Campus fraternities and sororities will find out early next week if they can cross new pledges, or whether they are in the scope of Binghamton University’s investigation into rampant allegations of hazing.
The upcoming decisions are the next chapter in a campus controversy that has become part of a national conversation about the physical and psychological dangers of hazing. Last week, administrators put all pledging on hold, and evidently believed the bad press — including a full report in The New York Times — was worth protecting students who they said were in danger.
After the University issued its “cease and desist” order last Wednesday, Greek organizations were told to petition to complete spring initiation. Lloyd Howe, dean of students, told Pipe Dream that organizations will not know if they are officially under investigation until next week.
“My understanding is that they will be notified in terms of their response to their petition,” Howe said yesterday.
A group of about 10 officials from the various branches of the Dean of Students Office are surveying 10 to 15 allegations of hazing. These officials will forward recommendations to Howe, who will either approve petitions or formalize cases against Greek organizations or individual members.
“If they’re not approved, they will be informed why they’re not approved,” Howe said. “Either there is a credible complaint against them or their [membership] information is not current.”
Howe could not comment on the specifics of the hazing complaints, but said they took place off campus, and that some were “grossly demeaning” or “physically endangering.” He said that his office may file criminal charges with either local or campus police, on top of University sanctions under the Code of Student Conduct.
“If we have credible reports that criminal behavior occurred, we will not hesitate to turn that over to the appropriate agencies,” Howe said. “If it were to be on campus it would be University Police. If it’s off campus it’s the police agency with jurisdiction.”
The Code prohibits a wide range of activities that could be interpreted as student group hazing, from physical brutality and psychological shock or abuse, to “inappropriate scavenger hunts.” The summation of the Code’s hazing section also gives the University broad jurisdiction to prevent hazing, beyond the specifically banned practices.
“As a guiding principle, any activity required of new members that is not required of more senior members is likely to constitute hazing under this policy,” it reads. Howe said that many of the allegations being examined by his office are of a serious nature, though.
Howe told Pipe Dream that the University moved proactively because of the uncharacteristically high number and severity of hazing reports this semester — even higher than last spring, which had been considered an outlier.
“It’s both the numbers of reports and the intensity of the reports,” the dean said. “We have received a lot more reports than in previous years. And some of the behaviors have been at the higher end of the spectrum where we can consider it endangering behavior.”
Sunni Solomon, assistant director of Greek Life within the Dean of Students Office, has not commented publicly on the investigation. It was announced last month that Solomon — widely viewed as a polarizing figure since taking his position in March 2010 — would not have his contract renewed after March 2013.
Howe would not comment on any connection between the decision to let Solomon’s contract expire and the hazing investigation.
Though BU boasts, according to its website, the “largest fraternity/sorority community in the SUNY system,” only about 12 percent of students are members of chartered Greek organizations. Gregory Robinson, an assistant professor in the political science department, said that the small scale of Greek Life here made the investigation more surprising for faculty members.
“What I feel and what I think a lot of people feel is just surprised, because it’s never been clear to us that Greek Life is a particularly big part of life at Binghamton,” Robinson said. “And to hear that hazing is going on and may have been as extreme as it sounds, it’s just surprising.”
Mark Soriano, a member of the Tau Alpha Upsilon social fraternity and Student Association president-elect, said many students were also startled by the University’s decision.
“I think in Greek Life the reaction was definitely shock … it kind of came out of nowhere,” said Soriano, a junior majoring in history. “From non-Greek Life people, there was a lot of concern but there’s also still shock. It’s not like a wide-known thing that this hazing is terrible and that it’s happening, there’s always just rumors.”
Soriano, like all members of Greek Life who have spoken to Pipe Dream about the issue, said that he does not believe that this year’s hazing is worse than normal.
“There’s always the rumors about which frat is doing the stupid hazing stuff, but its usually more funny than terrible. But this year I haven’t really heard any change in the discourse of hazing,” Soriano said.
The pledging halt, subsequent investigation and resulting fallout has become the first high-visibility storyline of Harvey Stenger’s tenure as University President.
“The safety of our 15,000 students is the highest priority of my presidency,” Stenger wrote in an email to Pipe Dream yesterday. “I am aware of what has happened and I have entrusted the response to the current issue to Vice President Rose and Dean Howe. To date I fully support their decisions and actions.”