Hazing is any action or situation, with or without the consent of the participants, which recklessly, intentionally, or unintentionally endangers the mental, physical or academic heath or safety of a student.
Here’s a recent example of hazing: Last February, a 19-year-old Cornell sophomore died in a fraternity house while participating in a hazing episode that included mock kidnapping, ritualized humiliation and coerced drinking.
President Of Cornell Pledges To End Hazing On His Campus
Responding to this incident, and many others, David J. Skorton, President of Cornell University, wrote an op-ed that was published in The New York Times on August 23. Here’s an excerpt from what he wrote:
This tragedy convinced me that it was time — long past time — to remedy practices of the fraternity system that continue to foster hazing, which has persisted at Cornell, as on college campuses across the country, in violation of state law and university policy.
Yesterday, I directed student leaders of Cornell’s Greek chapters to develop a system of member recruitment and initiation that does not involve “pledging” — the performance of demeaning or dangerous acts as a condition of membership. While fraternity and sorority chapters will be invited to suggest alternatives for inducting new members, I will not approve proposals that directly or indirectly encourage hazing and other risky behavior. National fraternities and sororities should end pledging across all campuses; Cornell students can help lead the way.
Why Not Ban Fraternities And Sororities Altogether?
For Skorton, the answer is simple: “The Greek system is part of our university’s history and culture, and we should maintain it because at its best, it can foster friendship, community service and leadership.”
That may be true, but with over 2,000 alcohol-related deaths occurring each year among American college students, alcohol or drug abuse is clearly a serious problem on our college campuses.
At Cornell, High-Risk Drinking 2 To 3 Times More Prevalent In Fraternities
In fact, Skorton admits that at Cornell, high-risk drinking and drug use are two to three times more prevalent among fraternity and sorority members than elsewhere in the student population.
Something needs to change, and there are signs of progress. Some private colleges have banned all fraternities and sororities. Jim Yong Kim, president of Dartmouth, has helped organize a multi-campus approach to identifying the most effective strategies against high-risk drinking. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has established a college presidents’ advisory group to develop and share approaches to this problem.
Princeton University Will Prohibit Freshmen From Joining Fraternities Or Sororities
And beginning in the fall of 2012, Princeton University will prohibit freshmen from affiliating with a fraternity or sorority or engaging in any form of “rush” at any time during the freshman year. The decision to institute the ban is being communicated this week to all returning Princeton undergraduates by President Shirley M. Tilghman.
There is clearly a pressing need for better ways to bring students together in socially productive, enjoyable and memorable ways. Let’s hope that college leaders will take up this challenge, so that no 19-year-old is ever again subjected to those Cornell hazing rituals.
On a personal note, as a native of the U.K., I’m still trying to figure out exactly what the allure of fraternities and sororities is.
What do you think? Should they stay or go?
Photo Credit: Will Hale via Creative Commons