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The Lantern shed’s light on hazing at Ohio State

The Lantern

At least three Greek organizations at Ohio State have been, or are currently being, investigated for possible violations of the code of student conduct in the 10 weeks since Autumn Semester began.

While it remains unclear what the violations might be, one thing is known: All three of the fraternities recently, or currently, under university pressure — Sigma Alpha EpsilonTau Kappa Epsilon and Sigma Alpha Mu — have been suspended from campus before, in the early 2000s.

One similarity between Sigma Alpha Epsilon and Tau Kappa Epsilon is that both have been suspended from campus for hazing in the past.

Hazing is nothing new, both nationally and at Ohio State.

The Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority made headlines in 2015 when a 19-year-old new member was hit by a car soon after joining the organization. The accident resulted in the student being hospitalized and the incident subsequently landed the sorority a two-year suspension after an investigation of the chapter found a culture of hazing.

KKG was reinstated to Ohio State campus last spring following its two-year suspension. The sorority will begin recruiting new members in January.

From 2011 to 2015, Ohio State suspended or disciplined 10 fraternities for hazing. Seven sororities were suspended or sanctioned for hazing in that same time period, according to a WBNS-10TV report.

Only four organizations disciplined in the time period were found guilty of something other than hazing, the report adds.

But with an event like the hazing-related death of Tim Piazza in February at Penn State making national headlines and raising the societal awareness of hazing, universities are taking notice and cracking down on hazing, said Norm Pollard, an expert on campus hazing and the Dean of Students at Alfred University in New York.

“I think that we are getting better as a nation of taking it more seriously,” he said. “Unfortunately, it is often times due to tragic events, like a death. I do think there is a higher level of awareness.”

The Beta Theta Pi fraternity was suspended in 2012 for two years from Ohio State’s campus, following confirmed incidents of hazing and an “on-again, off-again cycle of unacceptable behavior,” according to a letter from the national organization announcing the suspension.

The fraternity chapter returned to Ohio State’s campus at East 15th and Indianola avenues a few years later with a brand new $5 million house funded by the chapter’s alumni.

Eighty percent of fraternity members have experienced hazing, according to the most recent comprehensive research study done by Elizabeth Allan, a sociology professor at the University of Maine.

At Ohio State, Student Conduct’s office within Student Life covers violations of the university’s code of student conduct. In addition, the Interfraternity Council, or IFC, has its own guidelines and policies that fraternities must abide by, Dave Isaacs, a university spokesman said.

“They cooperate and work together and there is some intersection, but basically they are both holding individuals accountable to their specific jurisdictions,” Isaacs said.

Ryan Lovell, director of Parent and Family Relations and Greek Life for the Office of Student Life, said depending on the nature of the allegation and specific violation, Student Conduct determines whether IFC or Ohio State should move forward with a disciplinary process. He said that often it could be a violation of both entities’ policies.

Lovell said IFC typically allows the university to move forward with a disciplinary process when it comes to hazing because it is a violation of the code of student conduct.

When the university handles a hazing allegation, Student Conduct meets with a chapter or group president and notifies them of the possible violation, Lovell said.

Until the investigation is finished, little else is publicly known.

Even though Student Conduct keeps a tight lid on information during investigations, that doesn’t prevent the rumors of hazing allegations from spreading, especially on internet forums.

Take greekrank.com for instance, the forum and discussion board where anonymous users can rank and comment on fraternities and sororities at different campuses across the country.

The page on hazing at Ohio State is filled with comments such as, “a frat that doesn’t make you earn your stripes shouldn’t be a frat. It’s not barbaric, it’s tradition and fun.”

“Yeah there was hazing, as there should be,” the most-liked comment, from March, reads. “It’s pathetic how [politically correct] this society has become. Hazing during pledging is beneficial and even fun. Gives you the best memories honestly.”

The commonly accepted language demonstrated on the website is used to sugarcoat what hazing actually is, Allan said. She said hazing is abuse and should be treated as such.

One problem that many hazing experts, including Allan, point out is that colleges and universities are not always consistent or transparent with their policies for student organizations.

Allan said one way of making the community aware of hazing on campus is for the school to post who is being investigated — and what the outcome is — for all to see.

She said some schools have created their own webpages to post when an organization is being investigated, what the violation is and what the end result is.

Ohio State does not currently present any such information on any of its student organization web pages, nor its sorority and fraternity life page.

“One of the recommendations related to hazing policy is first be sure you have one,” Allan said.

Ohio State does have an up-to-date hazing policy from 2016 displayed within the reports and policies page of its Student Life site. Its language is similar to the state of Ohio’s anti-hazing law, one of 44 such state-level laws in the country.

“Second, be sure [hazing] is clearly articulated and communicated,” Allan said. “And be sure everyone knows where to go and how to report it. And then, make sure there is transparency in communicating what the outcomes were.”

Ohio State’s hazing compliance form, buried at the bottom of the reports and policies page on the sorority and fraternity life website, has not been updated since 2006 to include the addition of many new chapters on campus.

The form gives a description of what Ohio State’s hazing policy is and includes an agreement between Ohio State’s Greek organizations and the university stating the groups understand the policy and agree to comply with it.

Additionally, many Greek organizations on campus have hazing compliance forms they sign through their national office.

Ohio State has an up-to-date hazing reporting page on its student conduct page. The site has an online portal to anonymously report hazing and lists a phone number for both Student Conduct and University Police.

IFC also requires all potential new members to attend an info session which provides recommendations on how a student can respond should they feel they are being hazed, Andrew Cooper, the IFC president and fourth-year in public management, leadership and policy, said in an email.

“The Interfraternity Council takes allegations of hazing extremely seriously,” he said.

Pollard said hazing is often underreported because of the hierarchy associated with Greek organizations and the “code of secrecy” many new members agree to when trying to join a group.

“There are many that view the often times illegal activity as being fun, being positive, being beneficial even though that behavior is something that anyone of us would look at from the outside as being humiliating or degrading,” he said.

Pollard said students are willing to compromise their principles for a chance to be in a group that is highly regarded, such as a fraternity or sorority.

“You have individuals who are so desirous to be a part of that organization that they are literally willing to do anything, even engage in behavior that they otherwise wouldn’t normally pursue,” Pollard said.

The amount of hazing in Greek communities might be growing due to the increase in membership nationally, said Dr. Susan Lipkins, a psychologist who has studied hazing and its effects for more than 25 years.

Ohio State has seen a growth in Greek life involvement as well, although it makes up only about 12 percent of the total student body. Greek life membership has increased from 4,172 in 2013 to 5,600 in 2016.

“There are more kids joining Greek organizations and therefore there is more hazing going on,” Lipkins said.

But Lipkins and many other experts don’t see an increase in numbers as the only factor playing into how universities are now handling hazing.

“More importantly than noticing a few more in one semester, it’s more about the university taking seriously versus the previous stance of wink-wink and look the other way,” she 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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