membership."

"Because of the structure, tradition and the way it worked, if they didn't do it, they felt they would be perceived to be less of a member, or worse, not allowed to be a member," Redman said at the time.

Although the house was not found guilty of hazing, Redman said last March, "Quite honestly, in most of the country, the activities that took place that we were told about" would classify as hazing.

Instead, the house was found guilty of violating Standard II of the College's Standards of Conduct, which entails "Harassment" or abusive behavior that is targeted at an individual or group and repeated.

As the hazing committee continues its evaluation of the current policy, this fall it has asked all offices that work with student organizations "to be much more proactive," Nelson said. "They should work with student leaders to come up with more positive bonding and new member initiation."

Barnhardt agreed in full with Nelson's take on the goals of the revamped hazing policy, but she noted the existence of "very strong resistance" to changes.

She said her ideal policy would combine three factors: correcting the negative behavior, giving back to the community and rebuilding faith or trust.

She emphasized that hazing "traditions" should not be necessary parts of initiation.

"Some of the most harmful or risky hazing traditions have only been traditions for the last five years," she added.

An Office of Residential Life flier on hazing warns that "even if you plan to end up at a harmless destination," kidnapping new members is not safe. It also claims that "frightening" new members and conducting "scavenger hunts" are not acceptable activities.

Barnhardt was also adamantly opposed to any use of alcohol in the new member orientation program.

"As an educator, you have to teach responsible behavior, and it's hard to be responsible if you're breaking the law," she said of the possibility that new member programs could involve alcohol. Former Student Assembly President and Sig Ep brother Dean Krishna '01, on the other hand, said alcohol is fine, as long as its consumption is not forced upon new members.

He remembered stories from friends who were forced to collectively finish off beer kegs, and he said that kind of activity should stop.

"They're not forced to drink one, they're forced to drink many," he said. "It's enough to make you sick -- sometimes 10, sometimes 20."

Defining a policy

No student interviewed for this article admitted to having a personal experience with hazing, but each had his or her own idea of what hazing entails.

Coed Fraternity and Sorority Council President and Sigma Phi Epsilon brother Eric Etu '01 said he thought a good definition of hazing is "something that you wouldn't do in front of your mother."

Neil Sherer '03, a new member of Sigma Nu fraternity, called hazing "doing something that might be degrading."

Chi Heorot fraternity brother Dan Lehouillier '01 said, "hazing would be having to do things that you do not want to do to be incorporated into a brotherhood."

Epsilon Kappa Theta sorority member Kendra Quincy-Kemp '02 said hazing has to do with older people forcing younger people to do something they don't feel comfortable doing.

Sigma Delta sorority President Elizabeth Kleinerman '01 defined hazing as "anything that someone is forced to do that makes them feel uncomfortable, puts them in danger, or embarrasses them."

She declined to say whether those types of activities happen at Dartmouth, but she said, "there's a fine line between wanting to do something and being forced to do something."

Kleinerman said the College should try to come up with common standards that "everyone can agree upon, and that everyone at least attempts to follow." She said, "No one has any idea, because the policy is not very clear right now."

Etu emphasized that there are a lot of gray areas when it comes to hazing.

"It's never 100 percent forced," he said. "It's just highly encouraged. The group that is hazing someone can pass it off and say 'we didn't make them do anything,' and the person who was hazed was put in an uncomfortable situation."

Etu said he does think that hazing takes place at Dartmouth, but he said he does not believe it to be as widespread as some members of the community might believe. He also said he thinks awareness of hazing has been slightly heightened as the College evaluates the Initiative.

When house presidents have come to him for advice, "I tell people that we should always be putting our best foot forward ... I've tried to encourage people to be more proactive," he said.

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