University holds first anti-hazing week

By SIRI TUMMALA | September 22, 2016

National Hazing Prevention Week, dedicated to combating hazing through education and awareness initiatives, took place from Monday to Thursday.

The Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life (OFSL) hosted the new initiative in conjunction with Athletics, Homewood Arts, the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA), the Peabody Institute and Student Leadership and Involvement. This is an annual event organized by HazingPrevention.Org, a national anti-hazing organization..

Calvin Smith, the director of OFSL, said that the purpose of conducting different sessions was to educate students about the dangers of hazing and inform them about preventative measures.

“Hazing has always been a pressing issue, the difference now, like many other issues in society with the advent of social media and education around the topic, is a heightened awareness that we must address as a University to make sure we are equipping our students with accurate information to make appropriate decisions,” Smith wrote in an email to The News-Letter.

Programs included trivia night with JHUnions and game night at the Glass Pavilion. The highlight of the week was the keynote speech held on Tuesday, Sept. 22 in the Glass Pavilion by Gentry McCreary, who focuses on risk management on college campuses and is dedicated to helping Greek organizations eliminate hazing and substance abuse problems throughout America.

Throughout his 14-year career, McCreary has worked on several Title IX investigations at universities and has conducted award-winning research on the connection between hazing and moral development, making him a leader in his field.

The audience at the talk consisted primarily of officers of various fraternities, sororities and sports organizations. During his speech, McCreary touched on five hazing myths and discussed specific ways to prevent hazing.

“Hazing persists because of the myths society builds around it of its perceived good it does,” McCreary said. “Fraternities are the main group of people targeted for hazing though it is also a problem in high schools among sports teams and cheerleading squads because it is the highest rate of hazing deaths.”

McCreary dispelled the myth that hazing is only done by underground organizations and emphasized that Greek life creates a certain environment that allows for hazing to occur among its members.

“The first myth is that hazing is only a problem with rogue members,” McCreary said. “We should not treat incidents from rogue members as isolated incidents since they have a tendency to behave that way. It is not just rogue members participating in hazing, as the culture of Greek life gives members permission to do it.”

Smith wrote in his email to The News-Letter that hazing is prevalent in many organizations, but that Hopkins’ new member retention rate in Greek life points to signs that the University’s hazing is less than that of other colleges.

“I cannot say that hazing is an issue unique to Hopkins. It is a societal issue,” Smith wrote. “It is more prevalent with some groups (i.e. Varsity Athletics, Fraternities and Sororities, Bands, Sports Clubs, Service Fraternities, etc.); From an FSL perspective we have a new member retention rate of 92 percent. This would lead me to believe we have less issues with our new member initiation programs across the board based on my experience.”

McCreary also spoke about how new members often volunteer to participate in an activity they would normally not feel comfortable doing when they are in the presence of people who have authority over them.

“The second myth is that it is not considered hazing if freshman members volunteer to do it,” McCreary said. “It is hard for new members to tell authority figures they feel uncomfortable with doing something that is not necessarily forced but even just strongly encouraged because of the obedience to authority. Although hazing is an easy way to create a memorable experience for new members, it is up to the officers to create other positive ways to give them a meaningful experience.”

McCreary stressed that hazing is not a way of winning the respect of underclassmen.

“The third myth commonly associated with hazing is that it teaches respect,” McCreary said. “Instead of gaining respect, freshman and other new members actually lose respect for people who haze them.”

Smith echoed his sentiment, saying that hazing reinforces power dynamics among organizations by creating a perceived sense of respect among new members for current members.

“Hazing, like many things, has not changed. It has taken on a different form but it has not changed at its core,” Smith said. “Hazing is always about exercising a power dynamic over others. It may come in different forms depending on the group type, but at its root it is about exerting a power dynamic over a person or a group of people in effort for them to gain entry (or acceptance) into an entity or organization.”

In addition, McCreary shut down the notions that hazing builds a sense of loyalty and community among new members, and that it is a some sort of custom or ritual that must be passed down.

“The fourth myth is that hazing builds unity. There is actually no connection between commitment and hazing. It only creates temporary gratification from getting through the horrible hazing activities, which leads to a negative relationship in the long run,” McCreary said. “The last myth is that hazing is a tradition. The founders of fraternities and sororities did not intend for hazing to exist. It is up to the individuals of an organization to not encourage such behavior.”

McCreary provided specific strategies that officers of clubs, sports teams and Greek Life can employ in their organizations to avoid hazing. He stressed the importance of using preventative measures instead of waiting to take action until something bad occurs.

“Officers should push the line back of what is acceptable since something that seems harmless now can potentially progress into something very harmful in the future,” McCreary said. “The leaders should educate new members about what it means to be good members. Also, it is important for officers to remember that they must take responsibility for their actions and devise new ways to encourage bonding among their organizations.”

Although most of the audience were already aware of hazing as a pressing issue, students spoke positively about McCreary’s talk. Senior Emily Karcher, who is the president of the Pi Beta Phi sorority at Hopkins, spoke about how she will apply what she learned at the talk to the chapter.

“I think it’s good to bring the way he said everything back to the individual members of the chapter because everybody could have gotten something good out of this,” Karcher said. “We all have something to learn from this, even if it is just something that we maybe knew but needed a reminder of.”

Junior Joan Golding hopes that McCreary’s discussion about the importance of creating a safe, anti-hazing environment will impact the University’s organizations in a positive way.

“I thought that the speaker did a good job of addressing all aspects of hazing and I hope his message was able to reach all the groups so that we can have organizations that lift its individuals up rather than intimidating them,” Golding said.

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