A video titled “Zet Hazing,” first posted on YouTube.com this past November, depicts an alleged hazing act occurring in the backyard of derecognized fraternity Zeta Psi.
The video demonstrates the power of the internet to spread videos that, in another era, would have remained private. It had been viewed nearly 3,700 times on the website, but it was removed by its user on Monday.
The relatively unclear and distant footage of the Zeta Psi backyard was shot some time last fall on a rainy day from a building in the Russell Sage residence hall cluster on Tuck Drive.
The video depicts a member of Zeta Psi digging in the backyard as objects are thrown down at him by other members on the third floor balcony. Lawn chairs and cups full of liquid are thrown down at the member on the ground. At one point, the members on the balcony light a book on fire, telling the member below that he better save his pledge book before it is completely destroyed.
While he runs upstairs to save it, the group of brothers above throw it off the balcony. At the end of the five-minute and four-second tape, the men on the balcony go inside as the member outside cleans up the debris. The video was shot by a group of unknown females with their commentary running throughout the footage.
Since the Zeta Psi fraternity was derecognized during the Fall term, the College’s hazing policy would not apply. However, the situation might be different in 2009 when the fraternity is expected to be re-recognized, following a “dark” period in which the chapter has ceased operations. effective this term.
“If this behavior was hazing and happened with the new group in 2009, it could lead to disciplinary action,” said Dean of Residential Life Marty Redman.
Both Redman and Director of Undergraduate Judicial Affairs April Thompson said they have watched some or all of the video and quickly pointed to the College’s policy on hazing, which can be found in the current Student Handbook.
The current Student Handbook states that “no student, College employee, College volunteer, student organization, athletic team, or other College-recognized group or association shall conduct or condone hazing activities, ‘consensual’ or not.”
The College goes on to define hazing activities as any action or situation created as part of member initiation in a student organization, which could produce or expect to produce mental or physical discomfort, harm, stress, embarrassment, harassment, or ridicule. Actions or situations that violate College policy, organization policy, or law could also be defined as hazing. These regulations apply to the behavior of recognized College organizations on and off campus.
Thompson, who saw only a small portion of the video before it was pulled by its owners, shed more light on the College’s policy on hazing in the context of online sites like YouTube and Facebook.
“We receive lots of different information from lots of people. Sometimes parents forward these things or even people from other schools,” she said. “We would follow up with the individuals involved if there is enough information on the video.”
She cautioned, however, that what one sees is not always necessarily accurate or the complete story and she stressed the importance of conversation and learning experiences over disciplinary action.
“If someone is violating College policy, we would first contact them and talk about it. We wouldn’t automatically assume anything,” Thompson said. “At most, the video might prompt an investigation or conversation with the student or students involved, but we certainly would not use at face value anything found on the internet that could not be verified from the party involved.”
Redman viewed the video several weeks ago and said that it is hard to determine whether the series of events in the video can be labeled as hazing.
“[It is] hard to say. Per the policy you can see that it is about the circumstances and so on,” he said. “It certainly raises questions about the behavior that would need to be investigated based upon the policy. I could not comment beyond that without an investigation.”
And while exempt from the College’s regulations, Zeta Psi is still subject to state regulations.
New Hampshire State Law defines student hazing as “any act directed toward a student, or any coercion or intimidation of a student to act or to participate in an act, when such act is likely or would be perceived by a reasonable person as likely to cause physical or psychological injury to any person; and such act is a condition of initiation into, admission into, continued membership in or association with any organization.”
Student hazing is a misdemeanor crime in New Hampshire, punishable with a fine up to $2,000 and/or one year in jail.
Four members of Zeta Psi who were contacted by The Dartmouth either refused to comment or did not respond.