Admin. grapples with hazing's impact

by Dan Duray | 11/21/06 6:00am

Editor's note: This story is the second in a two-part series about the status of hazing at Dartmouth. This piece examines the efforts on the part of the College to address hazing.

While definitions of hazing may vary, almost all parties involved in the administration's battle against the practice say that the fight has not and will not be an easy one.

From the infamous freshmen beanies that were mandatory for first-year students up until the 1960s, to the Wetdown, a gauntlet-style test of mettle on the Green endured by newly elected members of student government, the more brutal aspects of Dartmouth's hazing history are found in the days before coeducation.

Megan Johnson, assistant director of Coed, Fraternity and Sorority administration, noted that Dartmouth's strong traditions of hazing accounts for some of the current practices at the College.

"I think a lot of times when students hear administrators say, 'This looks like hazing' or 'This embodies aspects of hazing,' I think sometimes what students hear is 'You don't like our traditions,'" she said.

CFS Administration manages hazing within the Greek system primarily through its new member educator training program, which Johnson described as currently in the process of "evolution." New member educators, often known as "pledge trainers" in the Greek community, meet with representatives from CFS Administration to present a schedule of planned events for new members.

Director of CFS Administration Deb Carney said that one of the problems of the current new member educator system is that all events must be alcohol-free. Many students have reported to Carney, however, that this is not always the case, pointing out that the College is only supervising incomplete lists of new member activities.

Johnson and Carney also stated that alcohol becomes a complicated aspect of the new member education process, as it results in most initiation difficulties. Johnson said that while she sees the value in shared experiences amongst new members of an organization, the frequent inclusion of alcohol often leads to problems.

"I don't think students are creative enough to find alternative ways to get together and to have a shared experience around something that's meaningful and deep that may not involve alcohol so that you actually can recall what's meaningful and deep about it," Johnson said.

Though dangerous when not regulated, hazing is not entirely without reason, according to a 1959 psychological study by researchers Elliot Aronson and Judson Mills, who noted that "persons who go through a great deal of trouble or pain to attain something tend to value it more highly than persons who attain the same thing with a minimum of effort." The study followed various college women's experiences joining groups with painful or embarrassing initiation rites versus those who joined groups with mild entry requirements that in turn rendered their groups "worthless."

Using hazing as a measurement of value is all too common according to Community Director and CFS Adviser Zach Nicolazzo, who said that this expectation of hazing is another factor in its perpetuation.

"Some students now come to school and if they want to be a part of an organization, they're looking for that hazing to happen and if it doesn't they're shocked and amazed," he said.

Brian Austin, senior associate athletic director said that though the athletics department has been fortunate enough to avoid hazing incidents in the past few years, the department still works to fight hazing on teams through education.

"Athletic administrators meet with every team at the beginning of the year and discuss the College definition of hazing and what it actually means. We try to get students thinking in terms of how the actions of upperclassmen are perceived by newcomers in these situations," he said. "We also ask coaches to have conversations with captains about discouraging this behavior."

Austin also noted that responsibility for hazing falls upon the entire team rather than a specific individual like a captain, just as Carney and Johnson noted that an entire CFS organization, rather than new member educators alone, is eventually responsible.

"I think every member is accountable in some kind of way if they're witnessing it or participating in it. Yeah, we have the new member educator and it is his or her job to be a leader, but it's a community," Carney said. "It's not just one or two people, it's the whole group welcoming this new person into your community."

Hank Nuwer, a recognized expert on hazing who spoke at the College following the 2005 hazing investigation involving Delta Delta Delta sorority and Theta Delta Chi fraternity, wrote on his website that he believes the system of hazing at American colleges will eventually change.

"Make no mistake," he wrote. "Society eventually -- decades removed from our cowardly era -- will regard hazing as the abomination it is, and a hazing death as the sick calamity it truly is. Rightfully so, citizens of that era will regard our silence and inaction and pitiful enforcement of law to be as disgraceful as we ourselves regard the once-flourishing American human rights violation of slavery."

Optimism about a change in the nature of hazing varies, however. Carney went on to add that because of the group dynamic, change happens very slowly, if at all, as the group momentum causes hazing to continue despite a new member educator's desire for change.

"I've been here 20 years. I wish I could tell you that things have changed and I could say they've changed in a more positive way, but it's the same things," she said. "It starts small, when somebody makes a decision, and then it goes up higher and you never think it could happen and it sort of has a life of its own."