VANGELDER: New policy doesn’t meet old woes

Last spring, the Committee on Hazing and Initiation held seven meetings to address issues of wrongful initiation practices “across a wide range of undergraduate organizations.” On April 21, 2011, the Committee released its final report, which included a list of nine recommendations as part of a long-term plan to ensure that all initiation practices at Yale are positive and safe.

And yet, almost one year later, the only policy change which has arisen from these recommendations is one that specifically targets Greek organizations. This new policy, which prohibits freshmen from rushing during their first semester, was announced by Deans Miller and Gentry just before spring break. Since sororities conduct rush exclusively in the spring, only fraternities will really be affected.

I’m sure that the administration has the best intentions in establishing this new policy, and I appreciate its attempts to reach out to fraternities and sororities. However, this discriminatory policy is based on stereotypes of Greek culture, not facts. Sigma Chi has a strict no-hazing policy, a commitment our chapter takes very seriously. Other fraternities on Yale’s campus have similar policies. Overall, the administration’s final decision has hardly shown a desire to address the problem of hazing in its entirety.

First and foremost, the policy does nothing to address the problems that the Committee was formed to investigate: hazing and negative initiation practices. Although the changes will invariably inhibit the ability of fraternities to recruit, they will have absolutely no influence upon the practices that occur within the organizations themselves. In fact, when placed side-by-side with the rest of the Committee’s recommendations, the recommendation to have all fraternities and sororities adjust the timing of their pledge program seems out of place.

Second, this policy change does not reflect the full scope of the problem of hazing. As the Committee report indicated, no data yet exists for the presence of hazing and negative initiation practices specifically at Yale. But if national data is any indication, hazing is by no means a problem confined within the walls of Greek houses. In fact, according to preliminary results of a 2008 study, students belonging to a varsity sport are just as likely to experience hazing as students belonging to a fraternity. Many students surveyed experienced hazing in a wide variety of organizations, ranging from academic clubs and honor societies to cultural and religious organizations. While the Committee also made recommendations to address hazing via advisory and student leadership programs, this restrictive policy does not address the hazing that could occur in other organizations, opting instead to scapegoat fraternities.

Third, the policy was developed with virtually no input from the Greek organizations as Yale. The Committee itself consisted of 15 members, of which only three were students. In the process of formulating their recommendations, the Committee did not seem to consider the diversity of fraternity pledge programs, for some fraternities rely much more heavily upon fall rush and pledge than others. As a result, the policy places an inequitable burden upon fraternities in maintaining their numbers.

Even in the announcement of the policy, fraternities were not consulted. The only discussion of the policy occurred one hour before it was announced, when several leaders from Yale’s Greek organizations met with Deans Gentry and Meeske. Although they offered us the opportunity to help decide the terms of the policy’s implementation, they also presented our decision as a choice between “getting on board the bus or getting run over by it.” Is this how the administration wants to relate to Greek organizations? By passing such a restrictive policy without the input of Greek leadership, the administration could risk driving some fraternities to conduct their recruitment underground, directly counteracting the original goals of the Committee to ensure the safety and positivity of initiation practices.

Yale’s fraternities would like to cooperate with the administration in order to create the best possible undergraduate experience for everyone. But in order for there to be a spirit of cooperation, we need to be included in decisions that pertain to us. The administration should re-examine this new policy, which singles out all fraternities based on unsubstantiated claims about Yale’s Greek culture in general, and enact policies that fall in line with the Committee’s goal of examining initiation problems “across a wide range of undergraduate organizations.”

Ben Vangelder is a junior in Jonathan Edwards College and the president of Sigma Chi. Contact him at eduard.vangelder@yale.edu.

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