Verbum Ultimum: Breaking the Code of Silence

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 2/2/12 11:00pm

Since the publication of Andrew Lohse's recent column ("Telling the Truth," Jan. 25), members of various groups in the Dartmouth community have come forward to participate in the dialogue about hazing at Dartmouth. Over the past week, members of Greek houses, the faculty, the administration and alumni have all offered their own perspectives on the pages of The Dartmouth. However, a truly productive conversation concerning the improvement of pledge terms cannot be sustained in Dartmouth's current environment in which the threat of fraternity sanctions and derecognition discourage productive dialogue.

The practices of hazing that are most dangerous and detrimental to campus life are not the public displays of affiliation that became the focus of the crackdown on hazing last fall, or the relatively benign initiation rites practiced by some extracurricular organizations. Instead, it is the underground activities that occur in Greek houses year after year that have rightfully evoked concern from members of the Dartmouth community.

The recognized purpose of new member education within the Greek system is to bind together each incoming class and to integrate it into the organization as a whole. Such efforts, when successful, can create a profound sense of ownership and a valuable network of support for students at a college where transience is all too often the norm. However, when the course of integration into a Greek house is composed primarily of atrocious acts of dehumanization, the entire process becomes perverted into a gratuitous and destructive display of cruelty. Those practices that do not serve to instill a sense of membership but instead further a vindictive cycle of hazing rooted only in tradition should be discarded.

We, the students of Dartmouth, are the ones who perpetuate such vicious circles of abuse. It is therefore incumbent on us to end such senseless rituals. Unfortunately, the reality is that pledge terms at Dartmouth are veiled by a well-established code of silence. The current infrastructure operates under the disingenuous assumption that egregious hazing does not occur because few are willing to speak of it and admit that illegal activity is occurring. Any fraternity member who speaks openly about hazing risks having his house derecognized. There are undoubtedly numerous members of Greek houses who believe that their traditions and practices should be reevaluated in a constructive manner, but the prospects of such a conversation occurring are abysmally low when the consequences of honesty and openness are so incredibly high.

As it stands, Greek organizations have no official external or internal forum to reasonably assess the efficacy and virtue of their pledge term activities. An organized mechanism restricted to students dedicated to facilitating inter-fraternity and intra-fraternity discussions regarding hazing practices would promote honest reflection within the Greek system. It is true that this is a campus where, all too often, issues are debated ad nauseam with little substantive action. However, the institutions that partake in hazing practices that must be reformed have survived mainly because of a culture of secrecy that permeates the College and because of a dearth of dialogue within houses perpetuated by the fear of repercussions. If we are serious about ensuring that pledge term is a valuable and overall positive experience for those that choose to participate in it, creating a space for candid discussion amongst students without fear of instant retribution is the only way to start.