Editorial: Hippo-critical

The Order of the Hippo, the GW administration-sponsored secret society, has come under fire for alleged hazing violations prior to an initiation ceremony last Friday night. The Greek-letter groups on campus have decried the activities as blatant hazing, and the University has responded by opening an investigation centering on the individuals who may have perpetrated these acts. Although the administration may have started this organization with the best of intentions, alleged code of conduct violations by current student-members requires that the administrators involved with this group take responsibility in reigning in this type of behavior.

Student Judicial Services is investigating last Thursday’s alleged pre-initiation rituals, which involved students walking around blindfolded on University Yard with mud-covered faces and making speeches in front of the bronze hippo at the corner of 21st and H streets. SJS policy dictates that these and other petty infractions can mean serious consequences for groups on campus. To prevent a double standard between this “secret society” and other groups subject to SJS jurisdiction, a complete and thorough investigation is required.

SJS should be commended for responding promptly to these allegations by opening an investigation. University policy, however, states that a gathering of five or more members of an organization can constitute an unregistered event. In this case, it would be prudent for SJS to investigate the nature of the Order as a whole so as not to establish a hypocritical double standard for a group consisting of campus leaders.

This page hopes that if any disciplinary action comes of this investigation, it will force SJS and the University to re-evaluate its hazing policy. The legitimacy of GW’s hazing statute is suspect at best. In practice, it is used to punish Greek-letter groups for the pettiest of infractions, while allowing other groups with initiation rituals to go unnoticed. This year, SJS placed the Alpha Epsilon Phi sorority on social probation for requiring new members to wear bathing suits under their clothing and place pennies in their shoes. Meanwhile, club sports teams engage in initiation rituals that force their members to endure much worse.

The constant oversight of GW’s Greek-letter groups – be it by SJS, Student Activities Center, the Office of Greek Life, or their national chapters – has made Greek-letter groups some of the safest to join. In contrast, members of the Order of the Hippo – supposedly GW’s best and brightest – allegedly engaged in activities that would have led to social probation for any Greek-letter group partaking in the same acts.

University administrators claim that this organization – if it exists at all – was started in a “tongue-in-cheek” manner. This year, some students decided to take the secret-society aspect of this joke too far. It is up to the administrators responsible for the Order of the Hippo to either reform or disband this organization. Their continued support makes them culpable for all activities in the name of organization – even those that they haven’t sanctioned.

Student leaders should also be more vigilant about their conduct. Students in power often feel immune to the rules. It is no coincidence that this culture of entitlement permeates both the Order of the Hippo and the Student Association, since large parts of their membership ranks overlap.

Leadership on campus should entail service to students and the community. Unfortunately, student leaders at GW have long used their positions for the wrong reasons, including gaining access to the upper echelon of the administration and important alumni. The Order of the Hippo only serves to promote this culture.

The creation of a networking society for GW students, alumni and administrators is not inherently a bad idea. Yet, in its current incarnation, hard work, good grades and deeds of service do not grant admission into the Order of the Hippo. Rather, the same old GW cronyism allows current leaders to pick and groom their successors. To the average student this society seems like another barrier to accessing the administration and a game of dress-up, where privileged student leaders get to reap the benefits of “who you know is more important that what you know.”

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