Mo Shahin | Seeing through the haze

Guest Column | Student leaders should reconsider their treatment of new members

· November 3, 2011, 11:37 pm   ·  Updated November 7, 2011, 12:51 am

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“Should we have a scavenger hunt/something before hazing?” As I read this email last year, I was taken aback. At first glance, it reads like stereotypical Greek pledging gone wrong, but College junior and Undergraduate Assembly Treasurer Jake Shuster, then the Civic and Philadelphia Engagement Committee director, was discussing the “initiation” of the Class of 2014’s elected members to the UA.

After reading his email, I expected other UA members to chime in and correct his language — after all, the UA has always been a place that welcomes its new members in an affirmative process. However, the emailed response by Wharton senior and UA Vice President Faye Cheng, then the Academic Affairs Committee director, was no better: “All I request is that we involve blindfolds.”

The amount of apathy among some members of the UA toward the welfare of the freshmen was so much that Wharton and Engineering senior and UA President Tyler Ernst, then the Student Life Committee director, jokingly wrote in another email, “I was thinking we could just get them ‘hospitalize-me’ drunk and then turn them over to their parents the next morning.”

With that, and to the disregard of calls for an enlightened welcome from the then-speaker and president, the Class of 2014 was inducted into the UA.

But that was last year. I expected those members of the UA who supported institutionalizing the act of hazing to have matured and realized the implications of their attitudes and actions since then. I was mistaken. I learned from members of the UA (I did not attend on principle) that this year’s festivities included a scavenger hunt, blindfolds, pledge names, multiple drinks in rapid succession and being tied to a chair, yelled at and locked in a small closet with other freshmen.

The problems with hazing new members of an organization are plentiful. First, there are the health risks, especially when alcohol is involved in any way. Second, hazing is wrong on a humane level, as it dehumanizes people and subjects them to being treated like lesser beings. If that weren’t enough, hazing directly impedes the work that the UA does. UA members, whose mission is to improve student life, are currently proposing reformations to Penn’s alcohol policy and have plans to reform the University’s Code of Student Conduct. This behavior jeopardizes their ability to advocate effectively on behalf of the students they represent.

While the thought of these actions makes me question some of the student leadership we have on campus, I didn’t have to look far to be reminded that there are student leaders and organizations that treat their new members with respect. College senior and President of the Multicultural Greek Council Jae Barchus welcomes new members to the organizations he is a part of, saying that “the rituals that our organizations condone are meaningful and non-degrading.”

For Barchus and the leaders of MGC, it’s not just about avoiding the technicalities of Penn’s antihazing policies — it’s about ensuring that new members are comfortable and feel accepted as part of a larger community. “New members should feel that they have ownership of the organization just as much as I do, as well as a voice in enacting change.”

All student leaders on this campus should adopt Barchus’s attitude toward welcoming new members. While stereotypes may exist about hazing and Greek life, they are often just that. There are leaders on this campus who care about their fellow students. The key is for leaders to put themselves in the shoes of these new members and to consider what the implications of hazing would have been for them. Once leaders start treating new members with humanity, dignity and respect, the issue of hazing will solve itself.

As for the current Executive Board of the UA, my suggestion for it is to start by acknowledging its actions and work towards making amends. First, relinquish those seats on the Alcohol Policy Review Board to UA members who were not involved in this initiation to avoid any conflicts of interests. Second, they should own up to the situation they’ve created by apologizing — to the organization whose mission they let down, to the constituents whose policy goals are jeopardized and, most importantly, to the UA members of the classes of 2014 and 2015. Putting them through this initiation was an attempt to indoctrinate them in a process that should have no place at Penn.

Mo Shahin, a College senior, is a former elected member and current associate member of the Undergraduate Assembly. His email address is mshahin@sas.upenn.edu.

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