New hazing policy due by term's end
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 hazing committee faces a difficult task to create a more effective policy.
This is the first 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.
By the end of Fall term, the College's hazing committee will release a "more detailed, more stringent policy" to regulate hazing, according to committee chair and Associate Dean of the College Dan Nelson.
According to Associate Director of Athletics Jo-Ann Nester, who is the athletic department's representative on the hazing committee, "We want to identify a broad-based definition so that we can identify and eliminate hazing."
"When a student wears a pledge sign, is that hazing?" Nestor asked. "It might be if that student has to wear that sign and shave his head. What we're trying to do as a committee is find out what is psychologically harmful, physically harmful."
Acting Assistant Dean of Residential Life Cassie Barnhardt, who advises the Coed Fraternity Sorority Council and also sits on the hazing committee, said, "Hazing has no place in new member programs ... Alcohol has no place in a new member orientation."
"It's about starting the conversation," she continued, explaining that the characteristic new member uniforms and other practices should be investigated. "It's not that I want to be everybody's watch dog. Have we fully realized our potential? Probably not."
Former Student Assembly President Dean Krishna '01, who is a Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity brother and hazing committee member, said some of the Greek "rituals" were "just out of control."
However, he said the committee's task is a tough one since people can argue that initiation activities are voluntary and not forced upon new members. "But if they say it's voluntary, and everybody's yelling in your face -- well, it depends," he said.
At Dartmouth, Fall term "fashion statements" are often dead giveaways of new Greek affiliations.
Professors interviewed by The Dartmouth indicated that pledge term attire could be distracting -- particularly in a classroom setting.
Government professor Nancy Crowe related an incident when one student came to class wearing an "odd" pair of shorts "with two different fabrics sewn together."
"When he showed up in class without them, I asked if he was relieved," Crowe recalled. The student responded affirmatively.
Crowe said she has also noticed students wearing baseball caps with their fraternity letters -- a practice typical for new members of Alpha Chi Alpha fraternity. She remembered last year there were students who wore new member signs to class, and admitted that it was "distracting."
"I found other students in the class looking at that student instead of paying attention to class or lecture," she said.
English department Chair Peter Travis, a critic of Dartmouth's Greek system, said he has noticed a few "pledge" outfits this fall. He emphasized that outfits are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to behavior that may classify as hazing.
"The outfits are just a symptom," he said, explaining the theory he teaches as part of his course on masculinity. "What they're trying to do is turn the 'hazees' into sort of the abject feminine or homosexual other in order to purge it from their masculine culture."
Travis said he suggested that the College use five percent of the money it sets aside to fund the Initiative and put it towards "courses on gender construction and gender behavior that more students take." However, he noted that "It takes a long time for these things to come to fruition, if ever."
Travis characterized many of the potential problems with new member activities as not the obvious ones like pledge wear, but those that go unnoticed by non-members.
"Most of what they do is secretive," said Travis, whose son was a fraternity brother at another college. "People on the outside can't see it."
The other professors who talked to The Dartmouth had also noticed various new member gear. However, professors, students and administrators alike were very reluctant to call any of the fall "fashions" products of hazing.
Despite their reticence to classify the new member outfits as hazing, the first reaction of most students who talked to The Dartmouth Monday was obvious recognition, often accompanied by laughter.
"Do you mean the Zete packs or the 'PsiUniforms' or the AD lunch boxes or SAE dress-up Fridays?" Kristen LeFevre '02 asked.
"You can't say that wearing a suit for your house is hazing," she said. However, she acknowledged, "I'm sure I have" heard of instances of hazing.
Food Court cashier Mitzi Nalette said, "a guy just came through here with bunny ears." She recalled that she also saw girls wearing boas and "evening gowns" in the early evening and late at night.
When The Dartmouth ran into the lunchbox-wielding "bunny," not only was he wearing bunny ears, but he was also sporting a visor and a long white terry-cloth robe.
He called his outfit "a comfort thing -- comfort and style" as he exited Food Court.
Other students were quick to talk about the unique Theta Delta Chi fraternity hairdos and the tee shirts that some new members are encouraged to wear at other houses.
Associate Dean of the College Dan Nelson said the current hazing guidelines may not regulate activities like shaving heads, and he said he did not know if he would classify such activity as hazing.
"If people were required to shave their heads, it would be a different matter entirely," he said.
Theta Delt President Barry Staples '01 denied that the shaven heads of his house's new members is a sign of hazing, explaining that pledges got together and shaved their heads on their own.
He said as a sophomore he was "pretty happy" about shaving his head. "I was actually excited about it. It totally wasn't a big deal."
However, he acknowledged that every new member this year participated in the patterned head shaving tradition even though it is an "optional" rite.
Staples classified hazing as "basically doing anything unwanted or against someone's will that would hurt an individual in your house," explaining that physical and mental intimidation would fit into that definition.
But, he said at Theta Delt "we don't have any kind of hazing or forced policy."
Despite rumors that circulate in whispers about what actually goes on as part of "new member education," and last year's derecognition of Phi Delta Alpha fraternity, which partially stemmed from allegations of hazing, Staples and other house presidents universally denied that hazing is a problem -- at least at their house.
"I've heard rumors, but I haven't heard of anything like kids being forced to drink," Staples said.
Psi Upsilon President Dan Mahoney '01 said he does not see hazing as a big problem at Dartmouth -- certainly not when compared with recent hazing-related tragedies like the 1997 death of Scott Krueger at MIT.
Mahoney said he was concerned "that the College will come out with a policy that is so broad that it makes it impossible for Greek houses to do harmless and productive new member activities."
However, Mahoney declined to comment on his house's "new member education" program. He also said he would rather not specify what types of activities the College's new policy could outlaw and whether the characteristic uniforms that Psi U's wear -- carpenter boots, jeans and inside-out gray sweat shirts -- is an optional activity despite its 100 percent rate of compliance.