Penn community responds to UA hazing
Students have debated the severity and consequences of the UA's actions
January 31, 2012, 1:08 am·
Since the UA’s executive board announced on Saturday that the entire UA body had been found guilty of these violations, the incident has prompted discussions about hazing and drinking on Penn’s campus.
For some, the violations have caused trust in the elected student representatives to falter. Others feel that the UA’s transgressions — blindfolding the elected freshman representatives, quizzing them on parliamentary procedure, “verbal confrontation” and serving alcohol to minors — are not so serious.
An investigation into the UA began in late Oct. 2011, when UA President and Engineering and Wharton senior Tyler Ernst asked Penn’s administration and the Office of Student Conduct to look into a new-member initiation event that had occurred earlier that month.
As a result of the OSC’s findings, all elected UA members will be required to participate in one 90-minute educational session on alcohol and hazing.
The eight freshman UA members — along with all associate members — will not be required to attend the workshop.
Additionally, according to a statement released by the UA’s executive board on Saturday, the full body will have to “join other campus partners to help lead and support efforts to educate students and the Penn community about hazing and alcohol,” as well as “submit any plans for programs or events involving welcoming or educating new members to the OSA for consultation and approval.”
These sanctions come as the result of a detailed investigation, according to OSC Director Susan Herron.
“OSC investigations are very thorough and involve, at a minimum, interviews with all appropriate parties,” Herron wrote in an email. “What else is done depends on the allegations and the facts of a particular case.”
Herron, along with the Office of Student Affairs, which advises the UA, declined to comment specifically on the UA investigation.
The UA and Penn
The UA leadership plans to be “straightforward and honest” about the violations, Ernst said, but he is “unclear as to how much trust we’ve gained or lost” from the student body.
Some students, such as College sophomore Samantha Koo, feel that the UA is “getting off easy.”
“We need to hold them to higher standards,” she said.
The lack of a harsher punishment from the University administration has prompted others, such as College junior Jeffrey Liguori, to question whether the UA is taking full responsibility for the hazing.
“They are either trying to mask what they did or they are legitimately unaware that what they did might be construed as wrong,” Liguori said.
However, some students, such as Wharton and Engineering sophomore Winston Lin, feel that the alcohol education is an “appropriate punishment.”
UA hazing is “nowhere near as bad as the other stuff that goes on around campus,” College sophomore Marissa Schwartz added. “They don’t deserve to be punished more than this.”
Former UA Chair and 2011 College graduate Alec Webley — a former Daily Pennsylvanian columnist — believes that, despite the criticism that has been levied, the UA should continue on with its work as usual.
“When you let students down and betray their trust, you should stand up and work 100 times harder,” he said.
UA and alcohol reform
The question of trust has led to some concerns about the UA’s standing role on the committee that is currently reviewing the University’s Alcohol and Other Drug Policy.
The UA began partnering with the Office of Alcohol and Other Drug Program Initiatives in August — as well as numerous other student groups and administrators on campus — to review the current policy because many feel it is too “expensive, restrictive or otherwise too burdensome,” Ernst wrote in the UA’s 2011 annual report.
The UA was originally scheduled to present a resolution to amend the alcohol policy at a general body meeting on Nov. 20. However, that presentation date was pushed back and has still yet to occur.
According to College senior and Lambda Alliance representative Victor Galli, who is on the alcohol policy review committee, the hope is to finalize a set of recommendations at some point this semester.
Some students, however, now feel uncomfortable with the UA’s presence on the review committee.
“They lost the privilege to make the rules by violating the rules,” College sophomore Ari Cohen said.
Others recognize this issue, but still feel that the UA belongs on the review committee.
“The fact that the UA is now making the alcohol policy makes it not as strong,” Wharton senior Jessica Mayer said. “But I don’t know who else would do that. I think the student representatives should be making the alcohol policy.”
However, some have disassociated the UA’s standing on the committee from its role in October’s initiation event.
“They are still capable people that were elected for a reason,” College freshman Sam Hartman said. “Even if they made a mistake, they still have a particular insight that can contribute to this process.”
Along with the wider Penn community, there has also been dissent from within the UA about the organization’s involvement in the ongoing review.
UA representative and College sophomore Ernest Owens, a DP columnist believes that the UA is “no longer in the correct position to pursue this resolution.”
“It will be a disgrace and a mockery to the University and the student government if we were to review this alcohol policy,” Owens said. “We are writing the law, breaking the law and rewriting the law.”
College and Wharton sophomore Abe Sutton — the UA’s academic affairs director — believes it “would be a disservice to the student body if we didn’t participate” in the review.
Ernst also feels obliged to stay involved in the alcohol policy deliberations.
“This policy is of utmost importance to the student body,” he said. “It would do the student body a disservice to remove ourselves from this process.”
Committee members are confident that they can still work effectively with the UA, especially given the fact that the UA is one of many voices involved in the policy revision.
While Office of Alcohol and Other Drug Program Initiatives Director Julie Lyzinski acknowledged that she was “disappointed to learn of these findings regarding the UA,” she is looking forward to continuing to work with the student leaders.
“From the beginning, the policy review process has been geared toward representing our entire Penn community,” she wrote in an email. “The UA voice has been one of many that have been heard and taken into consideration.”
Galli dismissed the sentiment that the UA should divorce itself from the review process as a “gross misrepresentation of the course of events.”
Galli also feels that the UA’s violations are symptoms of the very alcohol culture the committee is seeking to replace.
“It’s not entirely appropriate for us to have any conversation without addressing the reality that these students are very similar to other students at Penn,” he said.
A culture of hazing?
While UA Secretary and College sophomore Will Smith acknowledged that the UA will “try very hard to create an environment where nobody will feel uncomfortable or unsafe” in future events for new members, the OSC’s investigation has opened up a dialogue on the culture of initiation events within other student organizations at Penn.
“Hazing is a serious issue that runs much deeper in Penn,” said Interfraternity Council President and College junior David Shapiro.
College sophomore Whitney Mash agreed, adding that “everyone knows about it and looks away.”
Shapiro believes the UA hazing investigation has proven that hazing extends beyond the Greek community.
He supports the OSC’s sanctions, explaining that “the best defense against hazing is education.”
“I hope that the OSC will catch any fraternities doing the same thing and give them the same punishment,” he said.
However, others feel that the OSC and University administration missed an opportunity to send a strong message to preclude students from hazing new members in the future.
“It’s slightly ridiculous that’s all they have to do,” College sophomore Nadya Mason said of the workshop the UA will be required to attend. “No one pays attention to things like alcohol education classes.”
For Ernst, the UA’s situation will serve as an opportunity to continue a campus-wide dialogue on the subject.
“I think Penn stands out among its peers as being a welcoming campus to live on, but I think on any college campus hazing is a problem,” he said. “Having been in other organizations, it’s an issue … It came to light most publicly with us — that’s kind of our privilege of student government. We want to use that ability as an open forum to bring discussion on the subject.”
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University alcohol and drug policies
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