This week marks Columbia's first-ever Hazing Prevention Week.
Organized by the new Hazing Prevention Task Force, which Interim Dean of Student Affairs Terry Martinez announced last spring, the awareness campaign runs through Friday and aims to start a conversation among students about hazing.
After the hazing incident at Zeta Beta Tau's house transpired last fall and Bwog published an alleged Pi Kappa Alpha initiation scavenger hunt, both administrators and students began calling for an investigation of the broader issue of hazing on campus.
“At the end of last semester I had some concerns about our education for the community on what hazing is and how we could address that,” Martinez said in an interview earlier this month. With former Dean of Student Affairs Kevin Shollenberger, Martinez “put together a task force that would take a look at this issue, explore this issue, and then make some recommendations for us.”
Cristen Kromm, assistant dean for community development and residential programs, and Senior Associate Athletic Director Jackie Blackett are co-chairing the task force. The committee is still in its beginning stages, but five students and seven other administrators and coaches have joined.
The official goal of the task force is “to establish a culture that promotes respect and demonstrates care and concern for every member of the community,” according to a statement from Kromm and Blackett on behalf of the group.
“All of us want the best for the University—that's why it's important for us to always strive to be inclusive and treat each other with respect,” men's basketball head coach Kyle Smith, who is on the task force, said in an email. “Sports is one of few things that can bring a community together—and get everyone pulling in the same direction. When our team is on the same page, and all of our players know that they are respected and valued—it only makes us better and stronger. The same can be said for the campus community.”
So far, the group has met four times, and several members attended a retreat at the Novak Institute for Hazing Prevention over the summer. The four-day retreat focused on addressing hazing as a public health issue and finding ways to prevent it.
Those involved have worked to set a standard definition of hazing and hope that all student groups across the University will have adopted the new standard by the spring.
“By definition hazing is coercive, humiliating, or abusive—verbally or physically or both—and it is a fact that such activities have happened on our campus. We have to educate our community that no one, willingly or unintentionally, should inflict or endure hazing as a condition of membership in any group,” Kromm said in a separate email.
This semester, Kromm and Kelly Joyce, associate director for the Office of Judicial Affairs and another member of the task force, addressed hazing rules with more than 850 student leaders who arrived on campus early. In addition, the task force has asked some student leaders to complete survey, which they hope will help them better understand the behaviors around and attitudes toward hazing at Columbia. This survey will be made available to more students throughout Hazing Prevention Week.
Brad Badgley, the new director of fraternity and sorority life, is overseeing the survey. He hopes to use this data as the task force moves forward and eventually produces recommendations to present to student groups.
“I'm looking forward to analyzing the data to see where we are as a community when it comes to this issue. I believe that in order to promote effective change, we must have a solid understanding of where we are before we can move forward,” he said in an email.
Although the survey and awareness campaign are both in their preliminary stages, many members of the task force say the conversations have already proved productive.
“I guess one of the heartening things is how open both students and administrators were about hazing on campus, and about how everyone wants a better situation. Everyone wants improvement, because there's always room to improve,” ZBT treasurer Wesley Morton, CC '15, said.
Morton, who volunteered to join the task force after administrators asked for a student from his fraternity, said he has particularly enjoyed getting to know administrators whom he had not met previously.
“In terms of ZBT, I'm kind of a relatively new member, so I wanted to help out in any way I could,” he said. “It's also a good chance for any member who's involved in the Hazing Prevention Week to gain contact with administrators and faculty, so we all wanted to be a part and make some good connections and generally help out.”
In addition to Morton, four other students currently serve on the committee, although the group is hoping more will get involved. Samantha Goldfarb and Kevin Shin, both CC '14, and Kyle Marsh, CC '15, have been working with the task force since the summer. Jerry Sun, SEAS '15, joined the group only recently. Marsh declined to be interviewed for this article.
Goldfarb and Shin both attended the Novak Hazing Prevention Institute this summer. They said that the experience helped them understand many of the nuances surrounding this topic and showed them hazing happens at every school and every community.
“Whether or not they recognize it as a hazing behavior, it's kind of the general harm that can come from some of these traditions,” Goldfarb said. “A lot of people, if it's not physical, they don't consider it hazing, and I think that's where my biggest bone is picked. People have so many different hidden identities, and going into any situation, you never know how someone's going to be affected and you never want someone to feel uncomfortable or at risk.”
At the summer institute, Goldfarb said, she realized the importance of examining Columbia's culture before the group “charged in blindly to try to deal with hazing,” which explains the group's slogan for this week, “Join our conversation.”
The group has made it a priority to hear from students “to really understand what it looks like here and how students relate to it, because otherwise you can't do anything about it,” she said.
While all the students on the task force so far are involved in either athletics or Greek life, students and administrators emphasized that the issue extends to every campus organization. Kromm initially reached out to students from both Columbia College Student Council and the Engineering Student Council, as well as Greek life and athletics.
“It was an issue that I really wanted to get involved in,” Shin said about hazing. “I see it as a big problem and so I really wanted to get involved to try to get it under control.”
Part of what students and administrators hope to address with the task force is what they see as a lack of general awareness or understanding about hazing on Columbia's campus.
“I think it begins with people having different definitions of what hazing is. Through our committee, we're defining that so it's clear for everyone,” Shin said. “Whether people think with the current definition if there is hazing or there isn't hazing is going to be subjective, but the way I see it, from my personal experiences and from my friends—from all the conversations that I've had with people—I think it is an issue.”
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