BROWN: The rush to nowhere
The University must take a harder line on fraternity hazing
The Cavalier Daily recently published an article about the exposed emails dealing with the hazing that led to an abrupt end to fraternity pledging in April. The article and its comments revealed a debate about what the role of the University should be in monitoring instances of hazing during pledging, and whether or not the actions taken by the Office of the Dean of Students were appropriate. Many felt that by punishing all fraternities by cutting pledging short, the University was creating a dynamic that lumped all fraternities together, despite the fact that not every fraternity violated the rules. While I support the Dean’s decision because far too many students were going to the hospital from a variety of places, I also agree with those calling for a re-evaluation of how hazing cases should be handled. The University needs to start punishing specific fraternities for specific infringements, but it also needs to instill harsher punishments to increase the incentive to follow the rules.
Last year, Phi Gamma Delta (FIJI) was given five weeks of social probation and three members were removed from leadership positions in the fraternity or suspended. While certainly a punishment, this also is not a severe set of consequences for putting a student in the hospital with a .45 BAC. That level of inebriation is associated with severe alcohol poisoning that can lead to symptoms ranging from complete unconsciousness to death. In other words, that student was put in a life-threatening situation, and the fraternity’s punishment was five weeks of probation. More is needed.
How severe should consequences be? I would say the hospitalization of a student with life-threatening alcohol poisoning is worthy of a multi-year banishment of a fraternity from grounds. This standard could be judged by the doctor treating the student. Putting a student’s life in serious jeopardy in this way is no different than forcing a student to chug soy sauce to the point of hospitalization, which occurred a few years ago and resulted in that sort of punishment. The type of liquid leading to a hospital visit does not change the significance of the transgression.
Many people would argue that this sort of punishment places too much responsibility on a fraternity, and that the student has no one to blame but himself. I agree that students should know their limits. But at the same time, a student at a pledging event is getting the alcohol from the fraternity, being watched by his fraternity, and if he goes over the line it is because the older members failed to maintain a safe environment for pledges. If an incident occurs at a fraternity event with fraternity alcohol, the fraternity must take the majority of the blame.
Another potential problem of this approach is that it will create so much fear of punishment that fraternities will avoid taking students to the hospital in an attempt to cover themselves, putting the victim at further risk. While I would hope that this kind of unbelievably selfish behavior would never occur at a place like the University, it is certainly a possibility that would need to be addressed. One possible solution could be requiring the presence of a member of another fraternity at major pledging events involving alcohol, not to police every action taken but to ensure extreme situations involving alcohol poisoning were handled with the safety of the student in mind. This would limit the peer pressure on the person deciding whether or not to call 911. While obviously not ideal, it would have almost no impact on the majority of fraternities who avoid those types of situations at pledge events. And if a few secret traditions are exposed to one non-brother, that is a small price to pay for safety. If the privacy of an event is extremely important the alcohol could just be introduced after the tradition takes place. And while having a non-brother at an event might be a nuisance, it would be less painful than the administration cutting rush short again or a pledge suffering permanent harm because of an unsafe activity.
The benefits of these changes would be simple — fraternities that already follow the rules wouldn’t need to worry about the irresponsibility of others, and students could pledge knowing that someone involved had their safety as a top priority. And while the consequences of crossing the line would be severe, it is not difficult to prevent someone from drinking the amount necessary for severe alcohol poisoning. Taking a harder line on hazing would not only improve the safety of pledging and make its continued viability more likely. It could also even save a student’s life.
Forrest Brown is an Opinion columnist for The Cavalier Daily. His columns run Thursdays.