This has been a busy week for GW’s unrecognized fraternities. Zeta Beta Tau’s national organization revoked the GW chapter’s charter after parents of pledges lodged complaints of hazing. And Sigma Alpha Epsilon members kidnapped two of the fraternity’s members Tuesday outside Funger Hall. These two significant and credible reports of hazing in such a short period of time highlight what is a serious national problem that should be eliminated at GW.
Such a brazen act – undertaken in front of several witnesses outside a busy academic building – shows that members Sigma Alpha Epsilon believe they can act with impunity. Even more astounding, this incident comes after chapter president Andrew Hopkins assured students earlier this year that his fraternity had changed its ways and was prepared to be a responsible component of the GW community. Actions like these call those statements into question.
Zeta Beta Tau began with the pledges of the now-defunct Alpha Epsilon Pi chapter, which was itself suspended for hazing. Now Zeta Beta Tau is no more.
Zeta Beta Tau’s national organization closed the chapter after finding credible evidence of hazing, including pledge line-ups and allowing members of the old Alpha Epsilon Pi chapter to participate in hazing pledges of the Zeta Beta Tau chapter. This information confirms what many thought all along: Zeta Beta Tau was just a cover for the same people from the closed Alpha Epsilon Pi chapter to engage in the same old behavior.
Some students may question why hazing is a serious issue deserving of harsh punishment. Some may even falsely consider it a positive, character-building experience. But the reality is that hazing inflicts severe psychological stress on a person by robbing him or her of positive self-esteem.
The point of hazing, according to some, is to break a person down so he or she can be built back up. Some point to the military as a successful example of this philosophy. But such a comparison misses a very important point: military training activities occur openly with many layers of supervision and safeguards. Campus hazing incidents most often occur shrouded in secrecy and can involve very dangerous activities like forced drinking.
The potential for physical harm to a student is extremely high, and the stakes are even higher. In 1999 at San Diego State University, three 18-year-old freshmen were ordered by a Tau Kappa Epsilon member to drink beer and hard liquor for several hours. Sent home and left alone, one of the three freshmen was found unconscious in the street with a blood-alcohol level of 0.31 and was considered lucky to be alive. At the University of Georgia in April 2000, Alpha Tau Omega member Ben Grantham was handcuffed and blindfolded in the cargo hold of an Infiniti SUV – apparently participating in a kidnapping like the one GW’s chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon pulled off Tuesday – when it crashed. Grantham was killed.
Hazing is a phenomenon that knows few boundaries. Every state deals with the problem at some point in its colleges and universities, and hazing is increasingly becoming an issue in high schools and even middle schools. Forty-one states have criminal laws prohibiting hazing, and multi-million dollar lawsuits appear periodically when a student is seriously injured or killed because of the reckless conduct of his or her peers.
Fraternities arguably attract the most national attention concerning hazing, but it is a growing problem among athletes, sororities and other groups. Any organization, team or group that demands fierce loyalty is especially susceptible to hazing. The desire to belong often trumps concerns for personal safety, and perceived consequences like ostracism and loss of friends appear too dire for someone being hazed to risk reporting the incident. Complicating the psychology of it all is the fact that freshmen – whether in college or high school – are the most vulnerable because they are extremely eager to fit in and can be willing to do almost anything to gain the approval of their peers.
The only way to solve hazing is by educating students about its affects, breaking the silence and secrecy surrounding the incidents and swiftly and severely punishing anyone who hazes another student.
At GW, unrecognized fraternities do not fall under the University’s jurisdiction as organizations, but their members are subject to GW policies as individual students. GW should pursue the members of Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Zeta Beta Tau for their actions, as should District authorities if laws were broken. Students must realize they are adults and their actions have consequences. Membership in a fraternity or enrollment at GW is not a four-year free pass from responsibility.