Emerson students neither hazed, nor confused

by Beacon Staff • March 26, 2008

"It was embarrassing, but it's all in good fun," the freshman film major said.,Ryan McGovern was surprised when he walked into his first rehearsal for Emerson's a capella group Noteworthy last semester and was told to sing his audition song for the entire group.

"It was embarrassing, but it's all in good fun," the freshman film major said.

Though in this case they may be true, these words tend to express the sentiment of many students around the country who are hazed, whether they realize it or not. Professors from the University of Maine recently conducted a study in which they surveyed students from 53 colleges and universities across the country regarding actions that constitute hazing. While many students reported being involved in such actions, more than 90 percent of them did not believe they had been hazed.

According to the study, activities that constituted hazing included public humiliation, verbal abuse, tattooing or piercing the body, acting as a personal servant, enduring harsh weather, sleep deprivation, drinking excessive alcohol or other beverages, watching or being involved in sexual acts and countless others.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, where hazing is punishable by law, defines the action more vaguely.

It states, "[Hazing is] any conduct or method of initiation into any student organization, whether on public or private property, which willfully or recklessly endangers the physical or mental health of any student or other person."

As the law suggests, it is difficult to label which actions constitute hazing and which can be considered harmless customs. Like Noteworthy, many sports teams have traditions for what first-year players are and are not allowed to do.

According to an e-mail from the Department of Athletics Compliance Officer Roger Crosley, there are some customs carried over from other years.

"The most common [tradition] is having freshmen or first-year players carry equipment to or from practices or games," Crosley said. "Some teams have the freshmen or first-year players do the team's laundry for practice."

Zachary Cole, a marketing communication major who was a freshman on the men's basketball team this year, said that first years were not allowed to ride shotgun in the team vans or sit in the comfortable chairs when they watched the tapes of their games.

Such acts can hardly be considered hazing, but according to the study, athletic teams had the highest reports of hazing-74 percent among the 53 U.S. institutions that were surveyed in the study. Among Greek Life organizations, 73 percent reported hazing, and 56 percent reported hazing in performing arts groups.

At Emerson, however, the numbers are either lower or organizations do a better job of hiding it. In recent history, the only significant public incident occurred in December of 2005, when members of a pledge class for the Emerson chapter of the national fraternity Sigma Alpha Epsilon were found preparing to paint part of the Esplanade with the fraternity logo as part of their initiation, according to an article in The Beacon.

The chapter was under investigation and, according to the group's current president Tim Pelletier, they were not allowed to pledge for a semester after that, as a precaution.

However, the incident did not have any other negative ramifications on the frat as a whole the junior television/video major said.

"Our chapter is very strongly against hazing," Pelletier said. "Pledging is the transition of a person to becoming a brother. Hazing is not necessary for pledging at all."

That incident aside, Emerson's hazing record appears clean. Both Crosley and Chad Bates, the Student Life Staff Associate who acts as the advisor for Greek Life on campus, said they have no recollection of hazing reported at Emerson.

Bates said that he cannot remember any incidents of hazing in any organizations in the nine and a half years that he has been at Emerson.

However, that is not to say that nothing goes on. Some students acknowledge that hazing could occur under the surface.

"Hazing is never a public thing," said McGovern. "I wouldn't be surprised if it was happening and I was just unaware of it."

Theatre education and communication disorders double major Rachael Bralow, a freshman pledge for the sorority Kappa Gamma Chi, said she has heard rumors, but no details of possible incidents in the past, and that they were quickly eradicated by the administration.

"Everyone sort of caters to the same ideal of creating the sense of community. Everyone is on the same page."

Mykim Dang

Kappa Gamma Chi is a professional sorority, which is one that is generally centered on a specific profession and focuses on networking and advancing its members in that field.

Despite being surpassed in the survey by athletic teams, Greek Life seems to be the most commonly-targeted group in hazing discussions, but leaders and members at Emerson interviewed said that they are not the typical groups that are heard about on the news.

Jay MacFadgen, president of the professional co-ed fraternity Zeta Phi Eta, said that his fraternity is full of the people who never thought they would join a fraternity.

"Because of the way that Emerson is, they get involved for a lot of different reasons," he said.

Morgan Harris, president of the professional fraternity Phi Alpha Tau, said hazing has never been an issue for their organization because they don't do anything without a reason for it.

"We don't follow traditions that have no logic behind them," the senior acting major said. "The process does test the new guys mentally and physically, but we aren't abusing them in any way, shape or form."

Emerson has a zero tolerance policy regarding hazing. According to the 2008 Student Handbook, "Students and/or student groups found responsible for engaging in any activity which can be described as hazing will be subject to disciplinary action which may include suspension or dismissal of campus privileges or from the campus."

In accordance with state law, at the beginning of every semester, the administration requires all campus groups to sign contracts that outline the laws against hazing and the disciplinary actions associated with it.

However, many students and administrators involved with such organizations feel that Emerson is simply not a place where hazing is a problem. The reason for this may be the steps taken by the administration, but many feel that the students play a large role.

Mykim Dang, president of Kappa Gamma Chi and former Beacon graphics manager, said that the mindset of the students involved plays a big role.

"Everyone sort of caters to the same ideal of creating the sense of community," said the film major. "Everyone is on the same page."

Bates said he feels very strongly that it is the nature of the students that makes Emerson different. He said he thinks the students have a strong sense of self and it is that characteristic which prevents students both from hazing other students and putting up with it themselves.

Pelletier said he also sees that characteristic in Emerson students.

"No matter what program is in place, hazing can occur. But Eme

rson students don't see the need," he said. "And not many students at Emerson would put up with it."

Bralow said she thinks the difference at the college is a result both of the administration and the students involved. She said she would feel very comfortable going to the administration if there was a problem because they make such an effort to let the students know they are available.

But she also said she thinks the Greek organizations are proactive enough to prevent it themselves.

"They don't get lost in the Greek Life stereotype," she said. "People know that Greek Life here is different and I think they take that to heart."