Levin: The Secondhand Effects of Hazing
By Dani Levin, Guest Columnist
Published on Monday, January 30, 2012
I am not going to talk about Andrew Lohse. We spend far too much time at Dartmouth as it is trying to discredit the messenger when we’re uncomfortable with the message.
The recent allegations regarding hazing (“Telling the Truth,” Jan. 25) are neither new nor unique to one fraternity, sorority or co-ed. We are all aware of what goes on to an extent. To act surprised by Lohse’s most recent account is to commit an act of supreme self-delusion. We have all had that friend who pledged a house and morphed into a different beast entirely, quicker than you can say “Mr. Hyde.” I don’t need to read about kiddie pools to know this. Let’s use this opportunity to move past a perverse fixation on details to a constructive dialogue.
If hazing occurred in a vacuum, where it only affected those who chose to engage in it, then I would say: Go ahead, haze. Organizations should be upfront about what they’re peddling, slap a caveat emptor on their houses and then, as far as I’m concerned, have at it. Anybody is free to volunteer themselves for degradation. We are adults, after all (puerile fascination with vomit and semen notwithstanding), and we are free to choose cirrhosis or lung cancer for ourselves every time we drink or smoke — so why not this?
Except that we don’t live in a vacuum. A fraternity member once described his house to me as a hedonistic, misogynistic temple, with the implication being that what went on inside was of no concern to non-members. The temple space was sacred and confined. Except it is impossible to attain total insularity. The temple doors are inevitably open, and whatever goes on inside spills out to the rest of campus. The metaphorical second-hand smoke of hazing is choking the rest of us. How? Well, to roughly paraphrase Lohse: Can we be expected to treat the rest of campus like civilized beings if we treat our own brothers and sisters as less than human? In less abstract terms: What brother or sister, having spent three months vomiting on or being vomited on by other members, is going to speak up when guests of the house have a beer poured on them? When we foster an environment of active disrespect and devaluing of others, we facilitate situations — outside of incidents of hazing themselves — in which students’ bodies and rights are easily violated, as occurs so often with sexual assault on this campus.
Pledging is inherently an act of “othering.” Pledges learn to identify themselves and their fellow members as “us” and everybody else on campus as “them” in a basic process of in-group/out-group socialization. “We” have gone through pledge term together; “they” have not. This is “our” house; “they” are at the bar begging for beers. It is true that the creation of bonded groups can empower, but the empowered groups on this campus have not taken on the responsibility of moral leadership. When we forge the bonds of “us” too tightly, it obscures our judgment of right and wrong. Sexual assaults become a tale or song at meetings because we have too much faith in our relationships with our brothers and sisters to say something when they behave in a questionable manner. It is awkward, and we don’t want to be the ones to introduce a sense of accountability into our space of debauchery and debasement. So instead, we trivialize their exploits, glorify them and try to ignore our sinking suspicion that something is very, very wrong. We are conditioned not to hold our closest friends to the most minimal expectations during pledge term. Why, then should we expect that when they leave our basements, let alone while in them, these members will adhere to some exemplary, or even normal, standard of behavior?
So how can we fix this? Let’s start by changing the idea of pledge term. The Greek system represents an invaluable opportunity to mold truly admirable members of our campus. Pledging is the time when we are most desperate for validation from upperclassmen and the most willing to explore new values. If we take advantage of this moment to instill some core values of a healthy community — respect, accountability, duty — as the primary focus of this initiation period, then we stand to gain a powerful and conscientious body of students.
Grassroots change by members is important, but it is not enough. There need to be consequences if we, as students, fail to uphold our end of the bargain. Therefore, the second thing that needs to change is our culture of impunity. This culture is reinforced every single day when alumni donate outrageously to houses and armor them with institutionalized immortality. Alumni who are heavily invested in seeing their houses’ futures at the College make it difficult for our College’s leaders to appropriately respond to the misdeeds of these houses. After all, how can we afford to alienate some of our biggest donors in times of deep financial insecurity?
Houses continue to come back from the brink, to evade infractions based on technicalities, to return after being banned. When we renege on our word and excuse what we have previously deemed inexcusable, what sort of message does that send to students? What incentive is there to change our behavior if we never need to worry that our hazing, or sexual assaults, will result in permanent consequences? Alumni, stop pouring money into your houses and the College if we continue to behave irresponsibly. Inexperienced though I may be in the mysteries of parenthood, I am fairly sure that the appropriate response to deliberately misbehaving spawn isn’t to ask, “Would you like an Xbox?”
Please stop excusing student behavior as, “Boys will be boys,” or “Girls will be girls.” That is insulting and damaging to our community. Expect more from Dartmouth men; expect more from Dartmouth women. Expect more, and do us the courtesy of valuing us enough to help us get to that point of growth.
Dani Levin ’12 is the president of Sigma Delta sorority.