The Undergraduate Assembly is under investigation by the University for hazing.
The case is being reviewed by the Office of Student Conduct, which acts on behalf of the University in matters of student discipline.
UA hazing allegations were publicized by College senior and UA associate member Mo Shahin in a Daily Pennsylvanian guest column Friday, where he accused UA members of planning and performing initiation rituals that involved heavy drinking and blindfolding new members.
The UA had referred themselves to the administration two weeks ago, wrote UA President and Wharton and Engineering senior Tyler Ernst in a letter to the DP on Monday.
“When we learned of the current allegations, the Office of Student Affairs, which advises the student group, formally requested a University disciplinary investigation be initiated. We are now engaged in that process and await any findings,” Ajay Nair, senior associate vice provost for Student Affairs, wrote in an email.
Ernst declined to comment on the alleged hazing incidents.
“As a University community, we take allegations of hazing by any student or student groups extremely serious,” Nair added. “Hazing is inconsistent with the goals and purposes of the University and, in accordance with state law, is explicitly forbidden.”
The OSC resolves cases including hazing, sexual harassment and drug abuse with a variety of sanctions, depending on the incident and student group.
Cases can be resolved through formal disciplinary action outlined in the Charter of the Student Disciplinary System or by referring students to the University Mediation Program.
2011 College graduate and former UA Chairman Alec Webley said he abolished the initiation rituals during his tenure in the 2009-10 academic year.
“It was unnecessary and there are better ways to induct members of student government,” he said, adding that his decision was met with many disappointed UA members.
Webley, a former DP columnist, chose not to participate in the new member initiation ceremony the year before, which he said to his knowledge, was the first year the UA had initiated new members in a manner “that could be argued to cross the line.”
“I was never persuaded that there was any advantage to having a series of rituals that seem to be focused on professing the power of the UA’s leadership and the powerlessness of new members,” he said. “It’s false and pointless at its best and cruel at its worst.”
He said that the hazing rituals were reinstated the next year under 2011 College graduate and former UA President Matt Amalfitano’s leadership.
However, Webley believes there is “no credible evidence” that the current UA leadership performed hazing rituals. He believes the emails where Ernst was quoted as jokingly requesting that new members become “‘hospitalize-me’ drunk” do not serve as objective evidence.
Webley commended the current UA board for reporting themselves to the OSC. “I’m impressed that the moment someone raised a complaint, the first thing Tyler did was send it to the Office of Student Conduct. Hopefully it speaks quite highly of their innocence,” he said.
Groups found guilty of hazing risk losing University recognition, the privilege of using campus facilities and funding from the Student Activities Council, according to the University’s anti-hazing regulations.
However, the UA receives its funding — which stands around $2 million each year — from the Board of Trustees. Part of this sum is then allocated to the Student Activities Council and the other four branches of Penn Student Government.
Greek organizations and student groups often organize activities that may be regarded as hazing when initiating new members.
However, the University stands firm in enforcing anti-hazing policies outlined in the Student Code of Conduct.
“We appreciate that many groups across campus value new member education as an important means to build camaraderie, instill shared values and promote a sense of history within their groups,” Nair wrote.
The University continues to offer educational and anti-hazing programs “to help student leaders and groups facilitate meaningful, safe and appropriate new member education programs that respect established law, University policies and the values of individuals, the group and the University community,” Nair added.
First Step is a program offered by the Office of Alcohol and Other Drug Program Initiatives.
It allows students to talk openly about issues regarding alcohol and drug use in a confidential environment. In the 2010-11 academic year, six Greek chapters and 15 athletic teams participated in the program.
“[It] deals with issues relating to the use of alcohol and other drugs within a group culture including the role of alcohol in social events and written or unwritten ‘traditions’ that often dictate hazing activities,” Nair wrote.
In addition, the University aims to set up Hazing Awareness Week, which will develop educational programs surrounding the issue. It will play off of the Year of Games theme, the theme of the academic year, according to Nair.
Other initiatives include information sessions during fraternity and sorority New Member Education given by the Drug and Alcohol Resource Team, peer-education organizations, enhanced social awareness campaigns and leadership training programs.
In addition, the Alcohol and Other Drug Task Force has included hazing within their mission to more closely link the concepts of bullying and hazing.