Two members of Beta Theta Pi fraternity were arrested a week ago by Hanover Police for violating New Hampshire's hazing law. As the two students could be subject to up to $1,200 in fines, perhaps it is a good time to examine hazing at the College.
A few facts are obvious. Everyone, including the administration, takes for granted that hazing is widespread among organizations on this campus. In the case of Greek organizations, some would say that hazing is integral to the life of these houses.
Certainly it is false to say that hazing is a completely negative social tool. There is some validity to the arguments that hazing creates a bond between members and builds a team spirit.
It could be argued that if an individual must suffer hardship to become a member of an organization then that individual will take his or her membership more seriously and as a result contribute more to the organization.
The truth of this argument can be seen when one looks at the Greek system. Members are often very dedicated to their houses and there is clearly a strong camaraderie among members. Hazing deserves some credit for these positive results.
But is hazing the best way to accomplish this? The answer becomes clear when we examine some of the negative aspects of hazing.
First, hazing is often physically dangerous. In Hanover we are lulled into a false sense of security. A drunk pledge is not likely to get behind the wheel of a car or wander into a dangerous neighborhood. However, the amounts of alcohol involved in hazing could still lead to alcohol poisoning or even death.
However, far more serious than the physical dangers of hazing are the psychological effects. Hazing engenders a very specific mental attitude: you will submit to your superiors and will not ask questions. In fact, you are expected to enjoy it. This directly contributes to a spirit of anti-intellectualism.
Organizations can be built with means that avoid these negative effects. The key is to identify the positive element that makes hazing successful in bonding members to their organization. That key is common experience.
Common experience is a powerful tool in group building. Common experiences bond Dartmouth students to each other. Complete strangers from the classes of '47 and '97 can talk for hours because of common experiences.
The problem with hazing is that it focuses on largely negative experiences. Pledges feel connected because they have all cleaned vomit off the basement floor or taken orders from the same brothers.
Their is no shortage of possible positive experiences. Members can spend a night in a DOC cabin, they can volunteer together or they can enjoy meals together. In fact, many negative hazing activities could be positive if members treated each other as equals. Clean-up the day after a social function could serve to connect both the newest and the oldest members of an organization.
These changes will not be mandated from above. While the administration may know about widespread hazing, it is not in a position to search for incidents and report them to the police.
As was the case last week, the administration will continue to deal with cases they are forced to consider. Change, however, must come from the students.