Verbum Ultimum: A Hazy Definition

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 10/27/11 10:00pm

This week, Director of Greek Letter Organizations and Societies Wes Schaub sounded an ominous note about the future of traditional pledge term activities at Dartmouth fraternities and sororities: "Most Greek leaders [are] people who understand that these are traditions but maybe might not have as much value as they once did" ("Greek orgs. evaluate pledge term activities," Oct. 26). Under Schaub's new leadership, Greek organizations are now receiving greater scrutiny for potential hazing than they have been in recent years. There is no doubt that some of the activities that comprise pledge terms at Dartmouth could rightly be considered dangerous and degrading. It is those activities, which occur at night in windowless basements and far from the eyes of administrators, that should be GLOS's primary concern.

GLOS reviews of traditional campus pledge term practices have so far resulted in the prohibition of two of Dartmouth's most iconic pledge symbols: the Chi Gamma Epsilon fraternity signs and the Alpha Chi Alpha fraternity sirens. Although the Alpha Chi leaders' justification for banning sirens holds merit serious violence has resulted from attempts to steal the red baseball caps that pledges were required to wear at all times the reasons for the abandonment of Chi Gam signs are less clear, and raise questions about GLOS's ultimate goal. If, as Chi Gam president Sean Schultz '12 suggested, the review was implemented due to concerns about "mandatory public displays of Greek affiliation," it seems reasonable to ask whether we are headed toward an outright ban on all such "mandatory" symbols. While nearly every Greek organization would be affected by this change, such a ban is unlikely to actually benefit students.

The current state laws and College rules prohibiting hazing, though well intentioned, are problematically vague and leave room for an unreasonably broad definition of the term. It is our hope that Schaub and the rest of GLOS will use a common-sense standard when evaluating pledge term activities. Wearing a sign emblazoned with Greek letters or donning an inside-out sweatshirt does not qualify as an activity that is worth classifying as hazing. Rather than spending time monitoring these types of visible, harmless activities, GLOS should be devoting the bulk of its efforts toward combating hidden practices that are genuinely harmful namely, forced binge drinking.

The task of eliminating dangerous and demeaning behavior from Dartmouth's Greek culture cannot fall solely on administrators, however. As Sigma Delta sorority president Dani Levin '12 said, scrutiny and prohibition of our "destructive" traditions "needs to come from student leaders."

Hazing laws were created for good reason to protect young, vulnerable students from dangerous and degrading practices as a condition of membership to selective organizations. If administrators hope to prompt necessary, positive change in Dartmouth Greek life, GLOS must make a real effort to distinguish between genuinely harmful pledge activities and those that are undertaken in the spirit of fun and camaraderie. The College and its Greek leaders cannot let the current crackdown on visible signs of pledging become a distraction from addressing the truly worrisome practices.

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