The events surrounding the suspension of the Sigma Delta Tau sorority are hazy at best. At this point, it appears that the sorority members engaged in practices and activities which put them in violation of their national organization’s standards, meriting a suspension and a removal of some members. Because the sorority has been engaged in the pledging process, it is likely that hazing is involved.
The ambiguity surrounding SDT’s potential disciplinary infractions does not aid in engendering the positive Greek-letter community GW seeks. Thus, it is incumbent on all parties involved to fully disclose the events leading up to SDT’s suspension in addition to the steps to be taken in response.
As recently as last February, certain members of SDT were removed from the sorority because their vision for the future of GW’s chapter was not in line with the mission of its national organization. It is clear that whatever systematic problems existed within in the group at that point were not thoroughly addressed. This subjected an entirely new group of girls to similar potential hazing practices.
While it is possible that serious hazing violations could have occurred, the infractions involved in this case could be extremely insignificant. The only way to know conclusively is with full disclosure from both the University and SDT’s national organization.
The difficulties surrounding the coordination of adjudicating Greek-letter infractions are varied and may constitute an impediment to full disclosure. Four sometimes competing interest groups are involved. The student members want to maintain a clean disciplinary record for their group, but first and foremost for themselves. The Greek-letter group’s national organization wants to maintain a viable chapter at GW. The Student Activities Center presumably works to support and expand Greek-letter life, but often acts a watchdog for the groups. Finally, Student Judicial Services’ mandate is to seek out and charge individuals or groups with infractions of the student code of conduct. While all these groups may collaborate, it is often likely that they work against one another.
The case for disclosure is steeped in a history of petty violations brought against Greek-letter groups by the University. For instance, the Alpha Epsilon Phi sorority spent all of last year on social probation for requiring new members to put pennies in their shoes. While seemingly harmless, this act was a violation of the University’s overly sensitive and extremely vague hazing policy.
The University must clarity its hazing policy. The ambiguous language used means that many of the activities Greek-letter groups engage in to promote friendship and camaraderie within their pledge classes could technically be construed as hazing if framed in the wrong light.
While the University keeps a watchful eye on Greek-letter groups, they are often not the worst offenders. The national organizations, risk-management training and careful scrutiny by University administrators combine to make Greek-letter organizations some of the safest to join on GW’s campus.
Greek-letter groups are cognizant of the University’s ill-defined hazing policies and with few exceptions follow the rules. There are other groups on campus engaging in initiation rituals that lack an infrastructure similar to the Greek-letter groups. Thus, through harsh system of penalization, GW Greek-letter life has become generally safe, while hazing in general has not been addressed.
SDT’s recent infractions, whatever they may be, are a great starting point for a University dialogue on hazing policy. The relevant parties must disclose the circumstances surrounding the suspension. Immediately after, the University must engage Greek-letter leadership and representatives of SJS and SAC in a realistic review of the hazing policy. Any realistic policy must ensure that the proper steps are taken to protect members of Greek-letter groups from harm while fostering a vibrant, social Greek-letter community that will benefit campus life and culture.