Movies such as Dazed and Confused and Animal House paint hazing as a typical, sometimes funny, college ritual. However, after incidents like the death of a Cal State Chico student because of hazing, college campuses across the country are waking up to the fact that students are paying with their lives to gain entry and acceptance into fraternities, sororities, sports teams and even the marching band. USF is the latest to join the anti-hazing movement.
Hazing refers to any action – expected of someone in order to join or maintain full status in a group – that humiliates, degrades or risks emotional and/or physical harm, regardless of the person’s willingness to participate, according to Stophazing.org. USF President Judy Genshaft has commandeered a special workgroup aimed at preventing hazing at the University. Representatives from Greek Life, Athletics, Club Sports, Judicial Services, Dean for Students, Student Affairs, Residence Life and the Center for Student Involvement are among the many groups that have joined.
Dr. Kevin Banks, vice president of Student Affairs, said the aim of the initiative is to review and revise current policy regarding hazing. It will also identify proactive strategies to educate and raise awareness so that senseless acts of hazing are not committed within the USF community. So far, no money has been allocated to this project. The only tangible result of the work is a flyer distributed to new students saying “Bulls Don’t Haze” and refers students to the Web site, Stophazing.org.
“The flyer we are doing at orientation is just the first step,” said Regina Young Hyatt, associate dean for the Office of Student Engagement and Involvement. “We hope to have a more aggressive marketing campaign and education program later in the year.”
Banks said the strength of the workgroup lies in its membership.
“Membership of the task force is key because we want honest and meaningful dialogue to address issues that have a occurred in the past in order to develop proactive strategies to avoid similar problems in the future,” Banks said. Frank Kerney, of the fraternity Sigma Nu, said he doesn’t believe hazing is a major problem at USF.
“I think 99 percent of organizations in Greek Life follow the rules and have a positive impact on the University,” Kerney said. “I would imagine a few organizations still do things that they shouldn’t, but the vast majority of fraternities and sororities are doing things the right way.” Kerney said he is unsure as to whether or not the initiative can elicit a change.
“I think it is a step in the right direction,” he said. “But again, some people will not learn their lesson until it is too late – until someone gets hurt or gets caught.”
In 2006, Lambda Chi Alpha was deactivated by its national office under allegations of hazing and alcohol abuse. The reaction among fraternities following LXA’s closing has been mixed.
“I think everyone generally feels bad for those guys, because the actions of a few have cost the majority of them a great experience during their college years,” Kearney said.
Sigma Phi Epsilon President Rob Sozio saw the closing of LXA in a different light. “I feel that the entire Greek community has received a wake up call,” said Sozio. “Fraternities especially are coming together and uniting because of the situation. We as a Greek community realize the seriousness of hazing and the consequences, so it made Greek Life more proactive in taking a stance to help better the entire Greek community.”
Hazing isn’t an issue that affects only fraternities and sororities, however.”Many people think of Greek organizations the moment the word hazing is mentioned,” said Jason Spratt, director of the Student Judicial Service. “However, hazing can occur in any student organization, including athletic clubs and teams. I believe that the initiative is to educate everyone about hazing.”
Greek Village Coordinator Mark Bigelow agrees.
“Hazing also occurs in athletics and the armed services,” he said.
For that reason, USF Assistant Athletics Director for Academics and Student Athlete Development Justin Miller is on the work group.
“The main reason we’re a part of it is because it’s one of the hot-button topics in athletic departments nationwide,” Miller said. “Athletics is a group setting and there are new members, and incidents such as hazing do occur.”
Miller did not say if there has been a hazing incident in the USF Athletics department.
However, Miller said it is crucial for the University to take a proactive stance to avoid incidents similar to the one that happened at Northwestern University, where a hazing incident on the women’s soccer team led to the suspension of the players involved.
He referred to the actions of Northwestern as a “knee jerk reaction, which USF doesn’t want to do.”
“We really wanted to provide some education to the athletes, taking a proactive approach,” Miller said. In addition to educating student athletes, the workgroup benefits athletes by providing alternatives to hazing, Miller said.
“If you’re trying to create a team and form cohesion, there are some healthy ways to do that,” he said.
Miller listed such team- building activities as the ropes course at Riverfront Park as a better way for members of various organizations to bond.