Following hazing allegations, the Undergraduate Assembly turned itself in to the Office of Student Conduct two weeks ago.
UA President Tyler Ernst revealed this information in a letter to The Daily Pennsylvanian published Monday. Ernst wrote the letter in response to a DP guest column by UA associate member and College senior Mo Shahin Friday, which brought UA hazing rituals to light.
Shahin quoted emails from UA executive board members, including Ernst, who jokingly wrote, “I was thinking we could just get them ‘hospitalize-me’ drunk and then turn them over to their parents the next morning.”
Shahin wrote that he learned from other UA members that initiation rituals involve heavy drinking, blindfolding new members and tying them to chairs.
Hazing — initiation rituals that put students under mental or physical threat — is forbidden not only by the University but also by Pennsylvania state laws.
Shahin accused Ernst — an Engineering and Wharton senior who is spearheading the UA’s review of the University’s alcohol policy this semester — of actively planning last year’s hazing initiation for UA members. He called for all UA members involved in hazing incidents to “relinquish” their positions on the alcohol policy review board.
Shahin said he turned to a public forum since his previous attempts to combat hazing within the UA had failed.
“Before coming forward, I felt that I had exhausted every option for addressing this issue internally,” Shahin said. “There is no place for hazing on campus, regardless of who it’s done by.”
The UA plans to present a resolution to alter the current alcohol policy to its general body on Nov. 20.
One of its aims is to make it easier for Greek organizations to register on-campus parties.
If members vote in favor of the resolution, the UA will discuss modifications with University administrators.
Breaking the hazing stereotype
Students at Penn often associate hazing with new member education in fraternities and sororities, Interfraternity Council President and Wharton senior Harry Heyer said. However, this problem extends to many other student groups and sports teams.
The association between Greek life and hazing often dictates where the University administration chooses to enforce policy, Heyer added.
“I’m not upset that the UA got caught hazing,” Heyer said. “It’s just proof that fraternities are not the [only] student group on campus doing something wrong. The chain of emails was blatantly condoning hazing and showed a clear disregard for University rules … let’s not look at all these other student organizations and say they are some sort of high horse.”
“Pseudo-Greek organizations”— those that are not formally recognized by the University, such as Theos and OZ — are the biggest offenders of Penn’s hazing policy, he said.
“When was the last time that the Office of Student Conduct aggressively recognized pseudo-Greek organizations about issues of hazing?” Heyer said. “They throw members through walls during pledging.”
A College sophomore and member of a Greek organization not recognized by the University, who wishes to remain anonymous to conceal incidents of hazing in his group, said the types of initiation activities are “pretty much the same across the board.”
While initiation events were conducted in secret at unexpected hours of the day, participation resulted in a sense of belonging to the organization.
Some forms of hazing also involve what Heyer defines as “public humiliation.” Societies like Theos and Tabard Society are the main “perpetrators” of public humiliation hazing, Heyer said, because they do not answer to official administrative offices.
“Nobody says anything when a guy from Theos stands in front of Castle all day wearing a suit of armor,” he said.
Students also admit that hazing occurs in Multicultural Greek Council chapters.
A 2011 College graduate whose friend was a member of an MGC chapter called hazing events within the MGC an “open secret.”
“I think that hazing done safely is fine,” she said. “But the idea of suffering together is dumb.”
However, hazing incidences are not uniquely Greek, Heyer said. Though examples of hazing always begin with fraternities and sororities, recent problems come on the “heels of non-fraternity organizations.”
Beyond Greek life
A College junior and former member of a varsity sports team said he encountered hazing during his initiation onto the team.
He and other new members were required to drink and perform exercises at the same time. “We’d have to do three-minute wall sits while drinking a beer or do sit-ups and take a sip of beer when we were in the ‘up’ position,” he said.
He said the new members who did not drink were required to perform the tasks with milk.
However, some students view their groups’ initiation rituals as relatively harmless, intended to foster bonding.
College sophomore Alefiyah Lokhandwala is a member of Penn Masti, a South Asian fusion dance team. Last year, she was a member of Penn Raas, a competitive Indian dance team.
She said that both initiations consisted of performing tasks such as singing a love song to someone on the team, proposing to a stranger or dancing down Locust Walk.
“It was definitely more bonding than anything else,” she said.
She added that members were not forced to drink and that it was “a very welcoming experience.”
A College sophomore who belongs to an academic extracurricular organization believes initiation into student groups should not “go overboard” by forcing people to do things they do not want to do.
Referring to new members, he said, “You shouldn’t break them more than you form them.”
However, he said it is hard to determine when initiation goes too far, since it varies by student group. It also depends on what individuals in a particular group find degrading, he added.
Lokhandwala believes student groups should continue to initiate their new members with rituals.
“It’s a huge part of the excitement when you first join a team,” she said. “Even people who view them as bad in the beginning tend to say that it got them a lot closer in the end because everyone has to go through it.”
An earlier version of this article quoted Heyer as calling Mask & Wig one of the main perpetrators of public humiliation hazing since it doesn’t answer to administrators. The troupe does in fact answer to Penn’s Performing Arts Council.