Allegations that the Undergraduate Assembly hazed new members caught students off guard last week.
Not only does the University ban the practice, but the state also deems it illegal. Both entities define hazing as “any action or situation which recklessly or intentionally endangers the mental or physical health or safety of a student … for the purpose of initiation.” This prohibition is not to say that all initiation rituals are inherently illicit; many campus organizations welcome new members in legitimate manners. But sometimes these initiations are taken to extremes and cause undue discomfort upon their members, entering into the realm of hazing. Unfortunately, the reality on this campus — and on many others — is that hazing occurs within a number of organizations, both Greek and non-Greek.
It is particularly troubling that hazing was alleged to have occurred within the UA. Its members are expected to uphold a higher standard of behavior; as elected representatives of the student body, they have been chosen to act and speak on behalf of undergraduates and serve as the student voice in front of the administration. It reflects poorly on the entire student body when this voice is instead heard yelling at blindfolded new UA members.
The occurrence of hazing within the UA is so unexpected that there hardly exist avenues to address it. Under University rules, non-Greek organizations found hazing “are subject to sanctions including loss of University facility use privileges and loss of Student Activities Council recognition and funding,” presumably leading to the group’s disbanding. But the UA, whose existence is mandated by the Statutes of the Trustees, is an indispensable organization that cannot be threatened with dissolution. Having been given this privilege and responsibility, UA members do not have any room to disappoint.
The discovery of hazing within the UA inhibits its policymaking abilities, especially at a time when it’s pushing for a reform of the alcohol policy — which is already a very sensitive initiative. The finding tarnishes the reputation of the organization and lowers its credibility. The UA’s ability to act as a responsible advocate for any undergraduate cause is diminished when it violates students’ and the administration’s trust in such a manner. By hazing new members, the UA did a disservice not only to its own organization, but also to the students whom it is tasked with representing.
In response to the allegations, the Executive Board apologized, took responsibility for its mistakes and turned itself in to the Office of Student Conduct. The repercussions will hopefully compel it to change the institutional problems that gave rise to such behavior going forward. The past actions of UA members are regrettable, but the best course of action now is to shift the discussion toward the larger issue of hazing. Now is the time to expand the conversation and work toward eliminating hazing throughout the University — removing it from the initiation rituals of the UA and every other organization that practices it.