Hazing is serious, but level of concern may be inappropriate

J. Spencer Young

As University of Texas students, we have all become very well accustomed to the daily emails from the University. Recently, the University emailed out its periodic memo regarding hazing in registered student organizations on campus. Although some may delete upon receiving, others may begin to wonder why they continually receive the same email, regarding the same topic, around the same time each semester. What many don’t know is that these notices are actually required by law and codified in the Texas Education Code.

In an act to inform the population of the possible dangers and extreme legal consequences of hazing, the Texas Legislature enacted Section 51.936 into the Texas Education Code to address concerns relating to hazing in 1995. This section states that within the first three weeks of each semester, each post-secondary educational institution in Texas shall distribute a memo to all enrolled students containing a summary of the provisions of Subchapter F, Chapter 37, where the legal definition and consequences of hazing reside, along with a list of all organizations that have been disciplined for hazing during the preceding three years. The law also requires that this information be public and must published in any generally available catalogue, including The Daily Texan, a student handbook or similar publication that is distributed by the university to the student body at large.

Recruitment for fraternities at UT Austin is somewhat different than at some other Texas institutions. Each fraternity is, essentially, allowed to choose the whens and wheres regarding its recruitment process. Although there is not a formal rush week hosted by the University, the Interfraternity Council, or IFC, does oversee and facilitate certain aspects of the recruitment process by providing prospective new members with information about all IFC chapters and access to IFC recruitment registration at www.TexasIFC.org. IFC then provides its member fraternities access to the registration information so they can connect with incoming students interested in joining.

During each summer orientation session, there are optional programs available to both students and their family members that are hosted by Sorority and Fraternity Life in the Office of the Dean of Students. These sessions include information about the various Greek organizations, recruitment processes and information about hazing as mandated by law. This allows both the students and their families insight on the issue and the University's strong stance against it.    

Hazing is a very serious act that is, unfortunately, very real. It can happen in high school groups, sports teams, bands and spirit groups, though most only consider it a sorority and fraternity issue. I believe that, more often than not, the general public view on hazing in student organizations is not overblown, but perhaps misunderstood. I agree that instances of proven hazing should be taken seriously and proper action should be taken to ensure that victims are taken care of in a safe way. I also agree that organizations should face reasonable and fitting repercussions for their actions. However, just as one bare plant does not yield an entire poor harvest, the actions of one organization should not reflect the actions of all.

In 2008 the University of Maine conducted a study on the research and prevention of hazing entitled “Hazing In View: College Students at Risk.” The study shows that hazing is not a Greek-specific issue. In a survey of 11,482 students from more than 50 universities, it was found that more than half of the students involved in clubs, sports teams and other organizations had been involved in hazing incidents. Forty-seven percent of interviewees claimed to have experienced hazing before ever setting foot on a college campus. The legal terminology of hazing is also vague at best. Across the country, cases such as People v. Anderson, 591 N.E.2d 461 (1993) have made their way up to the Supreme Court challenging the constitutional overbreadth of the legal definition of hazing.

Certainly, there have been documented cases of physical, psychological, and emotional harm (e.g. alcohol poisoning, physical injury, emotional harm and, in extreme cases, death.) It may be impossible to measure with accuracy emotional and psychological harm related to hazing; however, it would seem improbable that the number of occurrences is significant given the number of people who report having had a positive college experience. Thus, from a statistical point of view, I think that public concern may be disproportionate to the actual probability for harm. However, if even one student were to suffer serious injury or death, on balance, I both completely understand and concur with those concerns.

I am confident that the University and IFC will continue to do their part in the fight to eradicate hazing and the perceptions of it at The University of Texas. It is the goal of the Interfraternity Council to ensure the safety and protection of all members of the Greek community, providing a safe and enjoyable place where young men grow in a scholarly, philanthropic, respectful and social manner.

Young is a government junior from Sweetwater. He serves as the assistant vice president of judicial affairs for the Interfraternity Council.