Verbum Ultimum: Harmless Hazing

by The Dartmouth Editorial Board | 10/25/12 10:00pm

Tonight's Dartmouth Night ceremonies signal the traditional beginning of Homecoming weekend. The massive bonfire serves as the capstone of the night, symbolically serving as an initiation ritual for the recently matriculated Class of 2016. We, like the College administration, support this tradition as a testament to the strength of this college and its rich traditions. However, we find it extremely difficult to square the College's continuation of the bonfire ceremony and its associated freshman sweep with its narrow-minded crackdown on similarly harmless public initiation rites for fraternities and sororities.

One year ago, Greek Letter Organizations and Societies became more vigilant about above-ground pledge term practices that could be construed as hazing, and we criticized their decision to focus only on the more benign and more visible forms of hazing ("Verbum Ultimum: A Hazy Definition," Oct. 28, 2011). This year, the trend has only gotten worse, and the suppression of these rites has descended into absurdity. Greek houses, to varying degrees, have placed full members on rotating schedules of sporting fanny packs, sirens, lunch boxes and uniforms to circumvent the overbearing rules, and GLOS Director Wes Schaub has been reduced to pestering new member educators about the lack of full participation among older members. Administrators have pursued these rules fanatically despite student input suggesting that these "reforms" would do little to address the underlying problem of hazing ("Students: New hazing policies miss the mark," Oct. 19).

Indeed, this childish game of cat and mouse can only be justified if the administration can demonstrate that such crackdowns actually address the problems of severe hazing that came to light last year. Unfortunately, last week's publication of another account of severe hazing at a Dartmouth fraternity proves that this is not the case ("Through the Looking Glass: Let the Hazing Begin," Oct. 19). As columnist David Brooks noted just a few days ago, the administration's obsession with flair comes at the expense of a greater focus on the forms of Greek house hazing that are truly excessive and harmful ("Use and Abuse of Hazing Practices," Oct. 24). It has been a week since Yesuto Shaw bravely came forward with his hazing allegations, and yet we have heard nothing but silence on the subject from the administration.

As we said, we support these Homecoming traditions. However, we fail to see how having the entire freshman class running in a crowd around a massive fire, while being surrounded by screaming upperclassmen and alumni, is somehow less a form of hazing than Greek house pledges wearing blue bows in their hair. Dean of the College Charlotte Johnson stated in a campus-wide email that participation in the bonfire "does not make [a member of the Class of 2016] more or less a member" of the Dartmouth community, but she ignores the social pressure to participate. The only difference appears to be that one is a non-Greek activity historically endorsed and facilitated by the College, while the other occurs in the context of pledge terms that have recently garnered negative attention in the national media. We call for the administration to put an end to this blatant hypocrisy and instead place the focus where it should have been all along on the dangerous underground forms of hazing that both students and the administration know continues to occur.

Advertise your student group in The Dartmouth for free!