Tolerance of hazing unacceptable

November 1, 2010 — by Cecilia Hollenhorst and Michelle Shu

At 18, Nicholas Brown almost died. Brown, a student from the University of Arkansas, slipped into a coma with a blood alcohol level of 0.68 last November. Brown had been participating in a pledge event at the Phi Delta Theta fraternity house where he was allegedly forced to endure hours of verbal and physical abuse, as well as a challenge to drink as much alcohol as possible.

Brown is only one of many victims of dangerous hazing rituals present in fraternity and sorority culture. These risky behaviors can only be stopped in one way: Colleges need to buckle down and enforce explicit rules regarding initiation into fraternities and sororities.

Despite its risks, underage drinking is a generally accepted part of college fraternities and sororities. According to the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study, four of five students who live in fraternities or sororities are binge drinkers. While many colleges have implemented rules regarding drinking in fraternities and sororities, few actually step in to penalize those choosing to go against school policy. Some colleges choose to turn a blind eye to the illegal actions, but others simply make rules that either cannot be enforced or do not solve the problem.

For example, some colleges do not allow keg deliveries to fraternities and sororities. Yet this rule is completely ineffective against underage drinking. Many students have kegs delivered to different locations or even drive while under the influence to get more alcohol.

Enclosed in their own houses, fraternities and sororities have almost complete freedom over the conduct of hazing rituals. In reality, schools often have a policy of ignoring what goes on behind closed doors.

Fraternities and sororities across the country employ rituals ranging from harmless pranks to near-deadly tests of “loyalty.” Common hazing practices include branding (permanently burning a mark into the person’s skin), extreme alcohol consumption, sleep deprivation and forms of public humiliation.

Not everyone understands what a large problem hazing has become. According to the National Study of Student Hazing, over half of college students involved in a team, club or organization have experienced some form of this dangerous initiation.

With 40 percent of students admitting to this type of abuse, colleges should adopt less tolerant policies toward hazing. Any report or suspicion of hazing should be followed with an investigation and threat to the organization of losing their privileges to a house or participation in school-sponsored events.

It is true that many incidences of hazing go unreported, but instead of implementing vague and useless policies as figure heads for justice, colleges should keep an even closer eye on organizations at risk of hazing. According to the University of Connecticut, at least one death per year since 1970 has been directly linked to hazing on U.S. college campuses. Waiting until the next hospitalization or death is waiting too long for action.

In the case of Nicholas Brown, several administrators were aware of the hazing prior to its occurrence and did nothing to stop it. This clear lack of attention to a major problem is unacceptable. If hazing is treated as a more serious offense, something life threatening instead of something tolerated by students and adults alike, it can eventually be reduced.