For MIT students, this is an exciting time of year. Friends who have spent the summer months apart are reunited, living groups and student groups are reinvigorated by the influx of the excited freshmen, and classes have been in session for just a couple weeks. Additional highlights of the start of the school year for many are Fraternity Rush and Sorority Recruitment. While I’ve previously documented my views that Fraternity Rush is unfair to the dormitories and should be moved to IAP, there is no denying that fraternities (and sororities) do a lot of good for the wider community and the individual members.
However, the rituals by which new members are inducted into Greek organizations can sometimes stray from the realm of valuable bonding into the territory of illegal hazing. When contemplating this issue, there are three questions to consider. First, what is hazing? Second, should an individual report instances of hazing that they or someone they know have been a victim of? Finally, how does one go about reporting hazing?
In regards to the first question, hazing is defined by the Institute in accordance with Massachusetts State Law [Chapter 269 §17-19] as, “…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. Such conduct shall include whipping, beating, branding, forced calisthenics, exposure to the weather, forced consumption of any food, liquor, beverage, drug or other substance, or any other brutal treatment or forced physical activity which is likely to adversely affect the physical health or safety of any such student or other person, or which subjects such student or other person to extreme mental stress, including extended deprivation of sleep or rest or extended isolation.” M.G.L. c. 269 Section 17. The previous definition was taken from the Division of Student Life’s Mind and Hand Book.
As one can see, the definition of hazing can be fuzzy. What constitutes endangering physical health? What about mental health? What level of discomfort is sufficient to merit the classification of hazing? This definition seems to have been left deliberately vague to allow for good judgment when evaluating instances of hazing but avoid situations where the definition fails to cover something that is clearly hazing. In general, if you feel that you’ve been hazed, or if you’ve experienced an initiation that made you uncomfortable, scared you, or harmed you in any way, it’s probably hazing.
Examples of hazing might include:
• Not permitting pledges to leave the house during Work Week except for a meeting with their advisor. While being kept in the house, being forced to sleep on the floor due to insufficient beds and fed a diet of candy, cereal, and other junk food. (Anything here would constitute hazing.)
• A pledge trip where pledges are given a box and told not to open it until reaching their destination. Upon doing so, discovering it contains alcohol and being expected or forced to drink it. (This also breaks laws of providing alcohol to minors and, for the minors, drinking.)
• A situation where the “Bigs” have their “Littles” construct ornate paddles. After finishing, the Bigs tell the Littles to bend over a chair and make the new pledges think they are going to be beaten. Then, they reveal that it was just a joke. (Hilarious. Making the paddles is fine, but the infliction of mental distress that comes with the threat of being beaten is not.)
Suppose you believe that you or someone you know has been hazed. The logical question at this junction is whether or not to report it. After all, the hazed individual has just spent hours of their life getting to know, befriend, and trust a group of individuals, and now they have to report them for hazing? It’s certainly not an easy thing to do.
Yet one thing to remember is that you have been inducted into an organization with a set of values and morals, which most certainly do not include “hazing is good.” If you do nothing, the next generation of pledges will also be hazed, as will the one after that. As Edmund Burke said, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” As a new member of an organization, if that organization is doing something in opposition to its set of values, you have a moral imperative to try to stop it. You must do so not just for the good of the organization, but for the good of all the countless individuals who will come after you and also be victims if you simply acquiesce to the status quo.
Furthermore, if a victim of hazing does not come forward and put an end to it, even though they know that it’s wrong, they will be forced to become perpetrators of the hazing in the years to come. How must it feel to become that which victimized you? Although in the short term it’s easier to keep quiet, as is so often the case, in the long term you have a moral responsibility to come forward to improve your organization, protect its future members, and prevent the scenario where you become the perpetrator.
Assuming one decides that they or someone they know has been hazed, and they decide to report the hazing, how do they do so? I found surprisingly little information on this on the IFC’s or Panhel’s website. Both organizations simply assert that hazing doesn’t happen and is unacceptable. These assertions would seem to be called into question, given that only three years ago, an MIT fraternity was suspended for this very crime. Perhaps Greek organizations do more orientation on this for individuals who have been admitted, but because hazing is not isolated to Greek organizations, knowing how to report it would be a valuable resource for the MIT community. Furthermore, future articles will exam the process by which a report of hazing is dealt with; as it turns out victims who report hazing are unable to stay anonymous throughout the process, providing a major disincentive to report hazing.
After wandering through some pages, I came across the Assistant Dean and Director of FSILG’s, Marlena Martinez Love. If you suspect that you or someone you know has been a victim of hazing, she would be an excellent person to reach out to. However, given that hazing is such a difficult thing to get one’s self to report in the first place, MIT should do more during Freshmen Orientation on how to identify and report hazing.
Like other crimes that affect individuals emotionally or concern friends or family, hazing is likely underreported. But we can change that. If anyone who has been a victim of hazing at an MIT organization, whether it be Greek or otherwise, comes forward, we can take a giant step towards stamping out hazing and improving life for the entire community and all the students yet to come.
If you or someone you know has been a victim of hazing at MIT, whether at the hands of a fraternity, sorority, or club, but do not want to report it through MIT’s system for whatever reason (suppose you wish to remain anonymous, for example), then I encourage you to send me an email at email@example.com so that we can work together to expose and end hazing.