Profs. say Greek houses need reform
By Stephanie Mc Feeters, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Wednesday, February 1, 2012
The persistence of hazing at Dartmouth goes against the College’s principle of community and its core values, according to members of the College faculty interviewed by The Dartmouth. Many professors expressed their concern that students are participating in activities that are detrimental to their wellbeing and academic performance. Most professors said they are aware that some form of hazing occurs on campus, and that they have a responsibility to help students effectively combat hazing.
Recent hazing allegations by Andrew Lohse ’12, published in a Jan. 25 opinion column in The Dartmouth, have initiated an important discussion of unhealthy behavior on campus, according to faculty members.
Hazing does not reflect the kind of institution that the College strives to be, according to women and gender studies professor Annabel Martin.
“There is a Grand Canyon chasm between the type of culture that that type of activity symbolizes and what we as Dartmouth faculty would like to see in our students,” Martin said. Any action that singles out students in a humiliating way constitutes hazing, according to religion professor Susan Ackerman ’80. Pledges being forced to carry lunchboxes, dress in costumes or sirens — red hats worn by new members of Alpha Chi Alpha fraternity — are still being hazed, she said.
“None of that is specifically harmful or endangering, but I find those unnecessary because they single out people and humiliate them,” Ackerman said. Binge drinking, sexual assault and hazing are interrelated and constitute unhealthy “anti-social behavior,” theater professor Peter Hackett ’75 said.
The recent focus on fraternity hazing distracts from these broader issues, which are more prevalent on campus, anthropology professor Seth Dobson said.
The willingness to undergo hazing can be explained by the bonding experience it creates and effort justification, psychological and brain sciences professor Rick Gibbons said.
Effort justification is the idea that people place a higher value on things they work harder to obtain.
“There are other ways to get people to value membership besides making them suffer,” Gibbons said.
The effects of hazing impact students’ academic performance and the atmosphere on campus, according to women and gender studies professor Michael Bronski. Dartmouth’s reputation as the Ivy League’s “party school” interferes with classroom performance, and it is distracting for students who wear costumes or flair — flashy or unusual items of clothing — to class, he said.
“The frivolousness of it diminishes the classroom,” he said. Martin said that while some professors believe that a student’s personal life is separate from his or her academics, they are actually closely connected.
Professors can help address these problems by using their authority as a tool for advocacy, according to Hackett.
“There needs to be a much stronger response from those of us who are in positions of responsibility on campus because people are getting hurt,” he said.
Professors have an obligation to use their experience at the College to help students feel comfortable speaking publicly about hazing, according to history professor Annelise Orleck.
“We have a responsibility to say that this is not a healthy environment for students, even if students aren’t ready to give it up or come forward,” she said.
The “culture of silence” that surrounds hazing, sexual assault and alcohol and substance abuse on campus is dangerous, art history professor Mary Coffey said in an email to The Dartmouth.
“It concerns me that students don’t feel safe speaking up, or worse, that they ‘circle the wagons’ every time someone blows a whistle and ostracize the whistleblower,” Coffey said.
The argument that hazing is an issue that students can avoid if they are uninterested is incorrect, Hackett said. The impact goes beyond fraternity walls, he said.
The faculty voted unanimously to abolish the Greek system three times in the 1990s to no avail, Bronski said.
Students need to think about why they want to belong to fraternities and sororities, Martin said.
“What needs do they fulfill?” she said. “How can these needs be fulfilled differently, in healthier ways where students aren’t brutalized, harassed and treated so poorly and so disrespectfully?”
Professors suggested various actions that the College community could take to combat hazing.
“I would call on alumni, particularly those of Greek organizations, to put pressure on them to enforce the principles of community that this campus is supposed to be based on,” Orleck said.
Dobson said that the administration should continue its current efforts to mitigate binge drinking. Mentoring and bystander intervention are two ways in which the College can combat binge drinking and hazing, according to Martin.
Several professors suggested that the College only allow co-ed student social groups on campus.
Hackett, who was a member of the College’s last all-male class and experienced the College’s transformation into a coeducational institution, said he is skeptical of the need for single-sex social spaces since the College has been coeducational since 1972.
Bronski also said that the division between males and females seems like something out of “Edwardian England.” He said he questioned the relevance of single-sex fraternities, “a club system that started in the 1880s, when men and women were actually separate, and it made perfect sense for women to have their sewing circles and men to have their men’s clubs.”
Given the clear problems of binge drinking, sexual assault and hazing at Dartmouth, it is time for the College to seriously consider eliminating single-sex social spaces, Hackett said.
Ackerman suggested that all Greek houses should have non-exclusive membership.
“I understand that not everyone can be in singing groups because not everyone can sing,” Ackerman said. “There’s no reason we can’t have a rule that [the membership of] all social organizations has to be open to everyone that wants to be in them.”
One obstacle to abolishing the Greek system is that the College’s faculty and students have difficulties envisioning a Dartmouth without fraternities and sororities, according to Bronski. He pointed to Williams College and Grinnell College, both of which successfully eliminated their Greek systems after becoming co-educational.
“We always come to this debate,” Bronski said. “The faculty say get rid of it, the students say, ‘Don’t you dare,’ and the administration says, ‘We’re making it better,’” he said.
Recent recommendations by a Committee on Standards subcommittee to require a student to testify if named as a witness to a hazing incident are admirable, Coffey said.
“I feel that nothing will change on this campus as long as peer pressure prevails in matters of student discipline,” she said.
Although shocked by the graphic nature of Lohse’s allegations, many professors said they were aware that hazing happens on campus.
“I’ve been here 21 years, and I don’t think any of us who have been here that long are surprised,” Orleck said.
Ackerman said that none of the allegations were “unbelieveable” to her.
“It’s hard not to go down the route of questioning the accuser because [the claims] seem so extreme, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t happen,” Dobson said.
Dobson — who has never been a member of a fraternity and stressed that he had an “outsider’s perspective” — said that in general, he would not find the existence of hazing to be surprising. However, he said that he would be surprised if he found out that students of his were actively involved in hazing.
“If I’m being intellectually lazy and buying into the ‘Animal House’ sort of stereotype, then it wouldn’t surprise me, but if I’m more thoughtful and think about my students then it would,” he said. “It’s such a dehumanizing thing that you have — you’re basically acting like an animal.”
Bronski said he has heard a range of opinions about fraternity and sorority life from students. Most students are positive about their experiences, but there is a clear and distinct minority who do not enjoy it, he said.
Gibbons cautioned that the community should not “overreact” to Lohse’s claims if no evidence has been found that directly points to hazing, he said.
There needs to be proof “other than hearsay or people saying ‘everyone knows,’” he said.
Coffey, who was a member of a sorority at a Big Ten university, is not in favor of the Greek system, she said.
“I have seen firsthand what goes on in these ‘philanthropic’ institutions,” Coffey said. “I know all too well the hypocrisy of their public image and rhetoric, and I don’t believe that the modest social support they offer offsets the exclusivity, abuse and code of secrecy that enables and even encourages all forms of rule-breaking.”
The support resources and efforts by students and the administration to combat binge drinking and hazing on campus are laudable, but they “don’t go far enough,” Hackett said.
“It’s going to take men — this is largely a men’s problem — standing up and saying no when they see anti-social behavior going on, even if they get punched in the nose,” he said.
The Greek system at Dartmouth is rooted in tradition and a sector of alumni and current students see it as the kind of social environment that they would “like to belong to,” Martin said. However, due to Dartmouth’s rural location, it is important that the College devote more resources to creating alternative social and living spaces for students, she said.
Other professors felt that aspects of the Greek system can be valuable to students.
“I’ve always been very critical of knee-jerk reactions against the Greek system because I think there are more positives than negatives to it,” Dobson said. “It’s just that the negatives can be so jarring sometimes that they taint the whole system.”
Gibbons agreed that the Greek system “certainly has a place” at Dartmouth. He added that research assistants who worked for him spoke highly of their fraternities and sororities and portrayed membership as a positive experience.
The administration has an ethical obligation to ensure that students are not ill-treated, Bronski said.