Even though universities nationwide, including Northwestern, have focused their attentions on eliminating hazing in fraternities and sororities, the college tradition remains embedded across campuses. Many students view hazing as a process of initiation, but the need for such distasteful motivation to join student organizations is unwarranted especially in Northwestern, which has a reputation as an intellectual hub. This academic year, Northwestern has drafted stricter policies to combat hazing on campus, indicating that the institution considers such misbehavior as having a negative impact on its public image. Enforcing policies against hazing, however, can be difficult because members of student organizations may not acknowledge the malicious intent that has come to define hazing.
The so-called ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’ who are Greek carry a distinguished air displayed by the Greek alphabets they bear on clothing or through the exclusive atmosphere surrounding conversations with each other. When I pass the white brick sororities on University Place at nighttime, I sometimes see students singing in chorus inside a homely dining room. The overtone of camaraderie in Greek life attracts many students who ‘pledge’ to join fraternities or sororities. Behind friendly back slapping and hand gripping, however, is the nefarious underworld where pledges must drudge through before becoming an official member of a Greek organization. The Daily Northwestern uncovered some of the hazing rituals which included forced drinking of an unsavory mixture and a blind date style session more recently. In hindsight the organizers for these events were shortsighted in failing to recognize the potential hurt seeming forced behavior could bring. At the same time, these actions seem to fit naturally into the hierarchy of some student organizations which depend on pretensions of force to maintain order among its members.
Although student organizations may distance themselves away from hazing, students can perpetuate these degrading obligations by kowtowing to existing power structures. My dad, who joined a fraternity as a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, detailed some appalling instances of hazing he witnessed. He chose to leave that fraternity. Hazing is as much an initiation process as a college tradition. The university has the formidable task addressing such misconduct in fraternity and sorority chapters, athletic groups and student organizations across campus to ensure student safety. In the university’s 2013-2014 student handbook, Northwestern defines hazing as, “any action taken or situation created, whether on or off University premises and whether presented as optional or required, to produce mental or physical discomfort, servitude, embarrassment, harassment, or ridicule.”
Although Northwestern’s zero-tolerance attitude toward hazing is admirable, the above statement seems exceedingly vague and may conflict with students opinions as to what defines hazing. For example, consider a game student club members play which involves spinning a bottle and revealing something embarrassing about yourself if it ends up pointing at you. Although this example may seem to be a far cry from traditional notions of what hazing is, people from different backgrounds may interpret situations in different ways.
In this year’s student handbook, the university has established a precedent that clearly lays out that individual rights should be respected in group activities across campus. Given the inclusive nature of student groups, an overarching university policy may be difficult to enforce. University officials can help promote safer environments in student groups by further communicating with student leaders about hazing in addition to monitoring them.
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