On Oct. 4, the Office of Fraternal Leadership and Learning (FLL) sent out a letter calling our Greek community to a “place of action.” Yet, Ole Miss has continued to tolerate an atmosphere of hazing in its Greek community, with no serious repercussions.
Nearly a week later, Steve and Rae Ann Gruver, parents of Max Gruver, and Evelyn Piazza, mother of Tim Piazza, two men who died in hazing-related incidents at LSU and Penn State, respectively, spoke at the Ford Center. The title of the event was “Family Matters: A Community Conversation on Hazing.” Greek organizations were required to send 65 percent of active members or face social probation. New members were not required to attend, but with the unusually high amount of pledges in attendance, I can only assume that they had been forced to attend in order to take the place of an active.
One of the parents compared the results of hazing to Russian Roulette, suggesting that the results are often hard to predict. High-risk behavior doesn’t always result in great consequence, but there is no real way to predict whether any given situation will escalate. The only roulette I have seen in my nearly three years on this campus has been from the Interfraternity Council, and more often than not, the IFC is firing blanks. Meanwhile, certain IFC fraternities seem to be firing loaded guns.
A fraternity brother of mine rushed an IFC fraternity last year and wound up dropping because of hazing. He said his former fraternity spent all of rush preaching about its anti-hazing stance and telling PNMs, potential new members, that they considered themselves to be above the pettiness of the rest of the campus. Within the first 48 hours of pledgeship, he said he had been subjected to a humiliating and painful hazing incident. He was eventually contacted by the Office of Conflict Resolution in response to reports of hazing that included his name. After weeks of meetings, it appeared the only tangible results were stress for him and nothing more than a minor setback for the fraternity. No further sanctions followed. Is a trip to the hospital the minimum standard for repercussive action?
In Dec. 2017, the charter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon was revoked, and the FLL office released a statement condemning SAE’s actions. Alpha Phi Alpha was also removed from campus later in the same school year. Both fraternities could not be more different, but the activities that they were engaging in were of the same cloth. SAE, one of the oldest and most traditional fraternities on campus, had seen its campus reputation plummet because of its egregious actions, leading them being ousted. Meanwhile, Alpha Phi Alpha was suspended for hazing after having had a relatively cleaner public reputation. Removing these chapters was necessary but has done nothing to alter the behavior of the rest of the campus. The Ole Miss administration must learn to be proactive, rather than reactionary, when dealing with fraternity reform. Changing the existing system is a much more effective deterrent than the vague threat of chapter closure. Organizations that haze are already unfazed by the threat of punishment and will not alter precedent because of it. They aren’t afraid of the system because they are the system.
This past spring, one of the largest fraternities on campus was among those organizations investigated on hazing allegations, and the fraternity then received serious sanctions from the university. After this year’s formal recruitment, that same fraternity attained the biggest pledge class on campus. Allowing such rapid growth in chapters that have proven that they are incapable of running a safe new member education program is incredibly irresponsible. Placing limits on pledge class sizes of organizations guilty of hazing would go a long way in stopping the practice and improving the system as a whole.
The system can lead students into a maze, oriented in the favor of pro-hazing organizations and is against the student at every turn. If a new member drops his fraternity, he is required to wait a calendar year before going through recruitment again. Pledges that drop after hazing-related incidents are currently treated the same as those that dropped because of personal reasons. The existence of this rule is laughable at best and despicable at worst. A pledge is likely to accept hazing even if he isn’t comfortable with it, so as to not lose a year of fraternity involvement. I propose that the year waiting period should remain only in cases where a pledge has dropped of his own volition.
Adding to the overall ridiculousness of the current system, even if a pledge wants to report an incident of hazing, he can find the not-so-confidential “confidential hazing report form” on the the Office of Conflict Resolution and Student Conduct website. Despite being ostensibly anonymous, the very first option to fill in is a “background information” section, which includes spaces for your full name, email and other information. Although these options aren’t marked as “required,” an addendum mentions that additional features may be “unlocked” by logging in.
Unless IFC and the FLL offices enact real reform as soon as possible, any tough talk they have put out amounts to nothing more than virtue signalling. Kicking rogue chapters off of campus has stemmed the tide of outrage, but this campus is quickly reaching a boiling point. Ole Miss’ strong Greek community is one of the best parts of the school, and it must be preserved, but it will not survive in its current state. Ole Miss fraternities must realize that they do too much good to let such inessential practices drag the whole system down. If they or FLL truly have the students’ best interests in mind, they should act before the university becomes yet another stop on this train of tragedy.
Benton Dodd is a junior political science major from Nashville. He is a member of an IFC fraternity on campus.