By Laurel Kennedy
Vice President of Student Development

It’s well known across campus that two fraternities have been placed on suspension while investigation into possible hazing activities is undertaken by their national organizations and by the college. Last week in the Campus Affairs Council, student members asked a number of questions that are likely on the minds of others as well.

How is it that two suspensions happen within a week of each other? Is this evidence that Denison is “out to get fraternities”?

This isn’t about politics. It’s about logic. Most fraternities and sororities are currently conducting “new member education,” which is when hazing is mostly likely to occur. Ergo, this is when we’re most likely to find it. Ergo, this is when suspensions are most likely to happen. Fraternities often feel targeted, so it’s probably worthwhile to observe, first, that a charge of hazing last spring, involving a sorority, was handled in precisely the same way we are handling these. And, we recognize that other organizations and some athletic teams also probably haze new members. We will respond, regardless of organization, in the same protocols. Last weekend, Skidmore College engaged in a suspension just like the one we imposed, but for their men’s soccer team, whose spring season was cancelled after a non-violent hazing incident.

How does the college get information about possible hazing?

Calls come from parents of pledges, from their friends, from faculty concerned about students who look sleep-deprived or whose solid academic records suddenly collapse. Sometimes it’s not a call at all—someone sees something odd and investigates, stumbling right onto the activity.Although information can come from many directions, we don’t always learn enough to apprehend hazing activity. This is symptomatic of hazing’s tyranny. Callers, even parents, sometimes describe frightening behavior but resolutely refuse to give names, for fear of the consequences if the leak is traced. We are sometimes left unable to pursue accounts of abuse, because we have nowhere to start.

What about minor hazing that is just part of the “bonding” process?

This is the most worrisome question I hear, although I understand where it comes from: some hazing—being ordered to wear certain colors or carry specific objects—is not obviously harmful.But what’s the next stage? Hazing also includes being blindfolded and verbally abused, exhorted through forced physical activity, being slapped in the face, spanked with a wooden paddle, being required to drink to the point of serious intoxication. If there is a reasonable indication that hazing is going on, we have an ethical obligation to “stop action” regardless of where the behavior falls on the spectrum of severity. After that, the relevant spectrum is from college action to legal action.

Can the college stop hazing?

I appreciated the candor of this question, though it seems to presuppose that hazing is simply human nature (or college students’ nature, or Denison students’ nature). But, does anybody have to haze? Is hazing actually endemic to the operation of fraternities or teams or student organizations? If so–if these organizations can’t conceive of operating without hazing–then we have a problem. Because if hazing is endemic to fraternities or other organizations, then we can’t have them at Denison. It’s as simple as that: we cannot recognize, fund, or otherwise support organizations that haze as a requisite part of their practice.

With three chapters on suspension for hazing, what’s the future of the fraternity and sorority community?

I doubt that most members of this community see hazing as essential. But a small number of folks could upend the whole system. So, change has to come from within the chapters and from IFC, Panhellenic Council, MGC, and NPHC, recognizing that the future operation of their organizations rests on eliminating the practice. Students have conveyed in several ways this year their abiding commitment to the longevity of fraternity and sorority life at Denison. They have staked their claim on a tradition of excellence in academics, philanthropy and leadership, all of which the administration strives to support. We all know members who take those values to heart, and who model them every day on our campus. They inspire pride, instill hope, and bring honor to their organizations and the college. Listen to them.