Have you ever walked into Tech auditorium and seen the first row of the lecture hall entirely filled with a group of guys wearing suits? Or after lecture, seen another group of kids curiously carrying golf clubs around with them as they travel from class to class? It may not look like it, but this is hazing, or at least it is according to the guidelines spelled out by the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, and it seems to go by unnoticed or unpunished every year.
The fact that the suits and the golf clubs, imposed by fraternities and other organizations, are tolerated reveals just another hypocrisy of the OFSL. This is because what constitutes “hazing” by OFSL is left in a discretionary limbo, where some organizations’ activities are banned but allowed to go unpunished, and activities that can actually serve a purpose are demonized.
What results from this duality is a mind-boggling dichotomy of some hazing that is outlawed, practiced, but never stopped and other hazing that is outlawed, practiced, and punished. So where does OFSL draw the line?
Though hazing at Northwestern doesn’t nearly approach the level of intensity you’d find at the average state school, it still has a presence on campus. It isn’t a rare sight to see a freshman approaching someone with an unreasonable question or ridiculous request, or the aforementioned suit or golf club. All of which are quite conspicuous but harmless. There is nothing inherently wrong with wearing a suit or carrying a golf club.
Because the suits are allowed, it seems that OFSL actually does not have a problem with the practice. But it’s still hazing according to the guidelines posted on the organization’s Web site. The rules state that “falsely leading an individual or individuals to believe that they will be inducted/initiated by participating in particular activities” is hazing. This vague blanket statement technically outlaws every aspect of pledgeship. If the guidelines are to be taken literally, there would be no time in between the acceptance of a bid and activation into the organization, or initiation. Otherwise, the mandatory events and meetings pledges are required to attend during their new member period also constitute a type of hazing. Since every required activity is banned by the guidelines, the fact that something as conspicuous as suits and golf clubs gets by is inexcusable.
The intentions behind OFSL’s hazing policy are simple and admirable. The guidelines are there to protect the new members of organizations from harmful pranks. Considering that since 1970, nationwide there has been at least one hazing-related death every year, such strict rules are not only justified but necessary. But the failure of OFSL’s hazing policies lies in their discretionary nature and subjectivity. If the suits are allowed, then something as simple as scavenger hunts, openly condemned by OFSL, should be allowed too. While the university has every right to step in and stop any action breaking the law or occurring against a pledge’s will, many of the activities that occur on campus that OFSL or Mary Desler would consider hazing are well within the boundaries of the law and performed willingly.
There are many practices that fall under the generalities listed on OFSL’s Web site as hazing that actually do serve a purpose and cause no harm or violate personal freedoms. Those activities are designed and directed towards fostering brotherhood, which is the point of the whole fraternity system, yet these are the practices being demonized. In my experience, the mandatory 4-hour introduction to Greek life lecture certainly seemed more like hazing and a violation of personal liberty than wearing suits, carrying golf clubs, or anything I went through as a pledge.
What OFSL needs to do is to redefine the rules. With vague blanket statements guiding their regulations, OFSL can call whatever it wants hazing. The guidelines need to be narrowed down to a specific and well-defined set of rules for organizations to work with. Though it would take heavy participation and operation on the part of the fraternities and OFSL, any accusations of hazing should be examined on a case-by-case basis. OFSL needs to have a better understanding of what they are damning; otherwise they are simply shooting in the dark, and they’re creating hypocrisy in the process. It takes a dialogue between OFSL and the chapter houses to better understand the activities and decide if one act or another should be allowed, rather than the seemingly random system that is in place now.