Lack of proof hinders hazing investigations
By Leslie Ye, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Tuesday, January 31, 2012
Hazing allegations are rarely brought against Dartmouth Greek organizations, sports teams and other student groups due to the difficulty of finding witnesses to corroborate such accusations, according to Hanover Chief of Police Nicholas Giaccone. Recent hazing allegations by Andrew Lohse ’12 have brought increased visibility to the issue of hazing at Dartmouth and how both the College and the Hanover Police Department respond to these allegations.
There are many “entry points” that can initiate an investigation into claims of alleged hazing, according to Director of Judicial Affairs Nathan Miller. Students can report hazing that they have personally experienced, or Safety and Security officers responding to an incident call can report potential hazing violations. Concerned parents, faculty members, staff and anonymous tipsters have also sent emails reporting incidents in the past, according to Miller.
Once such a claim is made, Miller, along with Associate Dean of the College for Campus Life April Thompson and Director of Safety and Security and College Proctor Harry Kinne, initiates discussions to determine how to proceed, Miller said. If the hazing claims are made against a Greek house, the talks will also involve Greek Letter Organization and Societies Director Wes Schaub. In addition, the College is required by law to report such claims to Hanover Police, Schaub said.
The College receives anywhere from zero to four complaints regarding hazing each year, Miller said, though he stressed that these numbers do not remain consistent from year to year. The cases usually involve a Greek organization, an athletic team or a student group endorsed by the Council on Student Organizations, according to Miller.
Giaccone said, however, that complaints exclusively regarding hazing in Greek organizations occur one or two times per term. Of those complaints, usually no more than one case has enough evidence to be prosecuted, he said.
On Jan. 25, The Dartmouth published an opinion column by Lohse, in which Lohse accused his former fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon, of hazing violations. Lohse brought his complaints to Thompson and Chief of Staff David Spalding, who he alleges did not adequately respond to his claims. Spalding and Thompson said they were unable to investigate Lohse’s claims as thoroughly as they would have liked because of his unwillingness to file a complaint on the record and his insistence on anonymity.
Anonymity, however, does not prevent the College from investigating any accusations of hazing, but it can restrict whether the College is able to formally adjudicate a case, according to Miller.
“It does not mean that we aren’t going to ask questions or look into something,” Miller said. “Even if we receive an anonymous report, we’re always going to call in that group or individuals if there’s an allegation.”
When a student who is not willing to testify on the record accuses a fraternity of hazing practices, Hanover Police and the College must find evidence to support his or her claims, Giaccone said.
“In the particular case of SAE, you have a named person who wishes to remain anonymous,” Giaccone said. “If you’re not going to use that person to directly testify, you try to seek out other individuals who observed what happened to that person.”
While the level of hazing may differ from case to case and can ultimately affect the severity of penalties, the varying severity of accusations does not change the College’s approach to investigations, Schaub said.
“We address all allegations of hazing in the same manner,” Schaub said. “I can’t speak for the criminal court processes, but we investigate and approach [allegations] in the same way regardless of what could be perceived as a variance in severity.”
Once an investigation is initiated, the College and Hanover Police conduct separate investigations and keep separate files on the allegations, although information is shared between the two parties, according to Schaub. Typically, the College will assist Hanover Police in its investigation, Giaccone said. If it is determined that criminal charges can be brought against an organization, Hanover Police may subpoena Safety and Security’s file, according to Giaccone.
There is no specific protocol for how such claims are investigated, according to Giaccone.
“You go where the evidence takes you,” he said. “There is no set formula since each case has its own set of circumstances.”
The College defines hazing as “any action taken or situation created involving prospective or new members of a group or as a condition of continued membership in a group (fraternity, sorority, team, club or other organization), which would be perceived by a reasonable person as likely to produce mental or physical discomfort, harm, stress, embarrassment, harassment or ridicule,” according to the College’s Student Handbook.
New Hampshire state law, however, only covers situations in which psychological or physical harm could be inflicted on a student. Consequently, the College’s threshold is “far lower than New Hampshire state law,” Giaccone said.
As such, it is often difficult to build a case against an accused organization, even if pledging activities are witnessed, according to Giaccone.
In the fall, the College adjudicated two allegations of hazing by fraternities. Although the College has not formally released the names of those organizations, Giaccone confirmed that Hanover Police were involved in one of the investigations, which involved Theta Delta Chi fraternity.
An anonymous female called the Hanover Police on Oct. 10 at 8:30 p.m. to report that there was shouting and a possible physical altercation occurring at the stone church “behind West Wheelock Street,” according to the police report.
When police officers arrived on the scene, they found Theta Delt members and pledges participating in what the house refers to as “Hopes, Fears and Dreams,” Giaccone said. A group of pledges had been blindfolded and were being led individually to the steps of Theta Delt’s physical plant, where “fraternity members would beat the ground and stairs with sticks while another house member screamed like he was being hit,” Giaccone said.
In this case, no charges were filed against Theta Delt because Hanover Police felt the psychological effects of the initiation practices fell into a “gray area,” Giaccone said. The investigation is now closed.
For situations in which no actual hazing is witnessed — such as Lohse’s accusations against SAE — the only way to attempt to build a case is through interviews, according to Giaccone.
“We get assistance from the College in who the members of a fraternity are, who the pledges are,” he said.
In trying to find additional witnesses, Giaccone said investigators have run into problems in the past because students are unwilling to come forward.
“You have people who don’t want to be socially ostracized, no matter what the level you’re looking at — whether it’s a fraternity, sorority, sports team or any other extracurricular where there’s a group membership,” he said. “Unless somebody was really seriously injured, there would more than likely not be corroborating witnesses.”
Giaccone said he believes the definition of hazing varies from person to person.
“I think there is a certain level of hazing that goes on, but it’s all just different forms of variations of what hazing is,” he said. “Hazing to one person may not be hazing to another.”
While Hanover Police’s role in investigating claims regarding hazing is purely procedural, Miller and Schaub said they are both involved in efforts to combat hazing at College.
“We are always trying to educate people on better methods of bringing in new members,” Schaub said.
The College focuses on opening lines of communication between students and the administration regarding hazing practices, according to Miller.
“Education is a key component of getting people knowledgeable of how to report it if they feel uncomfortable,” Miller said. “It’s very similar to reporting sexual assault — there is hesitation to bring that forward sometimes, and we’re focused on letting people know it’s okay to come to us if you feel uncomfortable with something.”
On Feb. 1, the film “Finding Kind,” a documentary about the effects of “girl-on-girl bullying,” is being shown in Collis Common Ground, followed by a discussion led by Dartmouth professor and New Hampshire District Court Judge Jennifer Sargent. The event is being sponsored by the Panhellenic Council, GLOS and the College’s eight Panhellenic sororities and is part of the Greek system’s ongoing efforts to educate students about hazing, Miller said.
The College’s fraternities are also in the process of finding a speaker to come to the College and discuss hazing, according to Miller.