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Elon scoots past Facebook privacy to get hazing pics

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Good article by the Elon Pendulum follows:
Greek Life faces scrutiny with anonymous photo submissions
by Rebecca Smith, December 1, 2009

Internet users have recognized the advantages of Facebook for a long time. Facebook allows people to keep up with friends, invite friends to events and share pictures.

But many of the disadvantages of Facebook are just being discovered, especially at Elon.
Beginning this summer, photos and links to Facebook have been submitted to the Elon University Greek Life Office and Judicial Affairs.

“If we, as professionals, receive photos, we are under professional and ethical standards to find out what happens,” said Shana Plasters, director of Greek Life. “This investigation involves looking at the photographs and having conversations with Greek leadership. If it looks like policies were violated, they could be charged.”

Pictures have been submitted of both males and females. There have been eight hearings between the Infraternity Council and Panhellenic Council this year. All hearings involved the use of alcohol, and all evidence has been submitted from anonymous sources.

“The rules in place are there for a reason,” said Lauren Ellis, Panhellenic Council president. “But this feeling of anonymity is bad because it creates a feeling of being invincible.”

The Greek Life Office investigates all evidence submitted. They said they try to determine if an event appears to be clearly related to the organization. Something they look for is people wearing letter shirts.

“There are no magic rules or numbers about what makes a party,” Plasters said. “The hearing board has to decide what consists as a party. They look at if the people in the pictures are wearing letter shirts, if Greek leadership is present and how many members of one organization are relevant.”

If the hearing board decides to press charges, both the organization and the students involved face penalties. In addition, Greek organizations face consequences from both Elon and their national affiliations.

“All organizations face the same kind of consequences,” said Jana Lynn Patterson, assistant vice president for student life. “The consequences can be reprimands, probation, fines or restrictions on social activities.”

In years past, athletes have also been impacted by these regulations. Students have sent in anonymous evidence of hazing by athletic organizations.

“People cannot separate their persona of a student group they participate in and who they are in other contexts,” Plasters said. “Students should think about the consequences for organizations. You are part of something bigger than yourself.”

Many students use privacy settings on Facebook, but there are still many ways to get around the settings.

“Students should understand once those pictures go on social networking sites, there are ways for people to find them,” Patterson said. “The university has a responsibility to investigate anything turned into us. Organizations are not the only ones affected, there have been pictures of individuals anonymously turned in. Everyone needs to think about their behaviors and what is going on Facebook.”

Greek organizations are meeting in councils to discuss these events. They are also having the presidents of each organization meet in round table meetings.

“Individually, organizations are realizing that Facebook is a blessing and a curse,” Ellis said. “Facebook has not been around very long, so in many ways we’re kind of guinea pigs in learning the good and bad of social networking sites.”

Anonymous sources are allowed to submit pictures or other evidence to report hazing.
“There is nothing against someone submitting anonymous pictures,” Plasters said. “We want to maintain the option of anonymity so people can report hazing.”

But the chance to submit evidence to the school anonymously has also created an environment where people do not need to take responsibility for their actions.

“The anonymous submission of pictures from Facebook is Elon’s own version of JuicyCampus,” Ellis said.

By Hank Nuwer

Hank Nuwer is the Indiana-based author of Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His new book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press.

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