Legal definition of hazing needs revision
Published: Thursday, February 14, 2013
Updated: Thursday, February 14, 2013 22:02
There are many definitions of hazing getting thrown around this Greco-centric university. Just so everyone is clear, this is what the state of Texas defines as an act of hazing: “any intentional knowing, or reckless act... directed against a student that endangers the mental or physical health or safety of a student... For the purpose of pledging... Any organization. The term includes but is not limited to ‘any type of physical brutality... Physical activity such as sleep depravation, exposure, confinement, calisthenics... Any activity involving involuntary consumption... Any activity that intimidates or threatens.”
Although well intentioned, Texas penal code’s definition of hazing is overbroad to the point where it weakens any attempt to stop ‘real’ hazing by throwing the baby out with the bathwater. By calling any activity that makes someone’s life a bit more difficult hazing, we imply that an act of hazing that results in the death of a person is in essence the equal of an act that has the moral consequences of cursing in public.
There are horror stories from all around the country that tell of the dangers of hazing in our society. I Googled “fraternity hazing deaths” just to see what I could come up with, and was completely stunned by the sheer volume of information on the subject. Just this December at Northern Illinois University, a young man was killed by alcohol poisoning after he was made to consume large quantities of alcohol at a fraternity’s ritual event, according to the ABC affiliate in Chicago. These are serious incidents that our society as a whole would be foolish not to safeguard against.
The events leading to alcohol-related deaths and fraternity mandated gym hour quotas are separated by a chasm as wide as the Grand Canyon. One is a dangerous and repugnant use of power, and the other is core to any fraternity’s mission to better an individual.
However, due to the wording of the laws currently on the books in Texas, if taken as written, it would mean, ironically, that SMU itself is guilty of hazing our student-athletes by declaring mandatory workouts to be a part of the team. According to the law, calisthenics cannot be mandated by any university group. These poor student-athletes are being hazed while the administration sits idly by and lets it happen.
I think that the definition of hazing has become so distorted, especially by those in this school’s administration, as well as by IFC and the National Fraternities that the original term has lost its meaning. When people do not take hazing and its effects seriously, that’s when people get hurt.
Hazing has some pretty negative connotations, and it should. It is a horrible thing that should be eliminated from Greek life altogether. Forcing people to break the law, consume dangerous amounts of alcohol or allow themselves to be physically harmed by active members of a chapter is inexcusable. But when people in power broaden the definition so thoroughly that it waters down the original meaning to mean virtually any activity of a fraternity chapter, the veracity of the term has lost its bite.
According to SMU administration’s definition of hazing, which is essentially the same as the state of Texas’, I have been hazed by everyone from my parents to my Boy Scout leaders to my athletic coaches. According to the administration, dressing up in a coat and tie, which my high school required me to do, is “hazing.” According to SMU, my parent’s denial of my dessert until I ate my vegetables was hazing. According to the school, every time I gave my coach lip in high school and was forced to run laps, I was hazed. For every time in my life that I wanted something and had to work for it and endure unpleasantness, I was hazed.
The state, school and, for that matter, the general fraternity of which I am a member, have cheapened the meaning of hazing. When the school cracks down on “hazing” and makes a fool of everyone involved, including itself, something needs to change.
It is of the utmost importance that these various groups that hold the power to regulate the fraternity and sorority systems do so with the ability to see what is dangerous, and what is fair play for a bunch of young adults. Otherwise, those in the Perkins administration building, as well as those in the state capitol in Austin will only see the problem get worse. The most simple black and white action is not always the best for the interests that these two groups claim to hold dear.
Saul is a sophomore majoring in journalism and history.