The debate is endless.
Student organizations hold initiation periods for new members every semester, each with their own unique practices. But not all new members feel like this is a warm welcome.
From acts of public humiliation to violence and binge drinking, hazing practices have plagued student organizations for decades.
In April 2010, Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity was expelled from the Interfraternity Council for a hazing incident in which new members were told to get in a circle around a trashcan and drink alcohol, resulting in two students ending up at Mount Nittany Medical Center.
In December 2009, the Delta Delta Delta sorority chapter at Penn State was closed after hazing and risk management allegations were made against the chapter.
In May 2007, members of the Penn State wrestling team were punished to 40 hours of community service and to write a research paper about hazing, after they were found to be hazing and promoting underage consumption of alcohol.
The only reported case of hazing during the past academic year was when the State College Police Department was called to the Phi Kappa Sigma fraternity after an unknown liquid was poured over a man’s head. No charges were made after investigating the case, State College Police Department Lt. Keith Robb said.
Though Robb said police are not currently investigating any open cases of hazing, whether hazing occurs is a different story.
“Do I think it’s happening? Absolutely I do,” he said. “Do I think it’s being reported? No.”
The practice is illegal under Pennsylvania Law as well as against university policy, but the general consensus is simple — this doesn’t mean Happy Valley is immune from hazing.
Admitting the problem
Current Interfraternity Council President Vinnie Lizza admitted that hazing isn’t extinct at Penn State, and it’s not just a concern within greek organizations either.
“There’s probably hazing that goes on on-campus,” Lizza (junior-energy, business and finance) said. “It’s not just in greek life. It’s in other organizations, as well.”
While the IFC requires chapters to present a schedule of new member events, the IFC Constitution still leaves room for “discretion of the member fraternity provided it does not violate the Statement of Position on Hazing and Pre-initiation Activities.”
The Panhellenic Council has a similar approach and gives leeway for chapter discretion in initiation practices.
PHC Vice President for Communications Amanda Cillo said that during the new member period at the beginning of each semester, the new member educator within each chapter is required to submit weekly pledge plans to the council.
PHC President Julianne Robbins said that “out of respect for the organizations” some initiation practices can still be kept private.
“To an extent, it’s open,” Robbins (junior-biology) said.
IFC President for 2010 Max Wendkos said during his term, the executive board found two fraternities guilty of hazing and punished them. One of those cases resulted in the elimination of Alpha Epsilon Pi from campus. While the other case wasn’t made public, Wendkos said that the fraternity in question was punished severely.
“Unfortunately there are still some fraternities without a doubt that are conducting practices during new member education that they shouldn’t be,” he said.
Though Wendkos and his board caught two fraternities for hazing, he admits that it’s nearly impossible to seek out every violation.
“They can’t just go and knock down the door at any fraternity just to see if something is happening there,” he said.
An infectious practice
Tyler Furman pledged a fraternity the first semester of his freshman year and enjoyed his experience until certain hazing practices started to make him feel uncomfortable.
Furman wouldn’t go into detail about the specific hazing that he experienced or confirm what fraternity he was pledging.
Furman (sophomore-mathematics) said he believes that part of the hazing problem may come from older brothers who are too harsh and create a more negative environment for incoming members.
“I felt like I was going from a stronger man to the point where I remember just being down,” he said. “Instead of feeling like I’m supposed to be building character, I felt like I was being hurt.”
When it came time for him to leave the fraternity because of emotional and physical stress, Furman said some tried to convince him to stay, but for the most part he didn’t have to put up much of a fight.
Though he had a bad experience at his first fraternity, Furman also said he still appreciates fraternity life. He’s still involved in the greek community, but in his own way.
Now, he is one of the founding fathers of Alpha Epsilon Pi, which made its comeback at Penn State after being disbanded in April 2010 for the aforementioned hazing incident.
With a strict no-hazing policy and by following all the rules for new fraternities on campus, Furman said this is a new and different AEP than the one that was expelled two years ago.
“We are starting brand new and we are building a fraternity the right way,” Furman said.
Mary Anne Knapp, clinical social worker for Counseling and Psychological Services, wrote in an email that students come to CAPS to talk about hazing experiences from formal and informal student groups.
“Over the years, we have heard of many types of hazing incidents,” Knapp wrote. “These include experiences like being dropped nude in a rural area, being humiliated about their body or physical appearance, being hit, being made to stay up all night, or being verbally abused.”
When students come to CAPS to receive support for hazing, counselors will help students deal with any possible depression or social anxiety they might feel, she wrote. Part of these services will include support if the student chooses to report the incidents to the organization itself, University Police or the Office of Student Conduct.
Fixing the problem
In efforts to dispel hazing, the IFC defines hazing in its constitution, as well as lists penalties for any violations.
According to the IFC constitution, hazing “includes any action or situation created intentionally, whether on or off fraternity premises, to produce mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment or ridicule, any activities which are not consistent with fraternal laws, rituals, or policy or the regulations and policies of the University.”
For a hazing violation, the minimum sanction is $120 per member, 13 weeks of social suspension and a new member education program review. The maximum penalty for hazing is immediate loss of recognition for two years.
According to the constitution online, it was last updated on March 16, though Lizza admitted that some things were “outdated” such as the policy mandating that “at least 25% of new members must be trained in some form of alcohol prevention approved by the Executive Board and Interfraternity Council.” In his term this spring as president, Lizza has changed this policy so that 100 percent of new members must receive alcohol education.
Lizza said the IFC also occasionally receives anonymous letters about incidents within chapters.
Though every incident is investigated, the anonymity of the reports makes it difficult to deeply investigate certain incidents, he said.
Lizza said there’s also sometimes the possibility that a hazing claim may be made by someone who’s trying to get the fraternity chapter or another member of the fraternity in trouble, he said.
For the Panhellenic Council, the main plan of attack to prevent hazing is education.
This year, PHC recognized the national Hazing Prevention Week at Penn State. Retreats are also held for new members where they can learn about how they should be treated by fellow sisters.
Though Robbins said there have been tremendous strides in hazing prevention, she admits there is always more room for growth — through education and letting members know that hazing doesn’t “bring sisters together.”
“Even if hazing was completely phased out, we would still educate about it,” Cillo (junior-public relations) said.
Max Wendkos said though no institution will change overnight, he’s confident fraternities will eventually eliminate hazing, Wendkos said.
“I think fraternities will get there. Most of them are already there,” he said. “It takes some longer than others, and you get a couple bad apples that get into the mix. And the dynamics that get into the mix and the traditions that come into play can make it a complicated matter.”