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Hazing (Or When is a Scavenger Hunt Not a Scavenger Hunt?)

By May 25, 2013September 25th, 2023No Comments

Claiming human rights violations, students sued Howard University and a sorority chapter, alleging hazing. The accusations of hazing included having to wear a certain shirts on certain days, using different doors than full-fledged sisters, and lining up and addressing sisters by their full name.

Is this hazing? Under the overly broad definitions used by most colleges and university discipline codes it sounds like it would be. But does prosecution of this kind of hazing really protect students?

Many sorority and fraternity chapters feel that current hazing regulations impede or even eliminate their ability to build identity and carry on tradition. Understandably, the schools want to protect their students from harm and protect themselves from liability.

But the schools send a mixed message. They spend millions of dollars funding and supporting Greek life – sometimes through the building of fraternity/sorority housing – but then turn around and prosecute scores of students for the activities historically associated with the Greek life the schools want to preserve and encourage.

Of course physical assaults and humiliation have no place valid place in Greek life or any life. But the hazing codes as written seem ineffectual at preventing such behavior. Students are punished and chapters put on probation for activities that include making pledges wear the same color shirt. In the meantime, reports continue of degrading and dangerous hazing that goes unpunished at schools like Dartmouth where a student whistleblower reported dangerous forced binge drinking practiced regularly by fraternities. And, the tragic Florida A&M hazing incident that resulted in a student being effectively beaten to death.

Schools should revise their discipline codes to target dangerous hazing not harmless traditions. Scavenger hunts don’t normally result in humiliating physical assaults. If they do, then they aren’t scavenger hunts so barring scavenger hunts isn’t the solution.

See more on this topic and related student discipline issues in Shanlon Wu’s letter to the editor in George Washington University’s Hatchet news publication.

These materials have been prepared by Cohen Seglias for informational purposes only and are not intended and should not be construed as legal advice.

Shan Wu

Author Shan Wu

Shan’s professional and personal background gives him a unique understanding of academic institutions and the criminal justice system. A former federal prosecutor in Washington, D.C., he is at home in D.C. Courts and very familiar with all of the Washington, D.C. law enforcement agencies, especially the Metropolitan Police Department. His parents were university professors so he grew up in a university environment. He understands the mindset of academic institutions. As a prosecutor, he supervised in the misdemeanor crime section. This is the section of the Washington, D.C. prosecutor’s office that handles most college student cases. His understanding of charging decisions and how judges view these cases is invaluable to his student clients and their families. Shan served as a federal prosecutor in the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia for over ten years. During his tenure there, now Attorney General Eric H. Holder, Jr. appointed him to supervisory positions in the Misdemeanor Trial Section and also in a police corruption task force. His outstanding legal work in the government was recognized through numerous Special Achievement Awards from the Justice Department as well as awards conveyed by law enforcement agencies and community groups. From 1999-2000, Shan served as Counsel to Attorney General Janet Reno, advising her on criminal and civil investigations, E-Gov, E-Commerce (electronic signatures, internet gambling, internet telephony, privacy & public access issues in electronic court filings), congressional oversight, and legislative review. His responsibilities included serving as liaison to the FBI, DEA, Criminal Division, Executive Office of United States Attorneys, National Institute of Justice, and White House Counsel’s Office. Shan serves on the D.C. Bar Association’s Hearing Committee of the Board on Professional Responsibility and is a past president of the Asian Pacific American Bar Association for the Greater Washington, D.C. area. He is a 1988 graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, where he graduated Order of the Barristers, edited two law reviews, and was Co-Director of the Moot Court Program. He holds a B.A. in English Literature from Vassar College as well as a Master’s Degree in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Following law school, he clerked for the late Hon. Jerry Buchmeyer, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, and the late Eugene Wright, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. He is admitted to practice law in the District of Columbia and Connecticut.

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