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.