This week was Hazing Prevention Week at Columbia and around the country.
We do not question the importance of preventing hazing. Horror stories from schools across the nation make it clear that some groups have truly unsafe and unpleasant practices geared toward “welcoming” new members.
Hazing has been a major topic of discussion on Columbia's campus since last spring. In response to prior hazings, Columbia organized a hazing prevention team this year. According to Interim Dean of Student Affairs Terry Martinez, who assembled the team, its purpose is to “take a look at this issue, explore this issue, and then make some recommendations for us.” While the student task force was originally to include a student involved with either athletics or Greek life, that appears not to be the case.
We continue to question the effectiveness of Columbia's efforts to prevent hazing. In particular, little to no guidance has been provided as to what, exactly, constitutes “hazing.”
The definition adopted by Student Affairs describes hazing as “any action taken or situation created intentionally: that causes embarrassment, harassment or ridicule; risks emotional and/or physical harm; to members of a group or team; whether new or not; regardless of the person's willingness to participate.” This broad definition—much broader than the New York state law against hazing—can leave students unclear about what actually constitutes hazing.
Student leaders who arrived during NSOP who asked for more guidance were told simply to consider hazing “anything you wouldn't be comfortable telling your grandmother.” Under that definition, almost every activity that college students engage in during their free time counts as hazing—unless you have the world's coolest grandmother.
These vague guidelines do not help to create a community that understands hazing. Rather, student groups are left more confused than ever about the definition of hazing in the face of a policy designed to paralyze them.
One way that the hazing prevention effort could have a real impact would be to follow Cornell's lead. Cornell's issues with hazing run far deeper—and have made bigger headlines—than any at Columbia. In response, Cornell has set up a website that includes details of hazing violations from the last five years. We should be provided with more examples of what might constitute hazing and what disciplinary procedures would follow. With a more concrete understanding, hazing is far less likely to happen.
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