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University of Maryland Diamondback Editorial

In the aftermath of the swift and permanent action taken against the university’s Delta Tau Delta chapter for hazing, many of the typical questions about fraternities and their practices have come up. How common are incidents of hazing? Why do students voluntarily subject themselves to such humiliation? What place is there at the university for this sort of activity?

According to Vice President of Student Affairs Linda Clement, hazing is not something that happens often at the university. But recent experiences would seem to suggest otherwise. Just last month, the university’s Zeta Beta Tau chapter was placed on probation for injuring a pledge during a hazing ritual involving the use of chemicals. The photos from the incidents that took place in Delta Tau Delta rituals are even more egregious, and the university administrators’ more drastic actions are well justified. The administrators’ slow decision-making on whether to refer Delta Tau Delta members to police for criminal charges does, however, raise questions about how tough a stance administrators are willing to take.

The fact that taking a stance through disciplinary action is relatively rare does not, in our estimation, mean hazing is only happening among those foolish enough to photograph their criminal acts. After all, the administration’s apparent approach to hazing is to investigate allegations only when whistle-blowers are willing to call out their peers in more egregious situations. Initiation rituals are designed to be closed affairs, and there is simply no way to know for certain how widespread hazing, or activities that border on hazing, are. What is certain is that hazing has been, at one time or another, an integral part of the culture surrounding fraternities, mandatory anti-hazing education notwithstanding.

It is undeniable that fraternities (and sororities) contribute in meaningful ways to the social life of universities. Even with all of the negative stereotypes, from hazing rituals to the danger of alcohol consumption that is undoubtedly present at fraternity social events, fraternities do promote lasting friendships and networks and perform community service. The vibrant Greek community in College Park is also a draw for prospective students interested in joining up with an organization that offers both academic and extra-curricular benefits they perceive as important.

The question for university administrators, then, is whether they’re willing to conduct business on this campus with the knowledge that hazing activities are probably occurring in both fraternities and sororities. The anecdotal evidence offered by disgruntled former pledges throughout the years – whether whispered or published in this paper – is just too strong to support Clement’s assertions Monday that the events are isolated.

While hazing has likely been less prevalent in recent years, it is unlikely that hazing will ever be eradicated from the university completely. The status quo, in which incidents such as those in the graphic photos of Delta Tau Delta are swiftly punished, is just about as vigilant as the university can be. Whether or not this is acceptable is a question Clement and the rest of the administration must ponder. © Copyright 2008 The Diamondback

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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