Administrators are doubling efforts to educate the growing Greek community about hazing after a higher-than-usual number of investigations has dogged the community over the last three years.
The Center for Student Engagement intensified activities during National Hazing Prevention Week in September and held a symposium in October for the entire Greek community that laid out GW’s expectations. As chapters continue to initiate their pledge classes over the next few weeks, administrators will work with Greek leaders to inform new members about hazing.
The latest judicial case for hazing began in mid-November, marking the sixth chapter to have been publicly investigated by the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities on allegations of hazing and underage drinking in the last two years. The University has declined to confirm whether additional chapters are currently under investigation without first notifying chapter leadership.
There are 10 chapters under the Panhellenic Association and 17 in the Interfraternity Council, which together represent about 20 percent of each gender’s population on campus, according to U.S. News and World Report. Of this community, about 22 percent belong to organizations that have been investigated since 2009.
Three Greek chapters were formally charged with hazing, underage consumption of alcohol and providing alcohol to minors last January after a months-long investigation. Over the last year, these chapters have worked with their local advisers, national organizations and Greek life administrators to rebuild their standing in the community.
Associate Dean of Students Tim Miller said the root of hazing’s upward trend lies in a sense of “one-upsmanship” among chapters that he thinks have “lost the concept of why they’re doing it.”
“To me, hazing is one of those things that builds over time,” he said. “Almost every hazing incident starts with a good idea.”
Over the last decade, Miller has watched incidents of hazing become more noticeable – but he said not necessarily more severe – as new member initiation activities ramp up from one year to the next.
“The chapters know this about me: I don’t tolerate hazing and we’ll address hazing every chance we have,” he said. “We don’t go looking for things necessarily, but when they come to our attention, we have a responsibility to deal with them.”
At the same time, he said, students’ sense of bystander awareness has also prompted them to respond to events that they witness. GW has operated an anonymous hazing alert system for more than five years.
“The reason why we’re knowing more is, I think, less people are saying, ‘This is just the way it should be,’ ” Miller said. “Whereas I think it used to be, ‘Oh that’s not me, that’s not happening to me.’ ”
The Student Code of Conduct defines hazing as activities that “include but are not limited to paddling in any form; creation of excessive fatigue; physical and psychological shocks; quests, treasure hunts, scavenger hunts, road trips, or any other such activities carried on outside the confines of the house or organization; wearing, publicly, apparel that is conspicuous and not normally in good taste; engaging in public stunts and buffoonery; morally degrading or humiliating games and activities; and any other activities which are not consistent with the academic mission of the University.”
A 2008 study by Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education found that more than half of students who belong to campus organizations nationwide experience hazing. Among Greek organizations, hazing figures climbed above two-thirds of members, the study showed.
The Nov. 20 death of a drum major in a suspected hazing incident at Florida A&M University highlighted the spread of the issue on college campuses, not just in Greek life, and reinvigorated discussions about how to prevent future incidents.
University policies for hazing cover all student organizations, but Miller said Greek life is held to a higher standard because of chapters’ devotion to core values. He said benefits like on-campus housing, funding and full-time staff members assigned to Greek life show that fraternities and sororities should be looked at more critically.
The Greek community has become a larger presence on campus over the last few years. A record 512 women joined GW’s 10 Panhellenic sororities this year after a 15-percent spike of participants in formal recruitment, while this year’s rush brought the fraternity population to nearly 1,100 men.
In combating hazing, Miller said the expanse of the Greek community as a whole matters less than the swelling size of individual chapters.
“A 19-year-old trying to manage an organization that’s bigger than lots of corporations, that’s hard to do,” he said.
By adding an 11th Panhellenic chapter as early as this spring – a decision made by vote in October – Miller hopes to ratchet down the level of each chapter’s membership to a more feasible size.
Robert Chernak, senior vice provost and senior vice president for Student and Academic Support Services, said national branches of campus chapters have also become more involved in what goes on at GW by “stepping up sooner” and working with the University to discipline chapters charged with hazing or other violations.
“Ten years ago, nationals didn’t want to step in and get a bad reputation,” he said. “It took a long time for national leadership to realize they had a role. Nationals have a vested interest in preserving integrity of chapters.”
Director of Greek Life Christina Witkowicki did not return a request for comment.
Zachary Daley, who serves as the student representative for Greek life at Bentley University, worked with Witkowicki when she was Greek life director there during his sophomore year to deal with the suspension of his fraternity due to underage alcohol consumption. He said she maintained a “fair but strict” approach toward resolving the situation.
“Obviously we were upset when the sanctions came down and the suspension was imposed,” Daley said. “But at the same time we understood that it was a violation of the administration’s policy that you have to own up to.”