Back in April, New York Times writer Peter Applebome reported on the ongoing incidences of alleged hazing at Binghamton University during the spring semester. His sources were varied, from fraternity and sorority members to administrators and student affairs experts, facilitating an objective discussion concerning the role of hazing in Greek Life and its impact on our student body.
In his follow-up piece, “At a Campus Scarred by Hazing, Cries for Help,” which appeared on the Times front page Sept. 18, fraternities were suddenly pariahs. The first half of the article is almost entirely devoted to severe cases of hazing, followed by outrage by police about the unwillingness of Greek members to talk about pledging (as if that comes as a surprise).
Samantha Vulpis, who had already been quoted in the previous article as president of the Panhellenic Council, was the lone voice defending Greek Life.
Hazing is not unique to Binghamton, but those who are not familiar with our campus could have reasonably concluded we are in a state of emergency. Whether or not hazing is morally egregious is still up for discussion.
Mr. Applebome may have presented the facts as a reporter, but did so in an emotionally manipulative and misleading manner.
Thankfully, H. Carl McCall, chairman of the SUNY Board of Trustees, responded with a letter to the editor, describing the steps our school has taken to address these complaints. I respect the emphasis placed on student safety and health, but the University’s restated commitment to zero-tolerance hazing policies is an appeal to fear more than learning.
While mental, physical and sexual harm are not the answers, the zero-tolerance policy is a reaction that doesn’t take into account the complexities surrounding peer pressure. It is easy to point the finger at pledging, but a lot harder to examine why it remains so prevalent — it is an issue that warrants national attention and review.
College students are in a strange position of maturation, not quite adults and not quite children, meaning we have the potential to make authoritative but short-sighted decisions with real consequences. People abuse power and students are not immune to such mistakes. Hazing and cruelty have become synonymous, yet hazing in itself isn’t necessarily wrong.
Before we sentence Greek Life, let’s first make the distinction between good and bad hazing.
When done correctly, good hazing is meant to test the limits of recruits with the ultimate goal of uniting a pledge class. Real brotherhood and sisterhood is built on shared positive experiences, challenges and trust, promoting both group and personal achievements.
Bad hazing, on the other hand, is often just a vicious cycle of ridicule and torture. Unfortunately, these practices have become too common on college campuses, but can serve a legitimate purpose elsewhere. The military is just one example that comes to mind, and while there is no direct parallel between combat and college, the model has proven to work in proper circumstances.
The chairman asserts in his letter “new policies open the lines of communication between student organizations and campus administrations.” This is true to the extent that students are encouraged to join recognized fraternities through incentive programs and scholarships. But bad hazing is inherently a secret, unsanctioned practice and is nearly impossible to “prevent and investigate” until it is too late. The truth is, no matter how much pressure is applied, the Division of Student Affairs is not in a position to supervise its 50-plus Greek organizations, especially those that are unaffiliated with campus.
Hazing is a time-honored tradition, and threatening its existence will only push fraternities and sororities further away from the prying eyes of administrators. If we honestly reflect as a community, maybe we can work together to minimize its strong negative effects by condoning its merits. Hazing isn’t going anywhere, but we can at least keep students at a safe distance.